Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The People Who Watched Her Pass By

by Scott Bradfield

I don’t normally blog, and firmly believe that writers shouldn’t explain their work, or reply to reviews. I’ve decided to break all these rules for no other reason than I’m getting old and even more irritable than usual.

I didn’t have a purpose in writing The People Who Watched Her Pass By. As with my previous novels, I simply discovered the voice of a character who carried me along until I found out where she was going. Then I spent several years trying to give her, and her story, shape. Salome is three years old at the beginning of this short novel, when she is kidnapped by the boiler-repair man; she then travels across the States as a sort of itinerant serial darling of temporary families who adore children - but not so much that they want to get too involved. I like Sal because she’s self-determined, always growing and adapting to circumstances, and, despite everything that happens to her, she remains compassionate, vulnerable and observant. The world she travels through is rarely any of these things.

In the course of her young life, Sal learns to maintain a wide division between herself and the people she meets, for obvious reasons. We only know what we can determine through Sal’s perspective. We can’t always know or understand everything that happens to her. Neither can she.

It’s been inaccurately noted by one early reviewer that Sal is “abused” during the course of the novel. I think the word “abuse” is almost always misused in the modern lexicon; and it always means too many things to too many people. The reviewer also refers to an elderly female character, who has been seriously debilitated by a stroke long before she has Sal over for dinner, as a “pederast.” This is because, later in the novel, a group of peculiar people working for social services accuse this woman of, and imprison her for, “abuse.”

In those scenes I was not making light of child abuse in America (though I do find those scenes funny.) But I did see Sal’s world as a problem for her - one populated by people who never took the time to know or understand her, but who simply stood at their windows and observed her progress across their demarcated spaces until she was gone. Many of these people liked to throw around words like “abused” and “pederast.” Sometimes these people even worked in child-related government agencies.

Anyway, I hope you find the time to read the book (and Sal) for yourself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved this book, I have to say. I just finished it, actually. And I was never under the impression that Grandma was in any way physically abusive towards Sal. I mean, she couldn't even take care of herself, much less do something to anyone else. I think you wrote the characters and the story perfectly, and it was obvious to me that the people who were accusing Grandma and Tim of things were themselves quite kooky. Character motives were clear enough. Eh, just thought I'd tell you that. I wasn't under the impression that you were treating abuse lightly.

At this point I must sound like I'm sucking up, but I honestly did love "The People Who Watched Her Pass By", and I'm definitely going to read your other books.