Stealing children never turns out well – “Hot Springs” by Geoffrey Becker

December 4, 2011 at 12:26 am 2 comments

“Hot Springs” by Geoffrey Becker, Published 2010

There is something to be said for good writing but it only gets you so far.  Becker in “Bluestown” wrote beautifully but the story was stretched too thin and it should have remained what it was initially, a short story.  In “Hot Springs” Becker finally puts his good writing to a good story and I think the result is really well done.  As he tweaks his writing, I think his writing and story-telling will get better and better. Until then this novel will do.

Bernice grew up with a mother who was mentally ill and a father who was emotionally removed. As she becomes an adult, Bernice finds herself moving from city to city,  job to job, man to man – unable to find a way to quiet her own mental illness that seems to govern so many of her choices.  This all leads to Bernice’s most difficult choice of  giving up her baby, Emily, to a “born- again” Christian couple, David and Tessa.

Five years later, Bernice returns with her boyfriend Landis and kidnaps Emily, beginning an across country journey.  David and Tessa know who kidnapped Emily but choose not to report it to the police, instead hoping that Bernice will realize her mistake and bring Emily back.  Though Bernice sees pieces of herself in Emily, she is continually thrown by the five-year old’s serene behaviour and her Christian zealotry.  Landis finds himself lost in a plan that he knows is wrong but he cannot find the strength to leave Bernice.  Tessa, while trying to cope with the loss of her daughter, finally sees her marriage and her Christianity as flawed institutions that have enabled her to remain complacent, uneducated and lost to herself (here, I think Becker does a fairly good job of showing the flawed nature of Christians without lambasting the religion itself).  And while all of the adults around her work out their demons, Emily remains the calm and mature force in the lives of all of them.

This is a novel about a lot of things (coming home, losing a child, Christianity). But I think it is compelling merely for the reason that it very astutely addresses mental illness and how it affects both the individual suffering from that illness and everyone else around them.  Bernice’s mother’s  mental illness left a lasting impression on Bernice  – even to the point that Bernice feels responsible for her mother’s death.  Bernice  herself is able to draw people to her and then they become a part of her poor decisions. Like Landis, the people around Bernice end up feeling responsible for letting her make the bad decision in the first place.   At the end of everything, when the decisions have such a high cost, everyone feels like they could have or should have stopped it. And it is that regret that makes holding that person accountable so difficult. And so, often people with mental illness are just left on their own to try to cope and figure it out because the rest of us just don’t know what else to do.  As I read this book all I could think is, for the person struggling with their own illness, how lonely that must be.

Hot Springs


Entry filed under: December 2011 reads. Tags: , , .

The Three Books of Thanksgiving Weekend “There are still so many stories to be told” – “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nella  |  December 5, 2011 at 3:04 am

    I haven’t read this book yet, so thanks for the review. I battle with mental illness and know that it is a lonely place – I will be interested to read it.

  • 2. Emily C  |  December 6, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Now of course it will not do justice to anyone’s personal struggle with mental illness – that is a hard thing to capture completely. But you will have to let me know what you think.


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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