Select one of the keywords
Happy Baby    by Stephen Elliott order for
Happy Baby
by Stephen Elliott
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2005 (2004)
Hardcover, Paperback

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Theo is a product of Chicago's child welfare system. Orphaned as a child, he fell into the care of the State of Illinois. Sadly but not surprisingly, Theo spent most of his childhood in various detention centers, psychiatric facilities, and children's homes, where he was brutalized. He coped by abusing drugs and trying to fit in as best he could - which often meant just trying to survive on a daily basis. Neither love nor fun had a place in Theo's growing years, simply because he was the product of a failing child welfare system.

Theo turned into an adult who craves pain - he wants others to inflict pain upon him. Essentially, he has masochistic tendencies that lead him to seek out sadists to fulfill his sexual desires. At the beginning of Happy Baby, Theo is 36 years old and travels from California back to Chicago to look up an old girlfriend from his youth. After a brief meeting with the ex-girlfriend, the book progressively moves in reverse chronological order, so that we learn about Theo's childhood and his experiences in the custody of the state.

Though this is a grim novel, it is also interesting and edgy. At the beginning of the book, Theo's desire to be harmed by others seems perverse. However, after reading what Theo went through, I was able to see how his childhood shaped him. There is a substantial amount of alternative sex, drug abuse, physical abuse, and mental abuse throughout the book but none of it is gratuitous nor is its purpose to shock the reader.

While Happy Baby is a provocative novel, Theo is a complex and likeable character and the story of his childhood is compelling - the author clearly has a sound grasp on the psychology of abuse. Though the book is not particularly suspenseful, due to Theo's story unfolding in reverse chronological order, it is a unique read, which I recommend to fans of literary fiction.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews