From Publishers Weekly
A craving for pain is the only constant in the life of Theo, a victim of the child welfare system, in this grim, unrelenting fourth novel by Elliott (What It Means to Love You, etc.). Told in reverse chronological order, it begins when 36-year-old Theo returns to his native city of Chicago after six years away, visiting an ex-girlfriend called Maria. He knows Maria from their years growing up together in a state institution, where Theo landed after his abusive father was killed and his mother died from multiple sclerosis. After Maria leaves Theo for someone who will hit her harder (" 'I want you to hit me and you want me to hit you. This is terrible' "), Theo drifts into relationships with women who are willing to abuse him. His desire to be hurt stems from the brutal treatment he received as a child in state custody; he is particularly scarred by the memory of Mr. Gracie, a caseworker who raped him but also protected him from the other boys. Like cult favorite J.T. LeRoy, Elliott is fascinated by the psychology of abuse and explores it with great tenacity and restraint. He doesn't quite achieve LeRoy's emotional intensity or immediacy, but he clearly knows his subjectthe pointed last line of his author bio reads, "[H]e was born in Chicago, and was a ward of the State of Illinois from age thirteen to eighteen"and infuses this prickly tale with a surprising sweetness.--e was born in Chicago, and was a ward of the State of Illinois from age thirteen to eighteen"and infuses this prickly tale with a surprising sweetness.
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Don't let the title throw you: Elliott's Happy Baby
is anything but. The Stanford University lecturer and former Wallace Stegner Fellow peels back the layers of his painful past in this searing examination of the consequences of sexual abuse. A ward of the state of Illinois from the age of 13 to 18, Elliott recounts his own experiences through the eyes of 36-year-old Theo, a man emotionally eviscerated by years of mental and physical torture. Beginning in the present and unraveling back to years of sexual molestation in Chicago's juvenile-detention centers, the street-smart narrator fearlessly dissects a series of dysfunctional relationships in which abuse is equated with affection. From the male caseworker who raped Theo at age 12 to the girlfriend who burned his limbs with cigarettes, Elliott's fourth novel recalls a life defined by longing for both love and pain. Blending the edginess of Augusten Burroughs with the raw emotion of Marguerite Duras,^B this compelling confessional reveals a ravaged soul seeking solace and resolution in the wake of unspeakable crimes. Allison BlockCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved