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Boy in the Water Mass Market Paperback – July 15, 2000
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Although not as complex or as haunting as his 1997 novel Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns has produced a first-rate psychological thriller with Boy in the Water.
Bishop's Hill Academy in rural New Hampshire is a school in crisis. Once a highly regarded preparatory school for the rich and elite, it is now a dumping ground for troubled teens. The teachers are unqualified, unenthusiastic, and spend more time hitting the students than educating them. A new headmaster, Jim Hawthorne, enters the chaotic scene, but is immediately outcast from the tight-knit faculty. Hawthorne is obsessed with the idea of turning the school around--and we soon find out why. His family died in a fire purportedly set by a disturbed teenager back in San Diego. Mentally and physically scarred, Hawthorne sees Bishop's Hill as an opportunity to get back to "physical reality," and save some adolescent psyches. But it is his own mental state that is soon put to the test as he becomes the nucleus of a hate campaign and is forced to relive the terrible memories of the fire.
It seems that everyone in the school has a secret to hide--from the cook Frank LeBrun who enjoys placing sharp tacks in his recipes to Chip Campbell, a history teacher who has taken one too many liberties with the school's funds.
Dobyns paints a foreboding landscape of dilapidated buildings and neglected children--a place where a 15-year-old girl plots to kill her father, a place where teachers abuse students, a place where a young boy is found dead in a swimming pool. As a snowstorm cuts off the isolated community, the exiled headmaster is forced into a final showdown with the school's omnipotent evil.
Boy in the Water is an entertaining but ultimately disturbing read. --Naomi Gesinger --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Set in the New Hampshire mountains at remote Bishop's Hill Academy, Dobyns's new novel succeeds, though it still does not top The Church of Dead Girls (LJ 5/1/97). As usual, Dobyns fleshes out mundane, real-world characters. Bishop's Hill is a financially shaky institution known as a dumping ground for troubled teenagers. New headmaster Jim Hawthorne carries a motherlode of guilt and conflict from the past: detained by a tryst at his previous prestigious post, he failed to save his wife and daughter from a fire set by a student jealous for his attention. Friend Kevin Kreuger tries to convince Hawthorne that he is punishing himself by taking the job, but Hawthorne perseveres. Deliberate attempts to undermine Hawthorne's success at Bishop's Hill, followed by a series of murders, overshadow his improvements to the school. In time, he discovers his enemies and unravels a trail of corruption while doing his utmost to save lost souls like Jessica Weaver, a former stripper at 15. Recommended for all mystery collections.
-AMichelle Foyt, Fairfield P.L., CT
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Hawthorne takes a job as head of a private school with mostly children who have problems. Hawthorne's wife and daughter died several years previously in a tragic fire - and he is trying to start a new life.
The teachers at the school want things to stay the same - and Hawthorne is making changes...changes they don't like. Anonymous notes against Hawthorne begin appearing in the teachers mailboxes... someone is trying to cause problems for Hawthorne.
Also, one of the students, Jessica, is having problems of her own. She is trying to save herself and her brother from her step-father
I was tempted to skip through to the end and just see what happened rather than continue reading... but I stuck with it. The outcome was okay.
I really liked Church of Dead Girls, and Burn Palace - this one was just okay
I was attracted to Dobyns by the NEW YORK TIMES review blurb on his novel "The Wrestler's Cruel Study." The reviewer commented that the book "stirs together Nietzschean philosophy, professional wrestling, fairy-tale scenarios and Gnostic speculation to produce what is at once a darkly humorous and gravely unsettling work of imagination." At the same time, I ordered "Boy in the Water," and it arrived first. Now I am very apprehensive about reading "The Wrestler's Cruel Study," because "Boy in the Water" stirs together many different varieties of schlock to produce one of the most moronic things I have ever read. If the NYT review is at all accurate, perhaps Mr. Dobyns decided sometime in the 1990s to abandon art for garbage. He does, after all, have three children to send to college.
Let me turn from general commentary to some specific remarks on the "plot," such as it is. Dobyns depends on the stupidity of his readers. (Of course, the fact that the albino in "The Da Vinci Code" could fight off the French police and carry his dying mentor to the hospital with no further police intervention counts heavily on reader stupidity, and that book sold millions. Maybe stupidity is a trend?) Much of the "Boy in the Water" plot is based on the one bad guy (#1) paying another bad guy (#2) to commit a heinous act. Now it stands to reason that, by paying #2 to do the deed, #1 would be interested in staying as far away from #2 and the scene of the crime as possible and in keeping his relationship to #1 tenuous at best. Yet, in advance of a raging snowstorm, #21 comes to a town near the scene of the crime and walks out in public with #2, AND, in the middle of the raging snowstorm, he subsequently rides out to the actual scene of the crime to deliver the rest of the money to #2. In fact, #2 even confides to another character that he was going to be able to use #1's SUV as a getaway car. Where's the logic here? It doesn't exist. Unless you're stupid.
Another amazon.com reviewer commented on Mr. Dobyns' "Church of Dead Girls," and his or her objections can be overlaid almost exactly on "Boy in the Water." This sorry excuse for a novel, whose title does not even resonate in the rest of the book, is just another in a long list of examples of screenwriting gone bad or bad screenwriting gone worse. Still, Mr. Dobyns' children should be able to go to the universities of their choice. Just hope that they don't enroll in his creative writing classes.
Most recent customer reviews
Ironic detachment and suspense go together about as well as comedy and horror.Read more