The Boy Under the Table is a hard book to describe without giving anything away. Trope uses an unusual style – filled with early backstory, heavy on past tense, and liberal with dispassionate descriptions – that accentuates the horror of what’s actually happening.
It’s almost as though the relative quiet of her style represents the deception played out by her characters, that in the same way neighbours of a serial killer always speak of what a good quiet person the killer appeared to be, her words belie what is really happening until the blood seeps through. Here’s a juxtaposition I thought particularly effective:
She swung the poker again hitting the body, the man’s body, with a soft dull thud.
She could almost feel his death enter the room.
It was a ringing silence that stopped time.
He went wherever he was going. Down probably.
Suddenly she was alone.
Tina is a sweet, lovely student. She is generous and kind to all her friends and we are delighted with her progress this term.
Tina stopped swinging the poker and leaned against the fireplace to catch her breath. Sweat poured down her face and neck. Killing someone was hard work. She saw some movement and looked up. The possibility that someone else was in the house clenched her stomach.
The Boy Under the Table is a view into what normal people do in awful situations. It’s the missing pieces in the news stories: what the victim thinks; what the invisible people think, the ones who see something small and have the potential to make a difference. It’s not about the heroes, or the search, or the bad guy, or the media.
Nor is it a gory or psychological thriller, and it never goes into explicit details. But it’s intensely emotional. Try not to sob out loud when a child rescued from a serial killer, filthy, starving, naked and bruised, is taken to a St Vinnies for second-hand clothes and speaks almost his first words in months: “Undies, I need some undies.”
Trope broke so many rules with this book and I’m glad she did! This is a simple story, filled with compassion and respect for the paths people walk, and it wastes no mercy on those who deserve none.