Harper, Mar 2008, $24.95
In England the war is over and many veterans are coming home to their loved ones. Ten year old Lewis Aldridge struggles with having an adult male in the household with the return of his father Gilbert and the change in routines to a more stifling environment. However as both males adjust, the lad still enjoys picnics in the woods with his mom Elizabeth until the day she fails to return home with him having drowned.
While Gilbert remains outraged in his grief over the next year, his remote father remarries Alice, who has no idea how to reach her stepson. A few years later, Lewis goes to prison for arson, having burned down a church. In 1957 now nineteen years old Lewis is free and returns home. Sixteen years old Kit Carmichael, daughter of the most influential family, is attracted to Lewis and wants to help him while her older sister twenty one years old Tamsin teases and flirts with him, which he assumes means she is attracted to him. Their abusive father, who is his dad’s boss, simply wants to destroy him.
This deep historical tale may take place in the Happy Days of the 1950s in England, but has incredibly deep relevance today as the family dynamics is explored. First the issue of returning veteran being away for extended war duty shows how complex life can be whether it is fifteen months deployment to Iraq or fighting for several years on the continent. Second there is the parental abuse of the father hitting his wife and Kitty as if he had the divine right to do so, which leaves an angry Lewis feel helpless. Finally there is the alcoholism of Gilbert and Alice that isolates Lewis even further. With THE OUTCAST ironically as the center to all these social issues, Sadie Jones provides a powerful look at the dark side of families circa 1957 but still germane in 2008.