Saturday, April 20, 2013

Border Crossing, by Pat Barker

Tom Seymour is a psychologist whose marriage is failing,  at least in part because they cannot conceive a child. One day, he and his wife Lauren are out for a walk when they see a young man plunge into the river. Tom goes in after him, rescuing the man. Soon, he learns that he had a previous connection to the attempted suicide, Danny Miller (now known as Ian Wilkinson). Tom was the psychologist who evaluated then 10-year-old Danny when he was arrested for the murder of an elderly neighbor. Tom's evaluation led to Danny's trial and conviction. 

Danny is now out of prison but struggling--with his inability to remember exactly what happened, his anger about Tom's role in his imprisonment, and the challenges of creating a life after prison. Having arranged the meeting with Tom, Danny begs Tom to help him work through his issues. Tom agrees, insisting that he should be free to talk with any of the people who interacted with Danny while he was in prison. Through these conversations and his sessions with Danny, Tom begins to construct a picture not only of the crime but of Danny's habitual "border crossing"--Danny projects a vulnerability and charm that causes teachers, social workers, parole officers, and perhaps psychologists to cross the boundary that should exist between offender and professional. With Tom's marriage over, will he lose his career and perhaps even his life by letting Danny cross that border with him, or will he help Danny build a new life, if that is even possible for young murderers? Those are the questions that create psychological suspense in this rather brief novel. 

In Border Crossing, Pat Barker raises some interesting questions and creates genuine suspense. The audible version is well-read by Simon Preble. The book's flaw is that Tom seems to be something of an idiot--he knows how Danny works people, so why does he put himself in jeopardy? Does he think he can help Danny live a "normal life"? Does he feel guilty about his role in Danny's conviction or about the creepy childhood incident in which he and a friend almost killed a younger child? No matter what the reason, his insight into Danny's pathology ought to be reason enough to take some precautions in his dealing with the young parolee. 

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