Title: The Boy in the Gap
Author: Paul Soye
Genre: Contermporary fiction, Irish fiction
Publisher: Liberties Press
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
First line: I remember the first night ‘on remand’ watching the news.
When The Boy in the Gap opens, Jack Sammon is in jail, accused of a terrible crime that has terrorized his community. Writing in a school notebook, he pieces together the story of his childhood and adult years, the events that led him to this place. The pieces begin to fall into place, but the reader is left to question Jack’s guilt or innocence until the very last pages of the book.
Jack’s childhood was far from a happy one. His father died when he was 9, and his mother was in and out of the hospital for depression. The family farm continues to survive thanks to a neighbor couple who cares for Jack’s family. His mother ruins that when she chooses a violent gambler and drunk for her romantic partner, a man that no one in the community approves of. The new man in his life is just one more blow to Jack’s already fragile psyche, and he gets firmly set on a path leading to destruction.
In some ways, reading this book was like watching a train barreling down a track, knowing very well that it’s on a collision course. Because the book begins with Jack already in jail, you know that things have gone badly for him. There were times that I wanted to quit reading, simply because the decisions made by those around Jack pushed him into a very bad place, and I knew it was going to end in disaster. I didn’t quit reading, though, because the author did a good job of getting me invested enough in the character that I wanted to know why he was in jail.
Paul Soye definitely had a story to tell; unfortunately, the method he chose to tell it didn’t work very well. There were scenes that were in the present – Jack in jail – and then scenes set in the past, telling the story of his life from childhood up until that point. I’ve seen this used before as a storytelling technique, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The biggest thing that kept it from working in the case of The Boy in the Gap is that the flashback scenes were not told in chronological order, and so I often found myself completely confused as to where I was in Jack’s timeline. There were scenes I had to go back and read more than once to figure out what age Jack was supposed to be. This detracted from my reading experience, and even the quality of writing wasn’t enough to take this book out of the “like” category into the “love” category.