Olsson's Book Bits

by Greta Olsson

The Favored Child by Philippa Gregory
614 Pages in paperback
ISBN O-7432-493O-5
1989 Touchstone publishers

The Favored Child is the second in the Wideacre trilogy; the third novel being Meridon. I previously wrote that I wasn't too keen on Wideacre itself, but admitted that no book might have pleased me at that time of reading.

The Favored Child continues a focus on the large estate and an incest theme with a twist. The son and daughter of the now dead brother and sister of Wideacre, are reared from childhood on the same estate by their real aunt, and believe themselves to be cousins. As lonely children, they cling to each other, and decide even then that they will marry when they're adults. The two should be separated, but their aunt doesn't do so.

The brother, Richard, seems quite bi-polar, although his madness is never named. When in a rage, he abuses his one-year-older "cousin", who takes it, evidently thinking that she deserves no better. Not until Richard destroys Wideacre and his family does Julia Lacey see her brother for who he really is. By then she has married him and has a daughter. I'm certain Meridon will continue Sarah's story.

Julia Lacy was born in 1773, and the author seems to have an excellent knowledge of farming during that time, and a great gift for painting beautiful scenes of southern rural England. "The South Downs enclose the valley of the River Fenny like a cupped hand. High chalk downs, sweet with short-cropped grass and rare meadows of flowers, dizzy in Summer with tiny blue butterflies. These hills were my horizon."

I found this book a better read than Wideacre, and can recommend it.

Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz
Paperback, 5O2 pages, ISBN. O-375-7O269-5
A New York Times notable book of the year
A Los Ange1es Times book prize finalist
An Edgar Award Finalist

Bernard Lefkowitz, an Edgar Award-winning author, has taught journalism at Columbia University. Even so, I myself would fault him on too much detail and excessive repetition of his theme: "rape by broomstick and bat". He paints Glen Ridge, New Jersey, as a beautiful little suburb, a paradise to many people. It is the home town of Tom Cruise, who did not hit it big as an actor until after he left the place.

In 1983 Eddie Bracken bought a one hundred-year-old house there, and was reported saying in the local paper, "In the summer, it's the best place in the world. If someone told me I would never have to move from here, I'd be the happiest guy in the world."

Lefkowitz points out, "Glen Ridge was faithful to its appearance of affluent White Anglo-Saxon Protestant gentility. The town's population was ethnically and racially quite homogeneous." Unfortunately the town's main thrust was achievement: especially winning in sports. The Jocks were the Princes of Glen Ridge. At the end of the year, it might take two days to give out awards and acknowledge which Jocks were the stars. Academic honors took only fifteen minutes.

Male children were pressured enormously by their dads to become outstanding at football or baseball. To be an athletic star meant that you were the best man on campus and attracted the best girls. Oddly enough, although Glen Ridge had winning teams, their stars were quite average by national standards.

But the Jocks lorded it over everyone on campus. The shock was that in 1989, the best and most popular Jocks ganged up on a mentally retarded girl with an I.Q. of 49, an overly friendly child who wanted only to please them and be accepted by them. She thought, "You always give your friend what he wants. You never say 'No'." At the age of five, Leslie Faber was abused by her "friends". They put dog feces on the end of a stick, told her that it was part of a Snickers Bar, and told her to eat it. She did.

Leslie Faber was adopted by loving, conservative parents. The school told them that Leslie was "neurologically impaired," and not retarded. The school never wanted to hurt the feelings of any parent. Had Leslie's parents been told the truth, the outcome of this story might have been much different. Her parents would not have waited endlessly for Leslie to get better. And the Jocks would not have been overly protected from facing the consequences of their actions: trashing a home, buying liquor illegally, and drunk driving. All bad stuff was swept under the rug.

Why would the most popular boys, leaders in the school and town, gang rape a child whom they had known all their lives? Few could believe what had in fact happened. "Why would they attack a woman whom they ridiculed as unattractive? The issue wasn't sex. The Jocks wanted to experiment, to test their power. Leslie was there for their amusement."

The author does build great suspense at the end of this account, as one waits to see how Leslie will act on the witness stand. She is torn between wanting to please her lawyer, and wanting to protect "her friends". She never gets that the boys aren't her friends, that they don't even like her.

"Why would boys who had so much do something like this? The question implies that money inoculates against evil. Sex crimes are not limited to any economic class. It's just harder for some people to believe that a bunch of well-off, well-groomed, kids would do something like this. That's why it's tough to get a jury to convict them."

Contact sports demand force and aggression. College athletes commit as many if not more rapes than the average student. Lefkowitz quotes several psychological studies and well-known experts. A good but annoying read. The end was a surprise. I hope Lefkowitz's book makes a difference. This story was made into a movie, Outrage At Glen Ridge.

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