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Helpless [Paperback]

Barbara Gowdy
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 17 2008
Celia is the single mother of an exceptionally beautiful child: nine-year-old Rachel. All too aware of the precarious balance of the life she has built for the two of them, Celia worries about her daughter’s longing for the father she has never met. When Rachel disappears one night during a blackout, Celia is stricken with guilt and terror. But her desperation is only half the story as Ron, the man who has taken Rachel, struggles with feelings that are at once tender, misguided and chillingly fixated.A suspenseful and haunting novel of obsessive love, Helpless once again showcases Barbara Gowdy’s incredible talent for bringing the reader face to face with the provocative and discomforting. At the height of the story’s tension, she leads us with a steady hand into territory that is unexpected but ultimately as transcendent as the passing of a storm.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Love comes up against obsession in Gowdy's seventh novel (following The Romantic), and the results are at times chilling, but not always believable. Single mother Celia works two jobs and is often forced to bring nine-year-old Rachel along to her nighttime gigs at a piano bar. Much to Celia's dismay, men are already drawn to biracial Rachel's exotic beauty, and she reluctantly turns down a lucrative modeling contract for the girl. Yet she's unaware that appliance repairman Ron Clarkson has an unhealthy fascination with Rachel that's escalating. Convinced that Celia is not a worthy parent for Rachel, Ron abducts the girl, soon involving his needy girlfriend, Nancy, and igniting an extensive investigation. Although set in Toronto's urban Cabbagetown neighborhood, the atmosphere feels smalltown insular and relies a bit too much on coincidental acquaintances to feel like a city setting. The kidnap plot is, for Gowdy, surprisingly conventional, but frequent glimpses into the childhoods of Ron, Nancy and Celia add depth, revealing the characters' motivations and inviting contemplation of what constitutes appropriate love toward a child. Ron remains too warped to be remotely sympathetic; more compelling are Nancy's conflicted loyalties and Celia's occasional brutal reflections on the sometimes greedy, possessive love between parent and child—a love not unlike obsession. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Here the imaginative Gowdy (Mister Sandman, 1997) reins in her surrealistic side in the service of a more conventional plot, and the result makes for absorbing reading. Single mother Celia Fox works two jobs but is plagued by money problems; however, she never considers her daughter anything less than a blessing. She still feels a sense of amazement that the beautiful nine-year-old Rachel, who has received the attention of a local modeling agency, is really hers. But then Rachel draws the admiration of Ron, a middle-aged appliance repairman who becomes convinced that her mother is neglecting her. During a blackout, he abducts her and locks her in a room he has constructed just for her, complete with a plasma TV and a custom-made dollhouse. As the police hunt for Rachel intensifies, so do the emotions of the involved parties. Even Gowdy's secondary characters are memorable, especially Celia's kindhearted, intellectual landlord and Ron's vulnerable, ex-addict girlfriend. But her true feat is the sympathetic portrayal of Ron himself, a man who seems painfully unaware of his own dark impulses. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Barbara Gowdy Always Triumphs June 15 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Everything Barbara Gowdy writes I love. This is the woman who fuelled my passion to incorporate writing in my own career plans. She is superb writer with a keen sense of storytelling and the writer's art of craft.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Masterpiece Jan. 28 2008
Format:Hardcover
With a depth of imagery and a remarkable knowledge of human behaviour that is unattainable for most writers, Gowdy presents us with love in various forms - parental, perverse or otherwise - and displays the intensity that can make our most earnest attempts at caring for someone devastating. She clears the darkness and lets us inside places unimaginable, whether we think we want to make the journey or not.

She has clearly done her homework, which would have been extensive and substantial, for this work. Detail and accuracy allow the story to shine. There are no weak characters. All are developed and true, from the primary and secondary to the most minute and even the animals. Her ability to humanize Ron is nothing beyond incredible.

Read this book and bask in Gowdy's achievement.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written character study Dec 11 2011
Format:Hardcover
I love books that take you into someone's heart and mind, and Barbara Gowdy's Helpless does just that, and does it well. She has a genius for creating characters who deviate from the norm, and doing it in such a way that we can understand them, even if we can't help judging them for their worst behaviours. Often, she shows such compassionate insight into human nature that she succeeds in getting us to withhold judgement, too.
I find the characters in Helpless intrinsically interesting, as I often find Gowdy's characters, but it's really her skill that makes them come alive. Her descriptive abilities are subtle and fluid, and her writing style so smooth she makes it look easy. In this book, she never puts a foot wrong, never interrupts our absorption in her fictional world with a wrong word or awkward phrase. That in itself shows brilliance.
Add to that an element of suspense handled in a classy, never cheap-tricks way, and you have a wonderful novel that is both entertaining and educational.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Half of what could have been a good book Feb. 14 2009
Format:Paperback
I'm generally a fan of Gowdy's books, having read all of them, even her first, Through the Green Valley, which now seems to be permanently out-of-print. I had the same problem with Helpless as I did with her previous novel, The Romantic. It simply doesn't feel like a whole book. I finished it with a sense of "ok, so where's the rest of it?" She seemed to get frightened of where the plot was going so rushed to end the novel just at the moment when it was beginning to seem believable.

I have a feeling that if she'd waited a few years to allow some distance and to let the ideas in the book stew in her mind for a while she would have produced a much better novel. Her older books have an unblinking honesty that in comparision just make this book feel even more like a cop out. She wanted to explore the idea of pedophilia, morality and the lines society creates and breaks but then she appears to be too afraid of the subject matter to write it honestly. In interviews she's cited examples of people like Lewis Carroll, who might have had a thing for little girls but never actually acted on his feelings, as a way of attempting to explain Ron, but it just doesn't fly: Ron loses his battle the moment he abducts Rachel. If she had written honestly from that point on it would have been pretty horrific. I can understand her reluctance to tackle the subject truthfully, because really how many people are comfortable reading a book full of graphic descriptions of molestation let alone writing one?

In trying to humanize Ron she includes an explanation for the origins of Ron's pedophilia, which borrows rather shamelessly from Lolita (Humbert and his first love as a teenager).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars deep psychological study April 7 2007
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In Toronto, single mom Celia Fox works two jobs while raising her beautiful mixed race daughter nine year old Rachel. Celia works at Tom's Video and plays jazz and blues at Casa Hernandez Motel. As protective as Celia is of her daughter, she is unaware of the impact her exotic looking offspring has on men, but begins to comprehend when a child model agent wants to hire Rachel; Celia has doubts, but Rachel sees a chance to earn money that she and her mom could use. However, mom is unaware that repairman Ron has seen Rachel and fallen in love.

Ron wants to save his beloved from poverty and maternal neglect and abuse. When a blackout occurs, Ron realizes he has the opportunity to save his Rachel so he abducts her for her own good. He enlists his girlfriend Nancy to help him "protect" the child, but finds his needs for her beginning to overwhelm his reasoning. As the police search for the missing preadolescent and Celia fears the worst, the media turns the abduction into a circus.

This is a deep psychological study that looks into the minds of the key cast members especially mother, daughter, kidnapper, and accomplice. The story line is totally character driven with the suspense coming from the subtle changes in attitudes of the prime quartet. Celia suffers from guilt and doubt as she deals with a caring mother's worst nightmare; Rachel begins to change her attitude as the Stockholm Syndrome begins to take affect. Nancy begins to have doubts that they did the right thing for the little girl as she realizes that Celia is not a terrible abusive mother. However, it is creepy Ron who makes the tale as he begins to conclude his pristine reasons are not pure. This is a frightening insightful suspense thriller that never lets the readers pause for a moment.

Harriet Klausner
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite novels of all time Aug. 22 2008
By Micah A. Chavin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read a new book about every 4 days, in 2008 I've already read over 30, and this one is absolutely one of the best.
Sometimes it is hard to find something novel in a novel, however this book is captivating by its dedication to honest characters and realistic decisions, emotions and relationships in a rare situation (but still very real and believable situation).
Dozens of times during this book I got that unique euphoria from the author finally putting a rare, special feeling into words never previously expressed.
Like all great novels, the protagonists have flaws and the antagonists have virtues and Gowdy raises many interesting, important questions that go purposefully unanswered.
A beautiful, brilliant, endearing book that will stay with me for a long time and definitely on my list of books to re-read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you really think about the character's motives and actions May 14 2007
By Suzanne Amara - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This author seems to have a real way with characters. I found myself thinking hard about each one, trying to understand how their lives have influenced their actions. There is just the right amount of flashbacks, enough to make you see that each character has a whole backstory. I think quite a few more books could be written using this same set of people. One of the main characters is a very disturbing person who does very upsetting things, but it's to the author's credit that you are left feeling as if he has fought a fairly courageous battle to not make his life a total disaster. The only time the book dragged for me at all was during police procedural and searching parts, which seemed a bit textbook. But this isn't really a plot driven book. I read it frantically whenever I found a moment, and have been thinking about it ever since.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sooo creepy, and yet sooo deliciously good Oct. 30 2007
By Marie Anne A. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
An incredibly disturbing story of a pedophile, his codependent addict lover, and the object of their obsession: Rachel. Beautiful, artistic, intelligent, and kind... Rachel is an "angel"... and she's nine years old. She's used to getting attention from men, especially the customer's at the bar where he mother performs. Rachel is poor but satisfied. She has friends, a mother, and a landlord who cares for her. (This landlord may even care for her a little too much, as one character witnesses landlord molesting Rachel.) The story centers around the obsession everyday people have for Rachel. Women wonder if she's related to her homely mother. Men give her a lot of attention and affection. Rachel is oblivious to any sort of pervy-ness. Will her abduction change her? The resolution is surprising.

The story is a mix of the past and present. We learn a little about her mother's life, what potential she had until a one-night stand with a college student from NYC. We also learn about the pedophile's dysfunctional life: dead mother, distant father, young lover. Pedophile's first sexual encounter is disgusting, and yet brilliantly constructed by Gowdy. Both the past and the present are absolutely chilling!!!

That these characters rely on psychic premonitions is superb. They all look so pathetic, especially the addict who clutches her "psychic pouch" in hopes of holding on to her worthless boyfriend. We see mother and landlord clinging to their psychic visions in hopes of finding Rachel.

We're left to make our own judgments about the mother, mostly through dialogues with a talk show host and callers. Is her mother "bad' for not maintaining relations with Rachel's father? Was their one-night stand, the result of which is Rachel, so horrible? And what about the thoughts of the pedophile? He actually believes he is doing the right thing by kidnapping Rachel. He sees the mother as "bad" for taking Rachel to bars, allowing her to touch men, leaving her with a pervy (?) landlord, etc. Although kidnapping and pedophilia are foul, is the pedohpile correct in his assessment of the mother? Gowdy gives us many things to think about.

Oh yes, this book is warped. And that's what made it so interesting to read. Gowdy does not tie up loose ends with a pretty bow. You are left to wonder what exactly happened to all of the characters. And you want more, but, all good books must come to an end. Sadly, because I wanted to know more about Rachel. And the pedophile and his girlfriend. I wanted to know if the landlord was really a child molester and if he really was gay. I wanted to know every little detail about every character; they were like a bunch of really twisted, pathetic new friends.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AWESOME NOVEL! April 23 2007
By Stephanie Elliot - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I haven't read any of Barbara's novels previously but I loved, loved, loved this book! All the characters are so real, and the dialogue and storyline flows. I am definitely recommending this novel to friends. It weaves mystery and suspense with the feelings from the human heart. Gowdy creates a character so believing in Ron, the reader actually feels sympathetic toward him. Just a great, great story!
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