Rag and Bone Shop by Robert Cormier
Short Review: Cormier’s final novel, published posthumously, read by the talented Scott Shina. It’s disturbing, and upsetting, and good despite its flaws.
Long Review: The title alone would have made me listen to this audiobook. I am an obsessive W.B. Yeats fan, and the title of Cormier’s final novel quotes a line from the masterful “The Circus Animal’s Desertion;” Yeats’ musings on the possible collapse of his talent and career. I’m also a fan of Cormier’s work, which I encountered as a lit student considering teaching English.
The novel opens in an interrogation room, as Trent takes a confession from a murderer. Trent, who is burning out on his job, is called upon to interrogate suspects in a child murder case. Then we encounter 12 year old Jason Dorrant. Jason has a hard time making friends, preferring the company of his 7 year old friend Alicia to that of most of the kids his age. When Alicia is found dead, local authorities focus on Jason as their prime suspect, assuming he killed the girl after spending the afternoon with her. Trent is called upon to drag a confession out Jason. Because it’s a high-profile case, Trent faces external pressure to make Jason confess, no matter what.
As I listened, I felt myself constantly questioning Jason’s competence. He seemed slow, but then perhaps he was just a modest kid, but maybe . . . I really wondered whether Jason had some sort of unnamed impairment, and that frustrated me. As the novel progressed, I was furious that no adults seemed the least bit concerned with Jason’s safety. I’m sure Cormier wanted us to feel that way, but I kept wondering if he went bit too far. Is our justice system really this flawed? Do we protect child suspects so poorly? Are interrogators so craven? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but they haunt me. That, really, is Cormier’s greatest strength–he makes us question our justice system and the responsibilities adults have to children. But those moralistic threads can go too far. Cormier definitely liked to pound home lessons through his books, and in this instance I think the ending jumps to a conclusion I don’t think is realistic.
That said, I do like the book. Cormier had a great ability to get inside his characters’ minds, and he certainly does that here, with both Jason and Trent. Shina is a good, clear reader, and he makes himself comfortable in both Jason’s and Trent’s voice.