“Skipping Stones,” by Penny Lauer. CreateSpace. 384 pages. $15.00 trade paper, Kindle ebook $8.99
This is a painful book: painful because it is sensitive and courageous. In dealing with a young boy’s multiple crises – the loss of his mother, the tormenting tenuousness of his long-absent father’s overtures, and the horrifying abusiveness of Uncle Steve, in whose care Josh has been placed – Penny Lauer has not spared the reader her main character’s pain. Nor has she glanced away from the pain suffered by Steve’s wife and children. And yet there is something hauntingly beautiful about this prose composition that fully engages our sympathy.
We meet Josh shortly after he has lost his mother, Becky, who died in a bicycle accident for which Josh feels responsible. A troubled soul, Becky had determined years back that it would be best for Josh and for her if she divorced her husband, Sam. It’s not clear at first what made their relationship such a mismatch. Readers discover that Becky suffered from severe depression, and that coping with it sometimes took all of her strength. However, she was a courageous fighter and fully devoted to Josh. In fact, the bicycle mishap stemmed from her determination to overcome her fears and frailty.
Having anticipated the need to prepare for Josh’s future without her, Becky had documented her wish that Josh become part of her sister Jess’s family in the case of her death or incapacity. Little did she know the twisted home life that Jess and her children led under Steve’s reign of terror. Pride and fear mixed to keep Jess chained to a life of virtual slavery, of constant insults, and of harsh beatings. Her children had some understanding of what was happening, but no way to help her. Mother and children, in fact, had developed a conspiracy of silence. They lived a lie.
A flashback chapter summarizes the courtship and early years of marriage between Jess and Steve, revealing the step by step process by which the naïve and overwhelmed Jess became first an appendage to Steve’s egocentric manipulations and eventually a victim, her individuality submerged under the weight of his sadistic expectations.
Josh walks into this domestic nightmare, unprepared and defenseless. But not altogether so. The quality of love he had received from his mother, the spirit of freedom that she had instilled in him, and her therapeutic reverence for nature that he had internalized gave Josh resilience and fortitude. Still, he is only a boy.
As Steve becomes more and more erratic and cruel, Sam becomes more and more committed to rebuilding his relationship with Josh. However, Steve’s overpowering jealousy cuts off communication between father and son. Ultimately, Sam’s questioning of Jess about “what’s wrong” and Steve’s creation of a police state within the home (he cancels Jess’s credit cards and takes away her car keys) drive Jess closer and closer to taking a stand and tearing down the web of lies she has spun to hide the truth about how she and her children live under Steve’s tyranny. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 2, 2013 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, the Naples edition for January 3, and the Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition for January 17, click here Florida Weekly – Lauer 1 and here Florida Weekly – Lauer 2