cover image The Fat Man

The Fat Man

Maurice Gee, Gee. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, $16 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81182-1

In this seamlessly crafted psychological thriller, the sins of the father are visited on the son. Years ago, Herbert Muskie was tormented for being fat by young Colin Potter's father. Now, in the year 1933, bigger (and stronger) than ever, Herbert--the fat man--has come home to New Zealand to seek revenge. Caught in the act of stealing a candy bar from Herbert's rucksack, Colin is forcibly drafted into becoming an accomplice to Herbert's evil scheme: he methodically sets out to destroy anyone who has ever maligned him, including his own feeble-minded mother, siblings and in-laws, his new bride and his stepdaughter. Next in line are two of his old classmates--Colin's mother and father. Gee (The Champion) gives the proverbial victim-turns-villain myth several spellbinding twists, and builds an aura of desperation around those hard hit by the Depression to make credible the psychic spell that a flush Herbert casts over the destitute town. Readers with a hearty appetite for the diabolic will get their fill here as Herbert breaks nearly every code of decency. But what is most fascinating about this horrific story is the author's ability to project Colin's pity for the evildoer. In a final chase scene, Colin catches a glimpse of the tormented fat boy beneath the fat man, and understands the cruelty he himself has suffered. Gee brilliantly allows readers to see the child within each adult, and to recognize the complexity of the consequences one's actions can yield. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)