“The People Who Watched Her Pass By”
April 17, 2010
Scott Bradfield’s new novel starts with a three-year-old girl being taken from her home by the water heater repair man. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a creepy abduction story. It’s far from it. Salome Jensen’s situation is more commentary than plot. She’s being set loose into the world, freed from parents and school, to live each day being herself and not someone’s idea of her.
Sal is separated from the repair man she calls Daddy, and we follow her journey that has her living in Laundromats and with people who take up lost causes. She even spends time in the desert, talking to a coyote. Put that way, Sal’s story sounds silly, yet this short novel is filled with wisdom. Bradfield’s humorously erudite take on modern American life so overwhelmed me with memorable goodies, I grabbed a pencil and began underlining. For example, this: “Sugar is for kids who never figure out what’s going on.”
And this, when a store clerk who lives with his grandmother asks Sal to marry him (she’s four) and explains, “I just want you to spiritually develop along lines that are appropriate to my personal lifestyle agendas.”
It took several pages into the book for me to understand Bradfield’s intent. The light bulb went on when I stopped seeing Sal as a vulnerable little girl and became an observing, detached person who watched her pass by. Then I enjoyed this quirky story immensely, with all its strange and provocative perspectives on the way we live. I regarded Sal as Daddy sees her, “a perfect, beautiful little child with a fresh perspective on this sorry world of ours. And it’s precisely this sort of fresh perspective which may yet save us all from total eco-catastrophe and self-annihilation.”
Eventually Sal re-enters “normal” life, aided by a Child Welfare Service agent. He counsels the itinerant and removed Sal to settle down and form bonds with people, “or else you pass from earth without a trace.” She tries, but she struggles with a restless yearning in her heart and soul, which experienced untainted awareness on her journey and a deeper self-reality. We struggle with her, recognizing Sal’s return is not the answer, yet neither is continued wandering.