Sunday, May 13, 2012
IN LOCO PARENTIS by Nigel Bird
I just finished student teaching at an eighth-grade history class in rural Iowa. It was a very challenging, engaging, trying, rewarding semester. The highs and lows of teaching are more severe than other jobs I've had. Feeling even partially responsible for the development of 82 teenagers is a lot of pressure.
Joe, the narrator of Nigel Bird's new book, In Loco Parentis, is a teacher who, shall we say, doesn't deal with the stresses of the career particularly well. He uses all the traditional stress relievers (drugs, alcohol, and sex). But the grind of teaching gets to him and eventually his chemically induced haze isn't enough.
Especially when he discovers something that every teacher dreads--that one of his students is being abused.
I can't blame Joe for how he reacts. I might do the same thing. But his actions have consequences, and Joe is quickly dragged down into a world of shit. Despite all of his awful decisions and his base weaknesses, Joe is a very likable character. I rooted for him til the very end of his spiraling journey.
This book features all of Bird's trademarks, especially his talent for crafting remarkable characters. Not just the narrator, whose voice Bird captures with perfect pitch, but all of the supporting cast as well. Two in particular: Joe's friend, the neurotic, clingy, very memorable Wolf; and his on again, off again lover Emma, a married woman and parent of one of his students.
If you've read any of his short work or his novella, Smoke, you know that Bird is a noir poet whose work is complex yet immediately satisfying. He follows up on that brilliantly in his first full-length effort. Be prepared: In Loco Parentis is a rare and devastating book.