Helpless: A Novel

Helpless: A Novel

by Barbara Gowdy

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Helpless: A Novel by Barbara Gowdy

Rachel is a nine-year-old girl whose luminous beauty inspires every form of admiration. One summer night, when a summer blackout plunges the city into darkness and confusion, her most fervent admirer—a middle-aged appliance repairman named Ron—abducts her from her home. Set over the next two weeks, Helpless moves between the perspectives of Rachel, her mother, Celia, and Ron, whose feelings for Rachel grow less innocent by the day. Tapping into the fear that resides just below the surface of contemporary city life, Helpless is a "brilliantly realized thriller about every parent's nightmare" (Calgary Herald).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312427665
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 04/01/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

Barbara Gowdy is the author of five previous books, including, most recently, The White Bone and The Romantic. Her fiction has been published in more than twenty countries. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Read an Excerpt


A Novel
By Gowdy, Barbara

Metropolitan Books

Copyright © 2007 Gowdy, Barbara
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805082883

Chapter One On a sweltering afternoon in early June, Celia Fox stands at the railing of her deck and smokes the second-to-last cigarette she’ll allow herself before going to work. The apartment is small and stuffy (one of the drawbacks to living on the third floor of a Victorian house) but at least she and Rachel have this deck with its overhanging horse-chestnut tree whose glovelike leaves are already big enough to shade the entire front yard. From the railing of the deck you can see both the street out front and the lane that runs along the back of the stores on Parliament Street. Usually there’s something going on in the lane, although right now, because it’s so hot, not many people are out: only a legless man, dozing in his wheelchair behind the Shoppers Drug Mart dumpster, and the muscle-bound dog walker who holds all his leashes in one fist like a charioteer. An appliance-repair van drives by, and Celia wonders if repair places sell used air conditioners. Except she can’t afford even a used one. And anyway, she has to finish filling in the modeling-school application if she wants to make the deadline. Does she want to make it? She hasn’t decided. Nine strikes her as a little young to start trading in on your looks, although, if she chooses to believe the guy from the modeling agency, nine verges on decrepitude. When she told him Rachel’s age hesaid he’d have put her at seven and a half, eight at the outside. “But that’s okay,” he said, eyeing Rachel as if she were a used car, “she can pass.” By this time Celia was regretting having let him buy her and Rachel iced teas in Java Ville, but he’d chased them up Parliament Street and he’d seemed, in those first few minutes, so boyish and pleasant. “Little girls are a big deal right now,” he told her. “For certain high-end ads they’re pulling in close to a thousand, plus residuals.” Rachel’s head snapped up from her book. “A thousand dollars?” “That’s right.” “I could be paid a thousand dollars?” “Once we get that face of yours out there.” He assured Celia that for girls with Rachel’s potential the modeling school waived its fee. “What does ‘potential’ mean?” Rachel asked. “Beauty,” he said. “You know you’re beautiful, right?” Rachel shrugged. “Take it from me.” He looked back and forth from her to Celia, clearly wondering the same thing everybody who met them for the first time wondered. At which point Celia picked up the pamphlets and application form. “We’ll have to read all this over,” she said. She had no intention of satisfying his curiosity but she wasn’t offended, either. Didn’t she herself live in perpetual amazement that she could be her daughter’s biological mother? She pushed back her chair, then saw by the inclination of Rachel’s head that he was going to be set straight after all. And here it came: “Some people ask if I’m adopted. Well, I’m not.” “Okay,” the guy said. “My father’s black. Which is probably obvious.” “It would have been my guess.” With a new inflection of pride or challenge, as if she’d only recently figured out that this information wasn’t so predictable, Rachel said, “He’s an architect in New York City. His name’s Robert Smith.” “Cool,” the guy said. “An architect in New York City.” Or a veterinarian in Hoboken . . . Celia has no idea. She isn’t even sure that his last name is Smith. She goes inside and reads a depressing fiction piece in Harper’s about a husband indulging his wife’s bizarre mental breakdown. Then she shoves the cat off the piano and practices “Besame Mucho” for about half an hour, after which she forces herself to take another stab at the modeling-school application. She’s still on the first page (“Would you describe your child as overly sensitive to criticism?” “Is your child afraid of dogs?”) when Rachel arrives home, calling that Leonard wants to be a model, too. In exchange for free piano lessons, Leonard Wong accompanies Rachel to and from school. He’s twelve years old but acts forty, a terrifyingly high-minded boy who sends his allowance to an orphanage in Shanghai. “He’s not really model material,” Celia says tactfully. “I know,” Rachel says. “He needs braces. I didn’t tell him, though.” She comes over and presses a palm along Celia’s bare, sweat-sticky shoulders. “Hey!” She has seen the application. “What’s this still doing here?” She snatches it up. “I’ve been having second thoughts,” Celia admits. “Would you like some lemonade?” “Not right now,” Rachel says stonily. Celia reaches for her cigarettes. “Let’s go outside.” “It’s like you don’t even care if we’re poor,” Rachel says, following Celia onto the deck. She drops on the sofa and starts tugging foam from a hole in the cushion. Celia has gone over to the railing. “Stop that—” nodding at the cushion. “We’re not poor.” “Whatever.” “We’re thrifty.” Celia lights her cigarette. “Do you want to be a model? Forget the money. Do you want to spend all your time after school and on weekends rushing around to auditions and sitting for hours under hot lights and hardly ever having any fun?” “The guy said a thousand dollars.” “It’s not your job to worry about money.” “When you die from smoking, it’ll be my job.” “I’m cutting down.” “Liar.” She jumps up and comes over to Celia and hugs her arm. “Liar, liar!” she cries theatrically. “You smoke more than Mika, even.” Mika, their landlord and closest friend. “He’s a social smoker,” Celia says. “He doesn’t count.” Rachel releases Celia and starts spinning around the deck. “So,” Celia says, “can I rip up the application?” “You’re the one who brought it home.” She throws herself against the railing and slumps there. “Good. That’s settled then.” Rachel straightens. Something in the lane has caught her attention. “What?” Celia says, turning to see. The guy in the wheelchair is gone. Across the street two pigeons peck at a dropped ice cream cone. “What are you looking at?” “You don’t have enough clothes on.” “Nobody could tell from there.” Rachel scoops up Felix, who has just strolled out onto the deck. “I think I’ll go with you tonight,” she says. Copyright © 2007 by Barbara Gowdy. All rights reserved.


Excerpted from Helpless by Gowdy, Barbara Copyright © 2007 by Gowdy, Barbara. Excerpted by permission.
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Helpless 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
XXmrsblackXX More than 1 year ago
I read to about...the fourth of fifth chapter, liking it- it kept me intrigued. But when It started going INTO the mind of the kidknapper, you saw how the sick petifile thought, it distgusted and disturbed me. The way he LUSTS over a frickin nine year old is wrong and we have enough of that in the world, when I want to escape into a book, I don't want to go somewhere are cruel as this world.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Toronto, single mom Celia Fox works two jobs while raising her beautiful mixed race daughter nine year old Rachel. Celia works at Tom¿s Video and plays jazz and blues at Casa Hernandez Motel. As protective as Celia is of her daughter, she is unaware of the impact her exotic looking offspring has on men, but begins to comprehend when a child model agent wants to hire Rachel Celia has doubts, but Rachel sees a chance to earn money that she and her mom could use. However, mom is unaware that repairman Ron has seen Rachel and fallen in love.--------------- Ron wants to save his beloved from poverty and maternal neglect and abuse. When a blackout occurs, Ron realizes he has the opportunity to save his Rachel so he abducts her for her own good. He enlists his girlfriend Nancy to help him ¿protect¿ the child, but finds his needs for her beginning to overwhelm his reasoning. As the police search for the missing preadolescent and Celia fears the worst, the media turns the abduction into a circus.-------------------- This is a deep psychological study that looks into the minds of the key cast members especially mother, daughter, kidnapper, and accomplice. The story line is totally character driven with the suspense coming from the subtle changes in attitudes of the prime quartet. Celia suffers from guilt and doubt as she deals with a caring mother¿s she worst nightmare Rachel begins to change her attitude as the Stockholm Syndrome begins to take affect. Nancy begins to have doubts that they did the right thing for the little girl as she realizes that Celia is not a terrible abusive mother. However, it is creepy Ron who makes the tale as he begins to conclude his pristine reasons are not pure. This is a frightening insightful suspense thriller that never lets the readers pause for a moment.-------------- Harriet Klausner