Web-only: 'Hot Springs' by Geoffrey Becker

Hot Springs

A Novel

Geoffrey Becker

Tin House Books: 318 pp., $14.95 paper

I call them papercut writers -- brave souls who just about make us bleed, writing on the edge of what we can stand. A reader is lulled into trotting along to the edge of darkness with characters who, gosh, officer, they seemed normal. Who are we to judge? What do we really know about other people's lives? This Bernice character in "Hot Springs," a young woman who has given up her baby for adoption and cons her boyfriend into helping her kidnap the child five years later . . . is she crazy? Evil? Desperate? We feel the need to judge her and set boundaries, but it's not that simple. Our sympathies may resonate more with the Christian couple who have raised little Emily to love and fear Jesus (much to her birth mother's horror), but we've traveled through this slice of life with Bernice and her boyfriend, Landis.

For better or worse or 318 pages. Bernice is comfortable here, in the land of "misfits and grotesques." But how much unhappiness can a person stand? A relationship? A marriage? A 5-year-old child? If we pretend it's OK, will it be? Geoffrey Becker gets you in fast and deep to the humor and the danger of the situation. Pressure is let off now and then as secrets are revealed. Bernice leads a rickety life for a young person. Let's just say there's way too much risk in her portfolio. On the page, it's pretty thrilling.

Salter Reynolds is a writer in Los Angeles.