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What We Don’t Know About Children
Simona Vinci
(Knopf)

I wish I hadn't exposed my delicate psyche to the disturbing material of these brief pages. One evening spent reading, and I'm done with the novella What We Don't Know About Children, but this creepy book isn't done with me. Terribly graphic images of awful events will come back to mind as though I'd witnessed them first hand, forcing me to cling to what I know to be good in the world--a glass of wine, the pattern in a leaf, any sign of love, a moment's kindness.

The book tells the story of young children and an abandoned shed, sex games directed by an older boy with a stack of pornography. The children are sweet and believable--Italian children, with bikes and scooters, gathering in the evenings to flirt and play until their mothers call them in. But the story is dark, mixing titillation with ugliness; it's hypnotic and terrifying.

The children seem unable to swerve from their course, blurring innocent pleasure with confusion and physical pain. "Luca unzipped his trousers and stuck his hand into his boxers. He kept on like that for a little while, then he pulled back from Greta, his eyes half-shut, and, still on his knees, moved his hand back and forth. One hand still tight on the sharp knee of the little girl, who watched him quietly, mute."

A warped, older boy with access to violent pornography becomes the destructive force in the lives of four others as they move from sex play to torture. The novella begins with the intense brooding of one young girl. Readers come to learn of the events that have left her alone, unable to communicate with either adults or other children. Adults rarely speak, and are barely present, in this world of children. On the dust jacket, the author's face is young and beautiful. She's smiling. I'd feel better somehow if she looked grave and troubled, as the messenger of this work.

This novel has been heralded as powerful and revealing of human nature as Lord of the Flies. It's been translated into many languages. It may be a great book--it's well written, and addresses the corruption of innocence dead-on. But it's not a book I ever want to experience again.

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