This is the story of Julie, Jack, Sue and Tom, four orphans who are trying to stay together. After their father dies, their mother gets sick, she sets up an account for them so they will be able to stay at home while she is in the hospital, however, she dies before she goes into the hospital, the children, thinking that they will be separated decide to bury their mother in the basement.
The narrator of this story is Jack who is a teenager, 14 years old. He tells the story very matter of factually, starting with:
I did not kill my father, but I sometimes felt I had helped him on his way. … He was a frail, irascible, obsessive man, with yellowish hands and face. I am only including the little story of his death to explain how my sisters and I came to have such a large quantity of cement at our disposal.
This ‘little story’ tells us rather effectively how the children felt about their father’s death. Their mother’s feelings are left unexplored in the rather self-centered way teenagers can have.
The children attempt to carry on as if nothing has happened. Julie takes over the role of mother to the rest, but she is not much more than a child herself. Each child copes with the loss of their mother in their own way. Isolated from others, the house apparently is in area where most of the other houses are empty (if I remember correctly) and so there are very few children around, the youngest Tom has a friend he plays with, the others appear to not have any friends. From the very beginning of the book Jacks describes a game I would say should be called ‘playing alien doctors’ with his sisters. While this doesn’t continue after the death of the mother, Jack describes Julie as beautiful and athletic, filling the account with sexual tension between the two. The children prove to be not very good at keeping their secret especially when Julie get a ‘bloke’ and he starts hanging around and asking questions.
The ending is expected and abrupt, and while some may say it leaves one hanging, we can draw on our own knowledge of the world and know what comes next. I found this to be a very compelling reading and a interesting account of a very dysfunctional family.