How Many Miles to Babylon?

I wandered into Housing Works Bookstore this weekend, and there on a cart with sale books was an old paperback edition of a children's book by Paula Fox: How Many Miles to Babylon? It was marked 50 cents, but I guess it had been reduced even further, because I had to scoop up only 38 cents from my wallet and the transaction was complete.

I finished the book this evening, over at the park by the Hudson River. It's a dark book. About a boy who lives with his three aunts in a run-down apartment building in Brooklyn. A trio of neighborhood toughs essentially kidnap him and force him to help them with their scheme to make money by stealing dogs and then collecting the reward the owners offer via the classifieds. It's a miserable experience, and all the while, the boy is thinking about his mother, who fell ill one day months ago and whom he hasn't seen or heard from since. Paula describes his abject helplessness but also the odd comfort the boy took where he could find it, like when he buried his head in the lead gang member's leather jacket to keep warm while the older boy towed him on his bike to Coney Island through the windy night.

She keeps her remove, though. As in her memoir Borrowed Finery, she speaks with incredible precision and insight about emotions but seems to not to feel them as she does. Maybe because it would be too much to bear.