Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Child Buyer

John Hersey, The Child Buyer, NY, Bantam, 1960, ISBN 978-0-394-75698-1 (read online)
I read a remarkable piece of speculative fiction last week.  Although written in 1960 (before I was reading, or even born) and now out of print, I'm nevertheless surprised to never have heard of it before:  The Child Buyer by Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and journalist John Hersey. Sharp stuff.

An excerpt:
BARRY RUDD: Mr Clearly kept referring to gifted students as the 'monster quotient' and kept talking about me as a 'deviate.'
SENATOR MANSFIELD: I noticed that was Miss Henley's favorite word, too, sonny. I don't blame you for bridling at that.
SENATOR SKYPACK: You got a better word for it, Mr Chairman?
BARRY RUDD: "While they were talking about their busybody old tests, I was having one of my regressive reveries--thinking that all my knowledge was innate; I'd been born with it. I'm often amnesic as to the source of my information, and I've just felt that I've 'Always known.' 'I just knew it.' When I used to believe in God I long had the image of facts and stories having been written in pencil on a sort of reel of microfilm made out of skin in my head by Him before I was born. I thought of God as being able to talk big and write very small.
SENATOR SKYPACK: Top off the rest of it, he's a blasphemer.
BARRY RUDD: I didn't intend any disrespect of your views, Senator.
(pp. 145-146, from 1964 Bantam Classic edition)

Although the entire story unfolds in the format of Senate Hearings, every character comes across strongly with an individual voice and agenda. The result is a poignant commentary on just about everything: education, politics, psychology, group dynamics, child-rearing, loyalty, patriotism, self-image.... What I found most alarming was that the basic premise--the very title--never proves an issue; no one questions that there might be a "Child Buyer" at all!  But the story isn't about the whether a company might legally purchase a ten year old boy, rather can the representative find the price of each very different townsperson so that the sale that Barry Rudd, a profoundly gifted child, might be arranged? 

Wry, haunting, funny, heartbreaking, timeless. This is dark commentary, as pertinent today as ever. In addition to the sad question of the gifted child's relationship with the larger society (outcast, curiosity, dependent, burden, commodity?), it further begs a deep and terrifying human question:  What is the price of our convictions?


  1. Every new visit i have always a new stuff of information in your blog,really your blog,is marvelous.

  2. Thanks for the great post on your blog, it really gives me an insight on this topic.