The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
Complex Technique. For his story Cross adopted the indirect presentation of his material through the mind of one participant. When that participant is a thirteen-year-old, remembering what he had lived through two years before when he was only eleven, and when the material to be presented is an adult drama which the boy did not understand at the time and does not yet fully understand at the moment of recall, you have complexities which only a skilful navigator can control. Ian Cross does so triumphantly. Jimmy's narration is almost always convincingly in a boy's language, the recorded dialogue brilliantly so, while the childish level of comprehension at which the story moves has a transparency which enables the reader to penetrate to the adult interpretation of what Jimmy saw.
Jimmy's nervous concentration, his love and his terror transfer to the reader, who longs for some saviour to intervene. "A chance in a million for someone like God to step in and give me a helping hand ... if he is such a hot scone why doesn't he do more day-to-day stuff." But no one steps in, not the nuns nor the priests, not Jimmy's sister Molly nor his old pal Bloody Jack, not God himself. Time and page 102 circumstances march inexorably on; Jimmy is driven by the tensions which haunt him to inexplicable acts of rebellion and violence, for which the crisis when it bursts seems to him to be a personal retribution. Yet even his sin and punishment, offered up uncomprehendingly as a sacrifice to save the world which crumbles about him, do not suffice to avert the inevitable. Looking back on it all two years later, he poses the eternal question all men ask at some time or another, Why?
"There's no hiding the fact that in some ways I am dissatisfied with God . . . this from God, and me only little. He could have waited till I got bigger ... If enough people started a mutiny against God, maybe he will sit up and take notice."
Among the ironies of the story is Jimmy's sense that he is a God Boy, "a boy that God has his eye on", because he thought himself elected for special favour, being both clever and good. But God has his eye on Jimmy Sullivan in a different sense, that of having a "down" on him. On the last page there is perhaps a further turn to the sense of "God Boy" when old Sister Francis, repulsed in her endeavour to soften the skin of Jimmy's protective toughness, confesses, "God makes little boys stronger than old women in more ways than one". Jimmy will survive, however damaged; this is also a manifestation of God's ways.
The God Boy is a vital and original little book. It offers various pleasures, among them the recognition of familiar truths and the exploration of assumptions. Above all it is authentically moving. To achieve all this in a short novel concentrated in its focus into the mind of a thirteen-year-old New Zealand boy is a remarkable feat.