The Girl in the Box, set deep in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala, begins in February 1983 as Guatemalan rebels continue their fight against the military government that rules the country. The Mayans find themselves caught in the crossfire – forced by the rebels to provide food and shelter, but brutally punished by the army when caught doing so. Despite the continued fighting and associated danger, Canadian psychoanalyst Jerry Simpson has returned to the area for another extended visit.
This time, however, he will return to Canada with a girl who has been forced by her Mayan parents to live for several years inside a “box” they built for her. Inez refuses to speak but appears to be physically healthy and willing to travel with Dr. Simpson. Until he can find the right treatment facility for Inez, Simpson plans to hire a private nurse to live with him and Inez in his home while a colleague of his works with her there.
Caitlin Shaughnessy, an independent journalist and Simpson’s longtime partner, is able to put aside her initial misgivings about the situation and comes to love the charismatic Inez almost as much as Simpson loves her. But Caitlin’s world will be shockingly shattered when she learns that his young Guatemalan patient has killed the doctor. Inez, more uncommunicative than ever, cannot explain what happened and investigators assume that she killed Dr. Simpson in a fit of rage. No one can know what triggered that rage. Caitlin, though, understands that she will be unable to forgive Inez, or even to resume her life, until she learns exactly what happened between Simpson and Inez – and why.
Sheila Dalton’s portrayal of village life during this bloody period in Guatemalan history is both enlightening and touching. She populates the village with ordinary people, some simply trying to get by the best they can and others, like the local doctor and the woman who runs a tiny café, who become everyday heroes by their efforts to help the nearby Mayans. Dalton primarily tells her story in a series of overlapping flashbacks of events seen through the eyes of Dr. Simpson and Caitlin Shaughnessy, an effective device that does falter a bit toward the middle of the book. At that point, the author spends an inordinate number of pages on one of the doctor’s other patients and in describing philosophical differences between Caitlin and Simpson regarding the value of therapy. Hopefully, readers will not succumb to any temptation to give up on the book at this point because those who persevere will be rewarded with an intriguing solution to the puzzle.
Rated at: 3.5