The boy in question in Deborah Digges' riveting new memoir The Stardust Lounge is her son Stephen, a reckless young boy who, by the age of 12, was bringing home guns and mixing with street gangs. With a turbulence that goes well beyond everyday teenage rebellion, Stephen tries his mother's patience but never her love. Digges, in desperation, attempts everything to help her son. Following Stephen while he prowls the city streets, she watches as he takes the subway and sprays graffiti on the walls of the Massachusetts town where they live. She goes to counseling with him, tries to help him make his own way in the world and shares with her readers the tribulations and unexpected joys of parenting a very troubled adolescent.
Digges' memories of her son's growth are often painful, but she is unflinching as she recalls both Stephen's actions and her own. She ruminates on why he is her more difficult son compared with his polite and studious older brother: "Why is he so troubled? Why does he act out in this way? How can two sons of the same mother and father be so different?" But she never lets herself off the hook, either, writing that "I am someone I never imagined, an isolated, bitter, defensive mother navigating by shame the deep waters of her son's adolescence." With this sort of candor, Digges, a successful poet whose skill with language pervades her prose, provides insight into the many different sides of her and Stephen's situations.
Digges' own marriage and career ultimately take a back seat to Stephen and his problems. She devotes countless hours to keeping the boy in school and to making their home a place she and her son can share. As The Stardust Lounge progresses, the rewards of being Stephen's mother become more apparent to the reader. Through her honest storytelling, Digges conveys the special connection she and Stephen share. "Not so deep in Stephen's blood a wildness endures," she writes, "Good luck to the world, I laugh to myself, with Stephen in it."Eliza McGraw writes from Cabin John, Maryland.