The Novel
A Toy in Blood
A haunting re-telling of Hamlet

Introducing Toy

A Toy in Blood's Teen Hamlet

A K’iche Indian boy with a sad, broad face watched the girl from a distance. She sat just outside the mill, staring at flames in a large metal drum.

To amuse themselves and to bury their fears, his people called her the Red Witch, after the red witch in the old tales. He feared being so close but was eager to see her because, as young as he was, he had known tragedy, and the whole story of this girl was a tragedy. 

They said she’d murdered her brother.   

He drew closer. She looked almost white except her skin was tan and flecked with red as if a man had dipped his fingers in paint and flicked some over her. 

Then he looked into her eyes, staring from shadows cast from the shed, and he sensed some giant, slow-footed god sat behind them, a thing that had passed through many calendars.

The boy believed in evil spirits, and here was one, the shadow of a person. He could tell from her eyes. The circles inside the whites were pure black. At the margins of this blackness, embers flicked like sheeted ghosts. Ghost-to-ghost, light floated in narrow spaces. Light and darkness met. The girl smiled, and each ghost, unfettered, slipped up from its grave.

Toy, a girl of mixed heritage (Black and Irish), picks tomatoes alongside migrants from Central America. She has recently moved to her uncle’s farm, along with her family, in rural southeast Louisiana, a place undergoing a drought that mirrors the drought in her life. She just had her first period. Something she hates; her mother is physically abusive; her father is dead from suicide and then she’s forced to strangle her older brother to death after he unsuccessfully tries to end his life as well.

The teen’s extraordinary ability to remember everything becomes a curse, and her struggle to repress horrific memories causes psychological trauma. She sees ghosts.

When her mother’s abuse escalates, Toy escapes the forest and finds an abandoned house. Inside are books, among them, a collection of Shakespeare’s plays. Eventually, she encounters an apparition that tells her that her uncle molested her brother.

Driven to near-madness by her brother’s horrible death and her unquenchable desire for revenge against the uncle who abused him, Toy seeks the help of her brother’s former boss, Joe Petito, an Italian-American who operates a carpet-cleaning business. In addition to straining his relationship with an ultra-conservative father to help Toy, Petito also risks ruining his marriage. As husband and wife try to reconnect, the needs of this tortured and gifted teen intrude on their troubled relationship. The breaking point comes when Toy starts a fire at her uncle’s farm. Petito ends up losing too much at the novel’s fiery conclusion.

In tight prose that highlights his long tenure as a poet, Alford creates a layered tale, incorporating elements from comics, pulp fiction and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Set during the nation’s bicentennial, when America is looking back and forward, The Perfect Play is the both the coming-of-age story of a young, troubled girl and the story of man dealing with remorse and guilt.

A young girl finds fear and salvation in the forests of Tangiaphoa.