“Both had wanted Edgar to the exclusion of everything else. It wasn’t easy being loved like that. Sometimes it was like being in prison.”
This is a long novel, at the start young Edgar Fini seems to exist on the outskirts of a secretive bubble about his parent’s past, one that he is left to make sense of with snooping and ‘overhearing’. That he doesn’t know up from down when it comes to his dead father lays at the feet of the grown ups, sure of what’s good for a child to know. His paternal grandmother Florence is more of a mother to him than his biological mother Lucy. Certainly Lucy’s lazy parenting isn’t harmful when her mother-in-law sees Edgar as a second chance at parenting after-all, Florence and Edgar have natural affinity for each other, and often Florence’s love overtakes Lucy’s. Lucy isn’t involved nearly enough, and while it’s obvious Florence hasn’t given her much room to mother Edgar, Lucy seems content to allow it. She never really wanted a baby to begin with, she wanted out of her small world- she certainly didn’t want to end up a young widow living off her in-laws charity with a strange child. It was Frank that wanted a baby. Edgar was born an albino, and yet the fact isn’t overdone in the story-line, while it matters it doesn’t constantly beat the reader over the head as so many other stories about any unusual character often does. Certainly he is aware of his difference. “Being different from other people was exhausting. Other people’s dread became your own; you ended up haunting yourself. Mirrors were awful.” Like any child, he has a naivete but also a keen intelligence that’s hard to miss. We know some horrible tragedy took place, Lucy was injured, his father Frank died yet Frank’s vanishing from life started before the ‘accident’ with his odd behavior, attributed to a mental decline. The writing about Florence’s fears of her son’s illness, his father’s anger and ‘man up’ attitude towards it is one of the most realistic reactions I’ve read in literary fiction. As Frank’s unraveling moments begin to build upon each other, where Lucy can quiet his mind with her deep, passionate love for him- it’s the gut wrenching fear that gnaws at his mother I related to best. Edgar is unaware of all these things, for him Frank is very much a mystery and while he senses discordance his youth and the adults keep him in the dark.
When his grandmother passes, he is lost without her discernment about the world around him and Lucy isn’t much better off. “Florence’s departure meant a lot of terrible things- one of which was that Lucy needed to be a mother now, a job she’d been able to put off for years. Florence had been so much better at it.” Lucy neediness is naked, and unflinchingly raw, mothering isn’t going to be easy. Edgar spends more time taking care of himself and sadly Lucy fails before she even has a chance to try. Edgar befriends a man, and the entire novel becomes disturbingly sad. Even in his childish innocence, he knows there are things he shouldn’t do, but the man did come to his rescue, if only Florence were still alive, none of what takes place would have happened. How much can a child do for his mother’s attention? Where would he go, and with who? Who is Kevin and how did he get mixed up in Kevin’s tragic life? Lucy will long for Edgar, and lose a bit of her mind but fate has plans for her, she seems to live in a state of limbo, waiting and waiting to understand, unable to give up. For once, Edgar and Lucy both long for the same thing, to be together.
Edgar’s emotional maturity is beyond his years as character Conrad’s observation explains. “He seemed to be equipped with an empathy bordering on the pathological- a febrile intelligence uncannily attuned to the pain of others. Conrad felt known, sensed how his every thought and feeling drifted like spores of pollen onto the boys invisible antennae.” That Edgar has empathy for Conrad at all is a double edged sword, which I can’t explain without ruining what happens. Conrad’s place in the story is part of a strange turn the novel takes. I’ve never felt uneasy and yet moved by a character’s presence before. The reader feels this oddly quiet rage and compassion, and yet remains hopeful for Edgar. The novel drags but the writing is so beautiful, the occurrences are terrifying and yet not, a little too true to what a child in such a situation would struggle through.
It’s hard to review Edgar and Lucy without ruining the novel. This is full of everything. It’s about family, and while it may seem Lucy and Florence stoked their hatred for each other, the two women had so much more in common than they knew. They became family, when losing their own and they both shared Edgar as much as the two loved Frank. Florence was a mother to Lucy in a sense. The novel is about the glory and the shame of love, family and romantic. It is about the horrors that can happen when no one is looking. There were moments I felt the floor shifting under my feet, and at the end of the story I felt strange for days afterward. The characters continued to haunt me a little, because they felt like a real family I stayed with. If you aren’t one for literary fiction, this may not be exciting enough for you but it is moving. Somehow the novel managed to make me smile and then take me to painful depths. I am not reviewing it for any publisher, I had heard people talking about it and my curiosity was piqued. There are parts that were slow, but I really enjoyed the story. It is one of the strangest novels I’ve read and I will be watching this author. I recently read his prior novel Mathilda Savitch, which is just as strange but this one hit me in the gut. Perfect for readers of literary fiction.
St. Martin’s Press