"A riveting and exuberant ride." - Cynthia D'Aprix-Sweeney, The New York Times Book Review
"This otherworldly tale will haunt you." - People Magazine
"A stunningly rendered novel" - Entertainment Weekly
"A quirky coming-of-age novel that deepens into something dark and strange without losing its heart or its sense of wonder." - Tom Perrotta, bestselling author of The Leftovers
Edgar and Lucy is a page-turning literary masterpiece a stunning examination of family love and betrayal.
Eight-year-old Edgar Fini remembers nothing of the accident people still whisper about. He only knows that his father is gone, his mother has a limp, and his grandmother believes in ghosts. When Edgar meets a man with his own tragic story, the boy begins a journey into a secret wilderness where nothing is clear, not even the line between the living and the dead. In order to save her son, Lucy has no choice but to confront the demons of her past.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.70(d)|
About the Author
VICTOR LODATO is a playwright and the author of the novel Mathilda Savitch, winner of the PEN Center USA Award for fiction. His stories and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Granta, and Best American Short Stories. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Victor was born and raised in New Jersey and currently divides his time between Ashland, Oregon, and Tucson, Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
Chanel Nº 5
Having a life meant having a story. Even at eight, Edgar knew this.
What he didn't know was his own beginning. Newborn brains were mushy. If you wanted to know how your life had started, you had to get this information from other people.
But what if these people were liars?
"I kept falling asleep," said Lucy. She was speaking of Edgar's birth. The boy liked this particular story, and so he made sure to roll his head in feigned boredom. "Even with all the pain, I was, like —" Lucy opened her mouth and made a stupendous snore sound worthy of a cartoon character. "It was nearly three in the morning when you decided to show your face."
She tossed back her hair and turned to the mirror. "And you didn't make a fuss, either. Doctor said he'd never seen a kid care less about being born.
Slip, slap, and back to sleep."
"And then they put me in the box, right? In the glass box?"
"Yup. Because you were so small. And you didn't wake up for a week."
Edgar didn't remember any of it.
"Size of a dinner roll," Lucy said with a slight shudder. "And so white, I thought you were a friggin' ghost."
The boy looked up as his mother swiped a pink stick the color of cake frosting across her lips.
"Are you going out, Ma?"
"Yes, I am," she said. "Yes, I am."
She had a habit of answering certain questions twice. The first time, full voice, part of normal conversation; the second time, a more private matter, as if she were gauging the truth or untruth of what she'd said. She repeated words to see if she could believe them. The second round lacked conviction.
To Edgar, the echo always seemed tainted by sadness.
None of this mattered to him, though. He liked to listen to her, even though he knew she was slippery. He knew the story of his sleepy birth was nothing more than a ploy to soften him toward bed. Edgar didn't hold it against her. Her tricks were the tricks of a child. Transparent. If she lied, so what? At least she wasn't boring. From her mouth shot forbidden words with a marksman's precision. And she had red hair — and, as far as Edgar was concerned, there wasn't another person on the whole of Earth who had red hair. No one, anyway, who could lay claim to what his mother possessed.
Plus, she had the most delicious voice. Like the lady on the peanut butter commercial, Edgar thought. You could actually hear the peanuts in her voice. You could practically taste them. Watching his mother fuss with her makeup, Edgar wanted to bark like a dog. He'd done it before, he was good at it. Sometimes it made her laugh, if she was in the right mood.
But she wasn't in the right mood. Edgar could tell. It wasn't just the candied lips (the unabashed color highlighting his mother's natural pout), it was the dress as well — so tight it made her breathless, like his grand mother when she climbed the stairs. His mother was nervous. And now she was putting on the shoes that sank hopelessly into lawns, if she wore them to picnics — which she did sometimes, to the old woman's chagrin. The shoes were red, shiny as plastic apples. Dorothy's shoes, Edgar thought. The good witch! The bark erupted, beyond his control.
"Stop that," Lucy said. "You wanna wake up you-know-who?"
"No," said Edgar. But then he did it again, this time adding a growl.
Even as Lucy glared at him, the boy could detect the smile held in check.
"You shouldn't even be up," she said. "But since you're here." She did a little turn in front of him. "How do I look?"
Lucy smiled now without reservation, and then grazed the boy's cheek with her sticky mouth. "And I don't want you snooping around when Mr. S gets here. You hear me?"
They were always initials, the men. In respect for his father, Edgar supposed. His father who was dead, and who was always Frank. The other men were reduced to single letters, black flies over the bulk of his father's body.
This was his mother's second date with Mr. S, who was a butcher. Edgar was astonished upon hearing it. It was like his mother was going out with a pig — or, even worse, a killer of pigs. From television, Edgar knew that there were machines one could employ to detect the microscopic bits of blood that were no doubt hiding on Mr. S's clothing. After committing a murder, a criminal always washed vigorously, but there was always a spot left somewhere, some glimmer of evidence, if you knew where to look.
Poor Ma, thought Edgar. A butcher, a killer of pigs.
"Are you cooking him dinner?"
"Don't be ridiculous. Does it look like I'm cooking him dinner? We're going out."
"Bed," she said, swatting the boy's bottom.
Edgar sauntered away in mock desolation, dragging his feet. When he turned to look at her from the doorway, she was lost again in the mirror, applying a second layer of frosting.
* * *
Edgar looked at himself in his own mirror. Pale skin, white hair, tired eyes a sea-glass shade of green. I should have oinked, he thought. He tried it out, but it wasn't nearly as good as the dog. He'd have to practice the pig. With his index finger he pushed up his nose. It was stunningly effective.
He was a small boy, skinny, with knobby knees that were constantly bumping into things. Wrists so thin the bones rose like the lurky eyes of an alligator. In movement he was awkward; in stillness he possessed a natural grace, remarkable van Eyck hands, a long neck worthy of Pontormo. But in the mirror all the boy saw was an insect. He didn't make sense; not to himself. Though he understood his paleness was a disease, it often seemed a curse.
People stared. Plus, he lacked the meat of his fellow humans, the meat of his mother, his grand mother. He was more like the dead. More like his father.
"You don't eat," Lucy was always saying.
But he did eat. He made an effort, anyway.
"One pea at a time," Lucy once said to a friend.
"I do not!" Edgar had shouted. "I eat lots of peas at the same time."
When both women laughed, the boy stormed out of the room, nearly sick from the ferocity of his blushing.
"Leave him alone," the grand mother would say. She was even larger than his mother, but she didn't mind Edgar's bones. She didn't mind that he was more like the dead, considering the fact that the dead man in question, Edgar's father, was her own son.
The boy tiptoed into the hallway and peered into the old woman's room.
She was asleep on her back, her great Jiffy Pop bosom moving up and down with comforting regularity. He walked straight into the dark bedroom without making a sound. One of the good things about being an insect, Edgar thought: no one can hear you when you walk across the floor. Most people made a lot of noise. Most people stomped. His mother was a stomper. And, with one footfall heavier than the other — a telltale limp for which Edgar knew no tale — the sound was hers, and hers alone. You always knew when she was coming.
The old woman, on the other hand, for all her heft, could appear suddenly behind you, out of nowhere. If she weren't a person you loved, she might terrify you. "The creeper," Lucy called her. Sometimes Lucy jolted at the creeper's unexpected materializations and Edgar would have to suppress a laugh. It was funny to see his fearless mother jump at the sight of a fat old lady. It was a great routine. It never failed. Edgar wondered if the two of them rehearsed it while he was at school.
Entering his grand mother's bedroom at night (he'd done it before) felt like entering a cave where animals lived. He wasn't scared. A small white votive candle housed in a blue glass cup burned at all hours, and at night threw a living splash of light on the face of Mary. The whole room was enlivened in a gentle but peculiar way. The room seemed larger, and then smaller, and then, if you stood very still, you could feel the light moving on your body, making you part of the mysterious scheme. The candlelight was up to something, Edgar knew. He could feel its miraculous little brain ticking away.
The boy touched Mary's small plaster head. He liked the way her clasped hands warmed themselves over the fire, like the bums on Tulaney Avenue when the weather turned cold. Great sparking flames leaping from trash cans.
"Don't stare," his grand mother would say if the two of them were walking by. But Edgar couldn't help himself. To him, the bums seemed wonderful, living, as they were, in their play town of cardboard boxes and rags and plastic bags. They were like Boy Scouts gone bad. One after noon Edgar had locked eyes with a particularly ravaged man in a yellow ski jacket — a fringy red scarf wrapped around his head like a pirate. He'd winked at Edgar, making the boy blush. It almost felt as if the man had kissed him.
Now he waited for the Virgin to wink at him, and when she didn't (she never did), he made his way toward the old woman's bed. He was barely touching the earth. On nights like this, gravity had no power over Edgar.
The laws were the laws of space: quixotic, effortless, dangerous. One wrong move, one wrong thought, and the world as you knew it would be whisked away, replaced by some grinning immensity. When he finally willed himself down, it was to the floor beside the bed. The thing he liked best was here: a night-light, a small disk of frosted glass, bearing, in delicate relief, the figure of an angel on a bridge. A tiny lightbulb the size of an almond, cleverly concealed behind the glass, brought the scene to life. The angel's dainty foot, toe pointed, hovered just above the bridge. It was a still picture, but Edgar didn't see it that way. He saw movement. He saw the angel descend, he saw her breathe.
Edgar rarely thought about his father when he looked at the angel, even though he knew — but only vaguely, a borrowed memory — that his father had died on a bridge. But that was a long time ago, before Edgar had yet to utter his first word. And so, to the boy, the father remained in the lump and shadow of a half-lived dream. His father was something at the edge of things, but he wasn't a person, exactly. There wasn't enough light behind him to cast his undoing into a satisfactory story. When his mother and grand mother talked about Frank, it was confusing. It was like the two women were talking about an imaginary friend — and there seemed to be some ongoing argument about owner ship. Edgar couldn't participate in the game; he had no credentials, no leverage. It was infuriating.
In private, alone with her son, Lucy never mentioned Frank. The grandmother, on the other hand, was less cooperative. Sometimes she cornered the boy and spoke, in theatrical whispers, about her dead son. It was like a fairy tale. Frankie, she called him, sometimes Francesco — often with a cockeyed expression on her face. At such moments, Edgar wondered if his grand mother was a little dim, or possibly she was mad. "When he was your age," she would say, or, "When your father was little ..." It made Edgar dizzy. It was like the old woman was playing with a time machine — and, even worse, she was trying to tempt Edgar inside. But Edgar didn't want to go with her to where this other boy lived, this fairy- tale boy who was supposedly his father: a lump, a limp body on a dark road the old woman was trying to flood with light.
"Uh- huh," Edgar would say. "Can I go outside?"
He didn't like to think about that stuff .
But now, as he sat before the night- light, he found himself wondering: what was the point of an angel on a bridge unless she was there to save you?
Other wise, she was just holding up traffic. The old woman stirred in bed, but didn't wake. Edgar turned and watched her breathe. He could have easily climbed under the covers with her (she never minded), but, instead, he floated over to the bureau and opened the top drawer. Don't creak, he prayed, glancing at the Virgin for support. The top drawer was skinnier than the rest, like the pencil drawer in a desk, and it was filled with cards. Prayer cards. Small laminated rectangles, each with a fl ashy saint on one side, and, on the other, a name, some dates, and a prayer. They were all dead people! And though his grand mother was generally a very neat person, the cards in the drawer were a helter-skelter mess, as if she'd been playing a game of Go Fish. Edgar joined in the fun and shuffled them a bit, before picking one at random and slipping it into his pocket. Why? No reason. The drunkenness of not sleeping when you should be sleeping. It was his first theft.
After that, there was no stopping him. His eyes went straight to the bottle of Chanel Nº 5. He loved its solid shape, the heavy glass stopper, the simple lettering, black on white. It could have said Arsenic or Sulfur, it belonged in a laboratory, or a story book; it could have said drink me. His grand mother had had it forever. It was ancient. Edgar knew this was something special.
The amber liquid inside the hollow ice cube came from a source that no longer existed. It had to be preserved, which is why, he supposed, his grandmother never used it. For as long as he could remember, the bottle had remained half full. The level never varied. Still, half full meant half empty, which meant his grand mother had been less careful in the past, more certain things would last.
Edgar didn't think these things, exactly; he felt them. He felt that his grand mother had a past, sometimes merely by the way she turned her head, as if there were a breeze blowing through her hair. But there was no breeze — and certainly there was no hair. His grand mother was nearly bald and regularly wore a bandana on her head like a hoodlum.
The past was also in her closet, where there were outrageous dresses — some with tiny sparkles sewn in, some with beads. Dresses that, if she were to put on now, she'd split open like the Incredible Hulk when he turned green. Among the many photos on top of his grand mother's bureau, there was one in which the old woman was young and impossibly slim, with a cigarette in her hand and a sharp-fanged fox wrapped around her neck. It was all so strange. His grand mother had been alive such a long time that she had traded one face for another. Or perhaps someone had stolen the first one.
Edgar knew nothing. The only feat of logic he managed (a good one) Was that there had once been perfume-wearing days, and that, now, they were over. Anyway, she wouldn't miss a few drops.
As soon as Edgar touched the bottle (it was cold!), the old woman awoke, as if the boy had put his hand on her.
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing." He retracted his fingers.
"Why aren't you in bed? Is something wrong?"
The boy shook his head and drifted toward the old woman. There was no fear. He touched the blanket where it covered her arm.
"Where's your mother? She go out?"
Edgar knew better than to answer this question. He shrugged languorously. His grand mother didn't approve of the men. Suitors, she called them, even though most of them wore jeans. If she was ever downstairs when one of them came to claim Lucy, she retreated into the kitchen and made a very loud cup of instant coffee, clanging the spoon like a Salvation Army Santa wielding a bell.
Her pudgy red hand emerged from under the blanket and covered the boy's cold fingers with a blissful warmth. "Get me a glass of water, would you, sweetheart? That Chinese was salty."
Florence was referring to the cartons of food that Lucy had brought home for dinner. Such surprise attacks of to-go fare irked the old woman. She was the cook in the family, she cooked beautifully — who could deny it? — and the idea of restaurant food in her own house, well, it bordered on insult. Why couldn't she be permitted to cook every single meal of their lives? She was willing to do it. It was her joy.
At least the Chinese was tasty. She'd give it that. The old woman liked a little fire now and then, and had consumed the incendiary broccoli in chili sauce with formidable gusto. When she sat up, a prolonged burp rolled out of her. "Oh, it's repeating on me."
Edgar turned on the light in Florence's bathroom.
"Let the tap run for a minute," she called out, "or it'll be full of clouds."
Edgar knew the rules. When he returned with the water, it was crystalline. He sat on the edge of the bed while she drank the entire glass.
"Ahhhh, that hits the spot." The old woman's tongue darted in and out of her mouth in an intriguing lizard-like fashion.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to make meatballs," she said.
But tomorrow wasn't Sunday. Meatballs on a Thursday? Edgar sensed the competition. He knew his mother didn't care for meatballs. Too much fat.
Once, she'd tried to convince the old woman to make them out of ground turkey, and the old woman had looked at his mother like she was insane.
Excerpted from "Edgar and Lucy"
Copyright © 2017 Victor Lodato.
Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Book One: The Age of Florence,
1. Chanel No 5,
2. Two Wineglasses and a Banana,
4. Best in NJ,
5. Fat and Skinny,
8. The Man in the Closet,
9. Boo-Boo Bag,
10. Saint Christopher,
Book Two: Time Regained,
15. Save for Later,
16. In the Car,
18. [strikethough]Tuesday[end strikethough],
Book Three: The Last Day of Francesco Lorenzo Fini,
23. Ten Minutes,
24. Shepherd's Junction,
Book Four: Betrayal,
28. Biggleberry Island,
Book Five: The Pine Barrens,
29. The Seventh Day,
30. Extra Credit,
31. Goodbye, Toni-Ann,
32. The Pine Barrens,
33. Soon New Addition to Your Family!,
Book Six: Nine Months,
36. Signs and Symbols,
37. The Waiter,
38. The Headless Woman,
39. Consolidated Laundry,
40. A Hunting Accident,
41. First Wednesday of December,
42. The Holiday Season,
43. Everyone's Guilty,
45. The Devil,
46. Alpha Orionis,
48. In Flanders Fields,
49. Maria di Mariangela,
51. The Shell,
53. The Goofers,
54. The Farm,
55. The Golden Rectangle,
57. The White Child,
58. The Shed,
62. The Bridge,
65. Star of Bethlehem,
66. Keep It Clean,
67. Seven Bridges,
70. The Fish,
71. The Clearing,
Book Seven: Home,
74. Tree of the Year,
75. Blue Music,
Also by Victor Lodato,
About the Author,
Reading Group Guide
1. The author considers this book “a love story.” Would you agree? If so, what are the various love stories represented? How would you define each of them? As triumphs or tragedies?
2. Look at the epigraphs throughout the book. Read them again and discuss how they relate to that particular part of the novel.
3. Think about Edgar’s relationships with the two women in his life. Does his extremely close bond to his grandmother Florence seem healthy, or problematic? As for Lucy: What do you think of her as a mother? Is she doing the best she can? Do you feel differently about her by the end of the book?
4. Think about the element of grief in this book. How does it affect the characters’ lives? How does it affect their decisionsand, ultimately, their fates?
5. Consider Edgar’s relationship with Conrad. What did you think, at first? Did your feelings change by the end of the book?
6. (SPOILER ALERT) Does Edgar run away from home, or is he kidnapped?
7. The author has referred to this book as “a New Jersey gothic.” Would you agree? If so, discuss the gothic elements in the novel. For instance: Do the characters have a complicated relationship to the past? Is there a sense of the past as a malignant influence? Do you think the dilapidated Fini house at 21 Cressida Drive or the cabin in the Pine Barrens could serve as updated version of the haunted or ruined castle of gothic literature?
8. Think about Lucy and Frank’s romance. Why do you think they were so drawn to each other? What is your opinion of Frank? What is his illness, exactly?
9. (Spoiler Alert) What do you think of Edgar’s decision to return to the Pine Barrens? Why does he do it? How is he different when he’s finally reunited with his family.
10. How do you think the moments of comedy add to the storytelling?
11. (SPOILER ALERT) Discuss the reunion between Edgar and Lucy at the end of the novel. Why do they not go to each other immediately at the police station? What do they communicate to each other without words?
12. Consider Edgar’s personality: his shyness; his odd habits, such as hiding in tight spaces; his propensity for magical thinking. Do you think the doctor who suggests he might be “borderline autistic” is corrector do you think something else is going on?
13. Discuss Edgar’s albinism. How does it affect his character? And what do you think is going on when his skin changes color after the fireand then becomes white again at the end of the story?
14. Why do you think Conrad risks the closed world he’s built with Edgar to take him out to the café for pie?
15. How much sympathy (or lack thereof) do you have for Conrad?
16. Who really rescues Edgar from the fireConrad or Florence?
Discuss the spiritual aspects of the book, including the idea of afterlife and/or limbo. Is the medium, Maria di Mariangela, fake or real? What about Florence’s ghost?
17. Why do you think the narration changes from third to first person toward the end? Who is really telling this story?
18. Think of all the secondary characters, such as Henry and Netty Schlip, Honey Fasinga, Thomas Pittimore, Jarell Lester, Jimmy Papadakis. What does Edgar’s disappearance mean to them? Does it reflect things from their own lives, their own sadnesses and longings? What is each person really looking for?
19. The author was born and raised in New Jersey. What did you think of his portrayal of the state and its inhabitants? Did you know much about the Pine Barrens before reading the book? Did you know the myth of the Jersey Devil?
20. Throughout the book, there are numerous descriptions of tunnels and water: Pio in the Lincoln Tunnel, the tunnels and aquifers under the Pine Barrens, Frank’s submerged car below Shepherd’s junction, even the waters of Consolidated Laundry where Florence worked. What do these waters and tunnels signify?
21. Did Edgar have three fathers: Frank, Conrad, and the butcher? Or no father?
22. Discuss the unfinished carving on the tree: Edgar loves... What is the meaning of this unfinished epitaph?