Trauma and grief unfurl in unexpected ways in Victor Lodato’s 2017 book, Edgar and Lucy, capturing its eight-year-old protagonist, Edgar and his mother, Lucy, at the precise moment of their undoing.
Lodato takes a story that feels familiar nowadays — a child, Edgar, has gone missing — and imbues it with so much poetry and penetrating observations and ruminations on life, that the familiar becomes nuanced and fresh.
That’s also due to how well he’s sketched his characters. Edgar is an albino kid who might be on the spectrum for autism and who has an exceptionally close relationship with his grandmother, Francine, a picturesque Italian woman right out of the Old World. She’s virtually illiterate and has allowed all of her dreams to be deferred first for her husband, then for her own child and now for her grandchild. But while rough around the edges, particularly to Lucy, she’s earnest and means well.
And then there’s Lucy. At first, I thought Lucy and Edgar were going to be the close ones, but Lucy, largely because of unspoken grief and trauma (more on that in a moment) has erected a wall between herself and Edgar, so much so that for all intents and purposes, Lucy is a stranger in her own home and to her own son. She’s hardened and mean (by her own admission, really). Instead of being close to her son, Lucy buries her grief and trauma and devotion into the deep pockets of one night stands and the endless liquid offered by alcoholism.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the book to me is something I’m not sure I’ve personally read at least: When Edgar goes missing and the days stretch into weeks and the weeks stretch into months, Lodato doesn’t make the story about a we-must-find-the-kid mystery. There’s not much unraveling here. We’re not spending much of any time with the (rather inept) police detective (who missed all kinds of clues!).
No, we’re spending time with Lucy and how she struggles with how to “move on” from a missing kid because by necessity, she sort of has to, right? She can’t keep her life on hold and more pointedly, she literally can’t because she’s pregnant from one of her one night stand happenings. She actually thinks of aborting it, but then she worries in a paranoid sense that that would be like aborting Edgar.
Meanwhile, we also get the complicated perspective of a child who has been abducted, but doesn’t quite know he’s been abducted because they’re too young to realize it. Edgar is too young to realize how Conrad, his kidnapper, has preyed upon his insecurities and fraught relationship with his mother and the fact of his grandmother’s death (more grief at play). Or how he continues to gaslight Edgar throughout the kidnapping about how Edgar doesn’t really want to go home, or that Lucy hasn’t been responding to any of Edgar’s letters when in reality, Conrad has been destroying the letters.
Edgar, one could say, loved Conrad and being with Conrad. But it’s a complicated love because it’s a false love built upon the lies manifest by Conrad to ensure an abduction would happen. It’s hard to even talk about, which is why it’s so interesting that Lodato delves into it.
Because of that delving, we also learn more about Conrad’s own trauma and grief that propelled him to this moment in time. Essentially, Edgar becomes an avatar for his own son, Kevin who Conrad killed in a deer hunting accident. To be sure, Conrad manipulates and controls Edgar, but he’s not a typical fictional villain in terms of any sort of violence, torture or sexual assault directed at Edgar.
There’s also the sidebars throughout that I find interesting, like how websites and charity organizations come out of the woodwork, often with good intentions, when a child goes missing. Or how one child, Edgar in particular, captures the imagination of the world as opposed to the thousands of other missing children who don’t.
We also get interesting side characters throughout, like Toni-Ann, who has an intellectual disability, but has pertinent information the police, and Lucy, should have, but nobody thinks to ask. And worse, her own mother stifles any chance that Toni-Ann would volunteer the information herself. I found that maddening. In a story where Lucy was often depicted by other characters as a terrible mother, it was clearly Toni-Ann’s mother who was the “worst mother.”
And then there’s Frank, who is the crucible upon which much of the grief and the trauma of the book was made. Lucy met Frank when she was 17 and he was 21. Not long after, moving in with her Italian in-laws, Lucy was pregnant with Edgar, a child she didn’t want. Soon after that, Frank lost his mind. I’m not sure what condition Frank is supposed to have, as Lodato doesn’t inform us, but it reads like schizophrenia. Frank is paranoid. He digs holes in the backyard. He isn’t even convinced that Lucy is really Lucy.
Eventually, he concocts a plan to kill himself and Lucy, thinking that will be a salvation of a kind, but it goes wrong when Lucy, thinking she’s playing along with Frank so that they can run away to California and leave New Jersey behind, brings Edgar along. So, instead, Frank shoves her out of the car with Edgar and drives off a nearby bridge, killing himself.
In addition to that trauma, we learn that Lucy was beaten and abused by her father, who returns to her life once Edgar goes missing looking for some sort of forgiveness and almost, it seems, offering up his diminishing physical body as penance for his past wrongs.
After a few hundred pages of Edgar missing and Lucy trying to figure out how to move on, we do get the reuniting of Edgar and Lucy in a moment that nearly brought me to tears. Lodato had done such a masterful job of keeping them separated for so long, entangling each of their lives respectively in the “moving on” part, that once they finally saw each other again, he handled it with such a deft, beautiful hand.
I also think it worked because it rung true. They really did have a fraught relationship and even the circumstances of Edgar going missing and returning alive wouldn’t suddenly bridge that gap. Lodato describes the distance between Edgar and Lucy like that of a raging river and that both were cognizant of that river.
Lodato says they were “frightened and ashamed,” but Lucy, like all great mothers, was brave.
“She stepped into the water — and I stood to receive her.”
I lost it at that bit. Mothers at their best are untouchable. Lucy, despite all of her character flaws because she’s human after all, still came through as a mother who deeply loved and cared for Edgar. No matter what the grandmother, the police detective, neighbors or others thought, including the misguided beliefs of her eight-year-old son, she cared.
Lodato’s “missing child” story is deeply personal, affecting, poetic and still has a lot of the intrigue and mystery unraveling to keep the pages turning.
Grief is the fulcrum we are all precariously standing upon in one way or another, and Lodato brings into stark focus the ways in which that fulcrum can drive us mad (and to death) or into an even more beautiful, fulfilling love.
Such is life. And such is the story of Edgar and Lucy in Edgar and Lucy.