Montreal-based author Mark Lavorato’s challenging and dark second novel tracks insurance broker Cedric Johnson as he relives key events in his life, his adult consciousness being literally transposed onto versions of his younger self, ranging as far back as his childhood in Lethbridge, Alberta, to the conclusion of a failed, post-
divorce affair in late middle age. Lavorato presents these incidents, one per chapter, through the eyes of other people for whom Cedric’s actions have proven pivotal. The characters are all given rich, complex inner lives, traced with deftness reminiscent of Ray Smith’s Century. Each chapter opens with a poem and a fragment about Cedric’s daughter, Melissa. This structure is initially disorienting, but the way it dovetails with the trajectories of the various characters’ lives becomes clear by the book’s solid, satisfying conclusion.
The strongest chapters deal with Steven Grieg, a street kid shuffled in and out of foster homes and psychiatric hospitals who dreams of a life working in cool northern forests, and Melissa, Cedric’s estranged daughter, whose mostly shapeless life hides a deep and surprisingly informed connection to poetry. Steven and Melissa are at opposite ends of several spectrums. Steven is raised in the constant trauma of poverty and has only a single, fleeting encounter with Cedric, while Melissa, who grew up living under his roof, uncritically enjoys the sort of class privilege her father wields like a cudgel. What they have in common is that neither sees much beyond their own circumstances. They are both unable (or unwilling) to acknowledge – as the reader must – that the people who surround them have equally robust, inward-looking lives.
Readers come to know Cedric only indirectly, via the moments of strong emotion when he affects the lives of others. Lavorato offers little respite from the intensity of these lives: his characters are all held fast by pain, anxiety, or a nameless longing that manifests as self-destruction. The writing is inventive without being showy, and Lavorato has a gift for letting characters’ emotions seep out, often catching the reader unprepared. Believing Cedric is an exceptional sophomore effort.