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The Radiant City

by Lauren B. Davis

Lauren B. Davis’s much-praised first novel, A Stubborn Season, took place in Depression-era Toronto, in hard times made harder by alcoholism and mental illness. Her superb new novel is set in present-day Paris, where the Montreal-born writer lived for years. An intimate knowledge of the City of Light shows in the novel’s rich texture, packed with smells and sounds and street argot, the minutiae and contradictions of Paris life.

At this novel’s heart, as in Davis’s first, is an exceptional individual with the resilience to overcome a sad start in life and much subsequent grimness. Matthew Bowles has reported on most of the late 20th century’s killing grounds, among them Beirut, Kosovo, Peshawar, and Rwanda. His last assignment in Israel ended in an incident that took him across the line from journalist to combatant. He now lives in the shadowy world of his nightmares, too shocked to write the memoir for which he has received a sizable advance.

When he connects with Jack Saddler, a hard-drinking Vietnam vet and sometime combat photographer, he begins to take halting steps back from the brink. But Saddler is himself so damaged that his larger-than-life psyche is full of holes. Despite his compassion, Saddler is a lethally dangerous man. All of Davis’s cast of characters are brittle survivors: Anthony, the black ex-cop with a metal plate in his head and interrupted synapses; Suzi, the prostitute, strung out over a lost child; the haunted Lebanese family who run Chez Elias, the café across the square from Matthew’s apartment.

The story is engrossing and convincing. Davis’s question here is the same one negotiated by Alan Cumyn in Burridge Unbound: how can human beings look into a heart of darkness blacker than Mister Kurtz ever imagined and crawl back to the light again? The Radiant City’s answer seems to be that learning to love and writing the truth may be the closest we can get to redemption.


Reviewer: Maureen Garvie

Publisher: HarperCollins Canada


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 330 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-00-200576-X

Released: Mar.

Issue Date: 2005-2

Categories: Fiction: Novels