The life of a young albino boy in suburban New Jersey is permanently marked by two tragedies, neither of his making.
Playwright and novelist Lodato’s debut novel (Mathilda Savitch, 2009) was a sublime coming-of-age story about a young girl. In his ambitious but less focused follow-up, the author switches genders to focus on the life-changing events that shape an 8-year-old boy. It’s a dark mirror of Lodato’s debut, filled with menace and grief that takes no less than seven weighty passages to play out. The child is Edgar Allan Fini, who has “pale skin, white hair, tired eyes a sea-glass shade of green.” To his mother, Lucy, an alcoholic hair stylist, he's “her funny little albino fruitcake.” But as Lodato starts building out Lucy and Edgar’s world with meticulous detail, he’s also lacing the tale with ill intent. First there is the matter of Frank Fini, Edgar’s manic-depressive father, who committed suicide by plunging his car off a cliff, nearly taking Lucy with him. There's Edgar’s grandmother Florence, who wields such influence over the boy that she continues to muse over his fate even after her death. We have the butcher with whom Lucy is sleeping, who accidentally severs Edgar’s finger. Lucy herself is still shattered by Frank’s death, to the degree that she tells her lover “please don’t be happy” when she finds herself pregnant. It’s a dark tale told in stolen moments and silent reflections, and it gets darker as time passes. The final half of the book depicts the strange relationship between Edgar and a man named Conrad who committed a terrible trespass against his own son. These characters hurtle toward a climax that begins to defy plausibility—the author ties things up with a jarring change in voice at the end—but readers who make it that far are apt to be enraptured already.
A domestic fable about grief and redemption likely to leave readers emotionally threadbare.