What I like most about this book is the quality of each section’s treatment of different cultural roots of Canada, the exceptional fluidity of Mark Lavorato’s dialogue, and his poetic descriptions of both character and historical geography.
In a sense, the novel is an interconnected series of short stories (linked by the antihero Cedric Johnson and wellcrafted introductory poetry) that profiles small rural schools in our distant past, Ukrainian communities in wartime, First Nations villages, Canadian hippies, Greek immigrants, inner-city youth, South African refugees, Maritime fishing villages, and even musicians and Montreal physiotherapists.
Why is Johnson the antihero? He is the antithesis of Forrest Gump and appears throughout this artfully crafted story in much the same way — touching other characters’ lives through the magic of creative synchronicity.
Where Gump is pure and loyal, Johnson is flawed and unfaithful. When Gump shows courage, Johnson proves cowardly. Gump might be as intellectually challenged as Johnson is bright, but we know which of them knew what love is and Johnson has no clue.
This comparison struck me about a week after reading Believing Cedric and is not immediately obvious in the novel. What is apparent, however, is that Johnson has a problem. As a boy in third grade, he suddenly has visions of his future life and begins to speak in an adult voice, to the chagrin of his teacher. It is as though his future adult self has inhabited its younger body and reveals how the current incident fits in to the larger pattern of life.
There are many ways for a reader to interpret this thematic idea, from premonitional déjà vu to time travel, but whatever explanation you choose to believe has no bearing or impact on the power of this strange and interesting story.
Our pathetic antihero goes through his entire life flashing back to earlier pivotal moments, without improving his life in the least. Even though his younger body speaks with the tone and understanding of the older man, absolutely no one believes him.
The reader is like a third party who can see the entire train of Johnson’s life, while characters within each compartment can only watch the landscape of their time flash past the window. We can understand how right his glimpses of the future are, and how ineffectual his revelations to the other players. Fascinating.
If the story was not told through the astute depiction of an earlier Canada, followed by a colourful mural of communities, images and cultural interactions that evolve over time to the present day, we wouldn’t likely be interested in Johnson’s life at all.
Yet as an antihero, he gives us some reason for compassion, especially those who have spent entire lives trying to speak mature sense to other people and being likewise ignored. Book reviewers among them.
Perhaps the lesson for us all is that we have to lead exceptional lives, like Gump, showing we know what love is, and risking our life to rescue our friends, before anyone will listen at all.
Maybe it’s not about being right but about being good. Or, as Gump would say, “Maybe it’s both." Johnson at least makes almost every other person in the novel look better than he is, which might be his only redemption.
Lavorato has done a great job proving that a very good poet can be an excellent novelist, and many of the sections within Believing Cedric are powerful as short stories in themselves. Some are superior to the larger story.
Something, no doubt, for the future short story writer to come back and tell his younger novelist self.
Or, he could just listen to his reviewer.