Once you enter the world of Trevor Comerford, you will not re-emerge unscathed. Formerly employed in Dublin at the Central Remedial Clinic, Trevor was an empathetic teacher, anxious to help the students in his English classes there, creating firm bonds of friendship with them by making them laugh at his vulgarity, by refusing to recognize their physical challenges as “limitations,” and by taking them on day-trips (which became shoplifting expeditions to the local shops). His departure from Dublin for a new life in New York City was made in full knowledge of the challenges he would have dealing with the chaos of that city’s street life, which, in many ways parallels the chaos in his own life.
Trevor’s let-it-all-hang-out attitude makes him a particularly lively narrator who easily mixes street slang into the expletive-laden conversations he has with his own inner voices. His flippancy, his instinctive ability to size up the people he meets, and his wildly imaginative descriptions enable him to charm the reader with his irreverence from the opening pages. A rude newspaper vendor is, for Trevor, “the old scrote with the hedgehog stubble,” and when he finds an interesting job ad in the Village Voice while browsing at the vendor’s stand, he returns the vendor’s rudeness by holding a corner of that one page and letting the rest of the pages fall slowly, “like those Frank Capra movies where forty years pass in seconds flat.”
The ad Trevor has found requests a companion for Ed, an extremely bright teenager with muscular dystrophy who has little time left to live. According to the doorman, Ed has not left the apartment in over a year, and Trevor quickly learns that the typical “companion” for Ed lasts only a week, a circumstance Ed’s mother explains by saying these were “selfish, cruel boys who had hard, hard hearts.” Trevor, sizing things up quickly, immediately negotiates a much larger salary. Ed, the invalid, is spoiled and demanding, having had no attention at all from his parents, and he is “so frail it is frightening.” Trevor makes Ed happy by “being this upbeat, hippy dippy version of me,” and telling him stories about his life and travels, his trips to Europe and India, his talent at long-distance swimming, his job as DJ at the remedial clinic, his trips to concerts, his family life in Ireland, and his experiments with drugs, drink, and sex. Over the course of six months, Trevor and Ed each become more human.
In a profane and casual stream-of-consciousness style, Trevor reveals all his thoughts as they occur. By correlating these scattered thoughts, the reader soon becomes aware that Trevor is an exceptionally unreliable narrator, a young man with serious problems finding his place in the world. His family is almost totally hostile to him–only his mother is close, and he adores her. All of Trevor’s knowledge of kindness and empathy has come to him through his relationship with his mother, and he has been able to apply this knowledge to his work at the clinic and with Ed. He has also, however, learned the opposite of these characteristics from others, and his anger against those who oppose him is always just under the surface, begging to be released. He wonders why he is so angry: “Is it because I came to save [Ed] and realize now I cannot save myself?” He wrestles with his conscience, which “niggles” him on many different levels, and he has difficulties trusting that “what [I am] doing is right.”
Trevor’s references to things he’s seen through a keyhole, to being jilted, to a “citation,” and to his departure from Ireland, all part of his never-ending interior monologue (and sometimes dialogue), keep the suspense high, drawing the reader into the novel’s true heart, and as Trevor gradually begins to learn more about himself and begins to feel that he may have some power to control his life, Ed also benefits from Trevor’s more positive outlook—“[Ed] has stretched inside, now that there is space for other people’s music.”
The conclusion challenges the reader to look deep within, forcing each person to consider anew many of the questions which have challenged Trevor throughout the novel. With brilliant imagery, a psychological framework as fraught as what one finds in the best of Patrick McCabe, and a main character who very gradually works his way under your skin and into your heart, Dublin author Lorcan Roche has created one of the most memorable debut novels I’ve read in years, a novel which will keep you on the verge of tears even as you are laughing your head off.
Read the review on Seeing the World Through Books