THE COMPANION by Lorcan Roche
“Trevor, you’re performing in a bizarre little theatre of the absurd. You’re play-acting and the script is destined to get weirder. And the Director is going to ask you to do something to make the play’s dramatic purpose clear. Something ritualistic and sacrificial. Something strange yet familiar, just as the lights are slowly dimming….”
Review by Roger Brunyate (SEP 4, 2010)
Trevor is a young Irishman in New York City. A film-school dropout with a checkered past, he is also a born storyteller whose life, both past and present, plays out in short takes of absurdity, abandonment, and aggression, with brief moments of wonder and wisdom thrown in — not an atypical first-time reaction to Manhattan. Voices speak to him in the soundtrack tones of James Mason or Bob Hoskins as he picks up the outtakes of his life from the cutting-room floor. And in calling him a born storyteller, I should also mention that he is one of the most unreliable narrators one is likely to encounter; most of the book will be spent distinguishing the truth from the falsehoods. As he himself admits: “We lie to protect. We lie to inure. To keep on going we have to lie.”
Trevor answers an ad for a companion to a young man with muscular dystrophy. The setting, a luxury Madison Avenue apartment, might come straight out of an Albee play. The young man, Ed, has his own suite, lined with sound equipment and well provided with CDs, LPs, videos, and porno magazines. His father, a retired judge, is holed up in his study; his grossly obese mother has not got out of bed for ten years, and the three communicate only by internal phones; only the cheerful pot-smoking cook Ellie is the least bit normal. For the most part, though, Lorcan Roche does not milk this situation for laughs, but as the background to tragedy. I was not surprised to read that he has worked as a male nurse himself, for these parts of the book have an undeniable authenticity. Trevor gets the job because he has the physical strength, an upbeat personality, and apparently some previous experience at a handicapped center in Dublin. The kindness and patience he shows with Ed, even when the boy behaves like a spoiled brat, is Trevor’s most attractive quality. But Roche does not stint on the physical details of the bathing, the snot-wiping, or the bedpans, and he leaves us under no illusions about the frustration and sheer hatred that even the most devoted care-giver can feel at times.
I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into the book at first. Trevor’s voice, though abundantly alive, is not quite as fresh and original as the cover blurb promises, and the relentless profanity took a bit of getting used to. The cover also promises that the book is “truly wickedly funny.” It is not. Despite the comic tone throughout, there is little to laugh at; instead one wonders what all this relentless jocularity is hiding. Fortunately, as the book proceeds, we begin to find out, as we learn more about Trevor’s past, his academic father, his snotty sisters, and his close connection with his actress mother, nursing her devotedly until her death. There is one scene where he talks with a priest in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which serves as a touchstone of seriousness, in which Trevor truly reveals something of his soul. As it happens, he disavows much of this later; indeed the whole middle part of the book lurches about like a subway car rather than moving smoothlyÂ forward. But even those few glimpses of the real Trevor give one something to hold on to as the book staggers towards an ending that may shock some readers, but nonetheless seems absolutely right.
Let me end this somewhat mixed review with a detail that shows the book at its best. This is Trevor in Central Park on his day off: “I will watch as a distracted father releases an expensive model boat on sluggish pond water. I will wait in the shade for wind to blow slow understanding towards his overweight child who knows now the boat wasn’t bought for him.” Simply, even elegantly, written, this holds a sadness that reflects on the tragedy both in Ed’s life and in his own. Once Lorcan Roche learns to put more trust in writing like this, as opposed to his self-imposed role as an Irish comedian, he will become a novelist truly worth watching. Fortunately even the madcap ride of his first outing leads to some marvelous moments of stillness.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 2 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Europa Editions (June 29, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||Not Yet|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||An article about Lorcan Roche and his family|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||More Europa Editons:
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio by Amara Lakhous
- The Companion (June 2010)