How do you judge a life? What are the measurements used to determine evil versus heroics, balancing past mistakes with current kindnesses? Is the criminal marked ‘bad’ for the one-time crime or redeemed by present smiles and generosity?
It’s easier to stamp labels on foreheads, file people into boxes with defined edges and concrete rules. It’s easier to dismiss, opting to wander trails of black and white over gray shadows. I tend to delineate my life with ‘either/or’, neatly sweeping ambiguities aside in favor of stark answers. I struggle to feel anger amidst love, disappointment mixed with longing. I debate options, weighing the pros and cons, searching for the ‘right’ answer, the perfect solution.
So it was with swimming anxiety that I closed the last page and set the new novel by Michael Lavigne on my night table. I tossed and turned in the abstract, unsure of how to sit with a character I both hated and respected. Forced to acknowledge all facets, I was stuck. Was he a hero or a villain? There were no instructions left, simply a beautiful story of a Jewish father and son, rippled with questions of truth and love. “Not Me” by Michael Lavigne forces us to wrestle with the gray within ourselves, the world, and the hidden secrets tucked in dusty corners. He writes about a family born from the ashes, the Phoenix emerging after the Holocaust. He describes buried baggage and the secrets we keep as we begin anew, toiling in the soil of a life worth living. He writes about a father he adores, a father he hates, a father he worships, and a father he doesn’t really know.
But does a lifetime of supportive hugs and gentle parenting vanish in the light of old failures? Can you love based on the current while avoiding getting tangled in disgust over old actions? Who deserves forgiveness? Do you even want to forgive?
How will you rate a life, determine if love is worthy? “Not Me” forces us to question the untold behind the words, to dissect the characters as slivers of ourselves, and to stretch our black and white lives.
With true talent, Michael Lavigne offers a gripping story worth reading mingled with an after taste of self-reflection. And as I grapple with life’s grayness, I nod with appreciation at a novel worth reading.