“Lucy,” written and illustrated by Randy Cecil, is one novel, two artistic gems (the text and the illustrations), and three main characters, all in four acts. Though it’s apparently a children’s book about a stray dog, it is also a thought-provoking and complex adult novel, albeit with no “adult language.”
One of the many fascinating techniques of the author is his near-repetition of so many phrases, scenes, and plot sequences in each of the first three acts that initially, readers might very well believe that as they read the second act, they are reading the first act all over again. But it is not so. Each act subtly adds several minor details and a couple of major details which change the course of the characters’ lives.
The three main characters are a little lost dog (eventually named Lucy), a wise and loving little girl, and the girl’s father, who works at a grocery store but is actually a magnificent but frustrated juggler who suffers severe stage fright. As the plot unfolds, each of the characters’ lives and struggles gradually intersect until they all finally merge brilliantly, happily, and extraordinarily satisfyingly.
The entire novel revolves around the reality and necessity of routine in the everyday lives of all living creatures. Even more importantly, Cecil consistently adds details that cause those routines to gradually evolve until his characters’ lives at the end are far different than their lives at the beginning. And Cecil’s brilliance is two-fold: every new detail in the text is evident in the accompanying pictures that appear on every single page. Moreover, each chapter is introduced by a two-page illustration that hints at the new details to come.
So, for example: the very first introductory picture illustrates a lonely-looking set of buildings in a small-townish city, depicting only one human being and a few birds. The scene is set for the loneliness to follow. Act I begins with a little dog sleeping in a box in an alley. A single trumpet blares in the distance. Then a car door slams, awakening the dog. She immediately begins foraging for breakfast, and her hunger is finally satisfied by that wise and loving little girl — Eleanor Wische — who drops the dog a piece of sausage from her apartment window. We also meet her father — Sam Wische, the frustrated superb juggler. And Act I ends at the local theater, where Sam gets the hook after he drops everything he’s juggling. And the curtain closes, very wittily, on Sam and Act I at the same time.
And so the story goes. Each introductory picture adds more and more details and minor characters, and each act is a near mirror image of the one before. But the author’s brilliance is further manifested in many directions, themes, and events. Each of the first three acts, for example, features, right in the middle of the story, the dog’s wishful dream of her earlier happy life. And the dreams of her past are told in present tense, whereas the events taking place in the present are told in past tense. Her dreams are the “now” she wishes for; her present is a nightmare of reality.
Important themes abound, and they’re cleverly reflected in the symbols that evoke them and the pictures that illustrate them. The objects that Sam juggles “circled around him in perfect order.” They’re in perfect symmetry until they all come crashing down, like the routine of lives suddenly and cruelly broken. All of the illustrations are presented in circles, the traditional symbol of the wholeness for which all the characters struggle and strive. Then, finally, in Act IV, the denouement, the wishes of all the Wisches come to fruition.
And the symmetry that reflects so much of the meaning of the story is even demonstrated, again ever so subtly, by the shape of each paragraph. The length of each line is so cleverly centered and constructed to complement the lines around it that every paragraph presents a distinct and carefully conceived visual shape. The effect is indeed poetic; and musical, too, as illustrated by the expansion of that single trumpet player at the beginning of Act I. He becomes a duo, adding trombone, to match Act II, and finally a trio, adding bass, for Act III. Now they are making beautiful music, just as the merging of all the Wisches reflect the harmony of lives happily lived together.
You must read “Lucy” at least twice or you will not absorb its amazing complexity, And if you do, you will enjoy a unique and lovely reading experience.