The Lemay Leveller gets its title from Lemay, the area in St Louis where Erin was living while homeless, and tracks her life from the banks of the Mississipi, to St Louis and eventually to Colchester where she currently resides.
This is not a read for the faint-hearted, quite frankly it is a stark reminder of the collective responsibility that society has, and how the contributions of both individuals and the state shape the lives of others. I was reminded when reading of the marvellous J.B Priestly quote in his famous play, An Inspector Calls – “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.”
I read this book a chapter or two at a time, due to life getting in the way, which allowed a deal of time in between each episode for reflection and for the situation to really sink in – as such it has felt like I have lived with Erin, and her life-story, for the period of a few months. This no doubt allowed the events to have a different impact than it would have done reading the whole story at once, and I’m grateful for this unique reading experience.
I refrain from including a synopsis in this review, as I believe it would take away from the experience of hearing the events first hand and for the first time without any preconceptions.
Erin has laid herself bare through her words, and whilst her writing style might not have the vivid colour of great storytellers like Dickens there is a real guttural punch to her writing. There are moments when we hear the inner thoughts of someone who could only be re-living their exact emotions in a serious of harrowing situations – the pain, dismay and despair almost seem to rise from the page.
We are used to hearing about great characters in disarray in novels, but knowing this is a re-telling of a real life story gives it a more piercing quality. With such a tale you would perhaps anticipate a certain level of self-indulgence, which does not happen until the understandable venting in the epilogue (where Erin explains her reasons for writing and publishing The Lemay Leveller). Despite the often worsening situation, Erin has brought out the light of love and friendship which keeps a flicker of hope alive in the reader that good will eventually out.
This book brings balance to a turbulent tale, and shows that there truly are two sides to every story. A read like no other that you are unlikely to have experienced the likes of before, or again.