An Analysis/Summary of Susanne Bellefeuille’s Path of Lucas: The Journey He Endured

Author’s Background: Susanne Bellefeuille is a Canadian novelist. She is a graduate of Social Work from St. Lawrence College in Cornwall. Path of Lucas is her first novel and tells the story of her father, her mother, herself and other family members which resonate with the experiences of families all over the world caught in the web of existential struggles like depression, teenage pregnancy, career issues and mental illness. Susanne Bellefeuille is interested in assisting people with intellectual disabilities. Her story is source of inspiration to everyone struggling with depression and other mental ailments.

Background to Path of Lucas: First published in 2017, Path of Lucas is an autobiographical novel. It is a fictionalisation of the story of Susanne Bellefeuille’s family, especially the sacrifices that her father made during her mother’s struggle with psychotic depression. In the novel, Lucas represents Susanne’s father, Isabelle represents Susanne’s mother. The fact that in the novel, Isabelle and her daughter Lucy get pregnant as teenagers tells the story of Susanne herself who got pregnant at the age of 17 and had to drop out of school. Thus, Susanne’s determination to go back to school was motivated by the need to be a good example to her children and grandchildren.

Path of Lucas is rooted in the concepts of psychological and environmental determinism, which are major preoccupations of modern world novels. The individual must come to terms with the fact that the quality of their minds, as well as the environments, determines the quality of their lives. However, while there are certain events that the individual cannot control, efforts must be made not to stress the mind and the environment because the mind can only endure to a certain point, same as the environment, before crashing. Thus, Path of Lucas draws attention to the importance of mental health in the modern world.

Path of Lucas is a tragedy not only in the artistic sense, but also in the existential sense, as the novel documents how man’s journey through life is replete with painful experiences so that happiness becomes mere ‘occasional episodes in a general drama of pain’.

Path of Lucas is a trauma novel. It investigates trans-generational haunting and ghosting especially in the character of France and Isabelle, her sister, who were physically and emotionally abused by their parents. The effects of these abuses would follow them through life and through generations, influencing their choices and actions.

The colonial history of Canada and its aftermath are alluded to in the novel through character of Lucas who speaks English and Isabelle who speaks French. Their marriage is not only a marriage between two individuals and families, but it is also the union of two cultures, both striving to work and live together despite linguistic and other differences.

Finally, Path of Lucas captures the phenomenon of the baby boomers generation of the 1940s and 1950s, exemplified in so many children being born in the family of Mr John Clarkson and that of Lucas and Isabelle. With this comes the family and extended family values in the society of that time. In the novel, these families tend to stay in clusters, thus fostering love, unity and support for one another in times of need.

Plot and Synopsis of Path of Lucas: Path of Lucas has a non-chronological plot structure. The story begins from the present with Lucy’s car accident and then launches back into the past. The story also begins from the end when Lucas visits his daughter, Lucy, at the hospital where he stays to tell his story to the unconscious Lucy hoping that the story could help bring Lucy out of coma. It is through this story that we get to have a picture of Lucas’ life, from his time as a teenager to when he dies in the hospital shortly after Lucy’s recovery from the coma caused by the accident. The novel’s narrative oscillates between the past and the present, drawing largely from the human ability to recall past events through the agency of memory. The novel also has a circular plot, whereby the story begins in the present, launches into the past and returns to the present where it ends with the demise of Lucas and the recovery of Lucy. 

Path of Lucas begins in the present with the car crash involving Lucy Ferguson on her way to Alexandria from Kingston, Ontario, to visit her father, Lucas Clarkson, for the weekend. Lucy is rushed to the hospital but she is unconscious and would remain so for days. Lucy’s father, Lucas Clarkson, learns of the tragedy and rushes to the hospital to be with his daughter. While Lucy lies unconscious, Lucas tells the story of his life, the uplifting love story involving him and his wife, Isabelle, with the hope that the story would help revive Lucy.

The story of Lucas goes back to 1956 when he is a handsome 17 year-old living in the town of Alexandria with his parents, John Clarkson and Elizabeth Clarkson, alongside his siblings, James and Mary and their children. Lucas has a friend by name Steve, an Air force personnel, who will later die in an air accident. Lucas helps his father in the farm rising livestock. He has a car called the Studebaker and while driving it to town to buy farm equipment for his father, he meets two lovely daughters of the Bourgeois family, France and Isabelle, and falls in love with Isabelle, the younger sister. Their romance blossoms, but its progress is impeded by the poverty of Mr Bourgeois’ family and the abuses that Isabelle suffered in the hands of her parents as a child. Eventually, Lucas and Isabelle are able to overcome these challenges, though Isabelle is not ready to get married to Lucas because she has to work for the wealthy Mr Thomas to cater for her family since her father is ill and cannot work. Eventually, Mr Thomas has to sell his land and relocate to the city. It is Lucas’ father, Mr John Clarkson, who buys this piece of land and it falls on Lucas to conclude the deal since his father and brother will not be available on that day. This is how Lucas gets to know that Isabelle is working for Mr Thomas. This meeting reunites them and renews the fire in their relationship.

Isabelle gets pregnant by Lucas shortly after their engagement. It is this pregnancy that expedites their wedding. The marriage produces five children: Richard, Johnny, Steve, Lucy and Thomas. Lucas has a childhood dream of becoming a mechanic, just as his friend Steve has a dream of becoming a pilot. In the novel, Steve realises this dream though he later dies in an air crash. Steve is an inspiration to Lucas who continues to nurture his dream of becoming a mechanic, as he does not really like farming. But in the meantime, he works with his father in the farm. He also works on his mechanic dream by working with Claude Giroux, a Class A mechanic. However, Lucas does not make enough money from the mechanic work since he is not certified. An opportunity soon comes for Lucas to get his license as a mechanic. A man named Jim, a friend of James and a Class A mechanic, offers Lucas an opportunity to go to school in Uxbridge for his mechanic license while working with him in his garage.

Lucas moves to Uxbridge with his wife and children but his dream of becoming a mechanic is thwarted by his father’s request for him to return home and help him out in the farm because his health is deteriorating and James is selling his house and moving to the city so as to give a better education to his intellectually and physically challenged children. Meanwhile, Isabelle has had challenges and complications during child delivery and the doctor has warned that she should not have children anymore. Lucas has no choice than to abandon his dream of becoming mechanic to return to help the father in Alexandria. From this point onwards, it is a series of tragedies for Lucas. His father has to be on oxygen, his best friend Steve dies in an air accident, Richard, Lucas’ first son, suffers from meningitis, France, Isabelle’s sister dies of diabetes and Isabelle is obese and diabetic arising from unconscious self-harm (bad food choices) induced by unresolved childhood trauma.

A friend by name Ron informs Lucas of a job opportunity in a cable company. Lucas eventually gets this job but he has to be posted to a far-away place called Kemptville. It is while Lucas is away from home at Kemptville that Isabelle develops psychotic depression and falls into unconsciousness. She is rushed to the hospital by her mother-in-law, Elizabeth. When Isabelle emerges from her unconscious state, she does not have any recollection of her past life, neither does she recognise her family and friends. When the doctors are about to pronounce her a hopeless case and send her to an institution, Lucas intervenes and suggests to the doctor that taking Isabelle outside the hospital to places in the real world as well as helping her to confront the truth about her life could help bring Isabelle back. This strategy eventually works and Isabelle’s genuine memories are brought back. Isabelle is well enough to return to normal life. But she has aqua phobia and is easily triggered by events and situations.

Lucas’ children are now grown and the vicious family circle is seen to be on the repeat. For instance, Lucy gets pregnant for one Justin at the age of 16, just as Isabelle was pregnant for Lucas outside marriage as a teenager. Richard equally gets his girlfriend Chelsea, a teenager, pregnant. The family woes continue as Richard is soon diagnosed with cancer of the throat and has to undergo an operation. The operation is successful but then John Clarkson, Lucas’ father, passes away after Richard leaves hospital. Shortly after this, Richard is taken ill again and dies from cancer in the nymph nodes. Isabelle goes into depression again while Lucas’ mother, Elizabeth, dies from Alzheimer’s disease at the point where she is even unable to recognise family members. Isabelle dies of heart attack on the 10 of June, 1993.

After Lucas has completed narrating his story, Lucy comes out of coma and is surrounded by her children and other family members. Shortly after, Lucas has a heart attack and dies, leaving Lucy to say his eulogy at the funeral.

Subject Matter: Path of Lucas narrates the story of Lucas Clarkson and the hard choices he has to make in life to keep his family together and to save himself. It is a story of modern heroism marked by self-sacrifices, resilience, selflessness, love and friendship, family values and faith in humanity. The novel portrays the fact that the modern man is constantly battling with many forces, particularly those existential ones that he has little or no control over, including mental forces. The fact that man refuses to give up even in the face of apparent failures is what marks him as a hero, just like Lucas.

Setting: Path of Lucas is set in the Canada of the 20th century. The story spans 1956 and 1993 when Isabelle dies. Specifically, the place setting of the novel include Alexandria, where Lucas stays and where Lucy is travelling to before getting involved in an accident; Kingston, Ontario, where Lucy lives and works, and Cold Lake, Alberta, where Steve dies in an air crash, among others.

Point of View: Path of Lucas is written from the third person narrative point of view through the device of historic present. The omniscient narrator simply takes over the narration from Lucas, telling us Lucas’ story. The author also deploys stream of consciousness in the narration. The story is told in the present tense and uses the recollection strategy to delve into the past. This is because the past becomes the present through memory.

Characterisation: Path of Lucas has a wide array of characters. The important characters in the novel are Lucas, John Clarkson, Elizabeth Clarkson, Isabelle, Frances, Lucy Ferguson and her husband Mark, Steve Lewis, Mr and Mrs Bourgeois, Mr Thomas and Julia. Other characters are Mr and Mrs Arthur and Stella Lewis who are Steve’s parents, Lucas’ brother James, Krissy Cameron, the Mayor’s son who is a bully, Ron, Jim, Maurice Rocket Richard, Duval, Lucas’ grandfather who was an artist; Uncle Tom, Steve’s uncle who died in an air crash in WWII. Then we have Lucas’s children: Richard, Johnny, Steve, Lucy and Thomas. Lucas’ siblings are James and Mary. James marries Debra and they have three children: Paul, Donna, Scott. Mary marries Joe and has five children: Sandra, Brenda, Jeffrey, Darcy and Janet. There was a son of Mr John Clarkson by name William but he died.

Themes: Among the themes that can be discussed in Path of Lucas are Life as a journey, existential tragedies of man, man as a psychological being, family and values, genuine love and romance, family vicious cycles, birth and death as the sad rhythm of human life, mental illness as a menace to human relationship, theme of love and friendship and childhood abuse and trauma.

Language and Style: Path of Lucas is written mostly in American/Canadian English with some French words and expressions to reflect the linguistic realities of Canada. Indices of American/Canadian English in the novel are seen in the spelling of words like ‘labor’ (p.167), ‘program’ (p.156) and ‘behavior’ (305). Most of the French expressions in the novel are spoken by Isabelle in her early courtship with Lucas. Some of these French expressions are ‘Qui’ which means ‘yes’ (p.32), ‘Qui. . . je veux aller avec toi’ which means ‘Yes. . . I will go with you,’ said by Isabelle in response to Lucas’ question if she would go on a date with him.

Other aspects of language and style in Bellefeuille’s Path of Lucas are irony, humour, foreshadowing, flashback, historical allusion, motif, symbolism and Euphemism, among others.

A Chapter-by-Chapter Analysis of Susanne Bellefeuille’s Path of Lucas: The Path He Endured

Chapter 1

The novel opens with Lucy leaving her office, going to Alexandria from Kingston Ontario. She is visiting her father. Alexandria is depicted as a province, a town or countryside. Mark is Lucy’s husband. She calls to inform him of her departure hoping to see him Sunday night. Wendy is Lucy’s Secretary. Lucy greets her for the weekend, hoping to see her Monday morning.

Kingston is a two-hour drive from Alexandria. Lucy stops at a coffee shop for a coffee and to get her Dad donuts. There is thick fog on the road, which makes visibility poor. Lucy is involved in an accident and is left unconscious. The vehicle that causes the accident refuses to stop, as the driver drives away. It is another person that calls 911 after observing the accident scene. Note how quickly the emergency teams respond to the scene. Lucy is taken to the General Hospital.

The hospital calls Mark to confirm Mark to inform him but he does not pick up his phone as he is at work preparing for a case. Mark later returns the call and he is told of the sad news. He decides to go to the hospital right away.

Lucas is Mark’s father-in-law. Lucas does not answer his phone when Mark calls him. Lucas later returns Mark’s call. One should note the dramatic irony in Lucas telling Mark that Lucy should be arriving soon, not knowing that she is in the hospital. Mark informs Lucas of the sad news. Lucas is dismayed. Lucas promises to get to the hospital soon. Lucas leaves immediately for the hospital.

Lucy’s full name is Lucy Ferguson. Her husband is Mark Ferguson. Dr Wright is the neurologist assigned to treat Lucy. He tells Mark: ‘. . . The next twenty-four hours will be critical’ (6). Mark eventually gets to see Lucy at the hospital. Lucas arrives the hospital to see Lucy (7). He meets Mark there too. The nurse informs Mark that he needs to go and see the doctors to see the doctors to sign some papers regarding Lucy. Alone, Lucas begs Lucy to wake up for him, for her children. Lucas decides to tell the story of how he met Lucy’s mother while Lucy lies in coma.

Chapter Two

The story told in Path of Lucas by Lucas, the hero-protagonist, goes back to 1956 when Lucas is only 17. He is washing his first car, ‘a 1949 red two-door Studebaker’ (10). Lucas is preparing to go to the town to pick up farm tools for his father. Lucas is happy to go so as to show off his new car in the town of Alexandria.

Lucas’ father is John. He is described as ‘a farmer with a strong build and deep voice’ (10). He is a rich farmer who owns ‘over four hundred acres of land’ (10). John’s eldest son is James, who is married to Debra and has three children – Paul, Donna and Scott aged 10, 8 and 4 years old, respectively. Thus, Paul, Donna and Scott are John’s grandchildren. It should be noted that Donna and Scott have developmental disabilities. Donna was born twin, but the twin brother, Donald, passed away at three months old.

John’s wife is Elizabeth. They have a daughter, Mary, who is married to Joe. Mary and Joe have 5 children – Sandra, Brenda, Jeffrey, Darcy and Janet, aged 9, 8, 7, 6 and 5, respectively. John had a third child by name William, but he died. Lucas is considered a miracle child; born 13 years after Mary.

John has vast investments. He is industrious and ‘his goal in life is to help his children grow and become as wealthy as he is’ (11). John’s wife is Elizabeth. She is described as ‘a housewife who helps on the farm and loves being a mom’ (11).

Lucas drives off to town smiling and waving after his father, John. John is proud of Lucas, referring to him as ‘an incredible son’ (11). Lucas’ handsomeness is described thus: ‘Lucas’ looks rarely go unnoticed. His smile lights up a room, his hair is as black as ink and he has mother’s deep dark-brown eyes that one get lost in’ (12).

Lucas sees two girls on the road and slows down. They are Mr Bourgeois’ daughters. Mr Bourgeois is from Quebec City. Lucas admires the girls but appears to like the younger one more. Lucas offers the girls a ride. The girls are France Bourgeois and Isabelle Bourgeois. Lucas drives both sisters to the house. Their language is French and is seen in the word ‘merci’ which Isabelle says to Lucas.

It is soon realised that Lucas is taken by Isabelle: ‘. . . their eyes met. Immediately, he knows he wants to get to know her better’ (15). Lucas cannot stop thinking of Isabelle. Mr Brown is a clerk at the store where Lucas buys farm tools for his father. Mr Brown notices Lucas’ absent-mindedness and suspects that he has fallen in love (16). Lucas’ state of being in love is seen in the expression, ‘. . . his stomach was doing flip-flops’ (16).

Lucas buys gas on his way home at 22 cents per gallon. He looks to see Isabelle as he drives past their house but he does not see her. Lucas arrives home at super time and is welcomed by his mother, Elizabeth. Lucas’ Dad notices Lucas’ state of happiness. Lucas tells his parents about meeting the Bourgeois sisters. Both John and Elizabeth agree that Lucas is in love. Elizabeth narrates to Lucas how John met and courted her in similar circumstances: ‘Your father reacted in the same fashion when he bumped into me. So did your brother when he met Debra.’

Chapter Three

It is now three weeks since Lucas met Isabelle but he has not seen her again. Lucas and James discuss Lucas’ feelings for Isabelle, with James telling Lucas to summon up courage to ask her out by going to their house. Note how Lucas uses work as a coping mechanism to forget or endure love and romantic frustration.

Elizabeth informs Lucas that Steve is back in town. Steve is Lucas’ childhood friend. Lucas loves cars while Steve likes sports. Steve, who is from a humble family, is training to be a pilot at Trenton Air Force Base. He has just come back from the Air Force Base. Lucas visits Steve in their house. Mr and Mrs Lewis are Steve’s parents. Steve’s father is Arthur Lewis.

Steve informs Lucas that he will get his pilot’s license the following week. Steve’s father fears for his son’s safety as he is about to become a licensed pilot. This fear is not unfounded, as Uncle Tom, Steve’s uncle, himself a pilot, had died in WWII. There is a historical allusion in the words of Mr Arthur Lewis: ‘Fortunately, the country is not at war. No one has to fight the Nazis, the way Steve’s uncle Tom did in WWII’. It is in this chapter that we begin to see the psychological impulses of the novel. Some memories are too painful so that forgetfulness becomes a necessary strategy so as to avoid pain by remembering. This explains why Steve tries to change the subject of his uncle’s death in the war because he notices that it hurts his parents.

Steve admires Lucas’ car. Lucas says the car was sold to him by one Mr Gordon. Steve asks Lucas for a ride in his car and Lucas obliges. Steve offers to go to Alexandria Hotel, where he drank his first beer many years ago. Lucas remembers how Steve passed out after the drinking and had to be taken home by Lucas in his Dad’s car.

We are told that Lucas wants to become a mechanic but that he has not made up his mind as he needs to help his father in the farm. For now, he fixes farm equipment.

At the hotel, Lucas tells Steve about Isabelle, calling her ‘a beautiful French girl’ (25). Isabelle is 16 years old. Steve assures Lucas that he would see Isabelle again soon. Kris, the Mayor’s son, arrives the table where Steve and Lucas sit. Kris is described as ‘a petty criminal who owns fast cars, wears fashionable clothes and has girls too many to count’ (26). His full name is Krissy Cameron. He calls Steve a loser and mockingly asks what brings him back to town. Kris is shown to be a bully but Steve stands up to him with biting retorts. Lucas’ words help to defuse the situation and Kris returns to his table. But he soon returns to look for more trouble, having been overcome with anger. He asks Lucas why he still associates with Steve whom he refers to as ‘a good-for-nothing dirt bag’ (27). Kris hits out at Steve. Steve hits him back; he falls to the floor and Steve punches him. Lucas separates the fight by pulling Steve off the opponent. The fight and Steve’s victory is significant because it is the first time someone has stood up to Kris (27).

Steve reflects on his friendship with Lucas as they drive home. Steve is likely to be posted far away from Lucas. Steve is passionate about the Air Force and glad to follow in his Uncle Tom’s footsteps. Lucas says he cannot stop his friend from leaving even though he would want him to be around. Then the two friends say goodbye to each other.

Elizabeth informs Lucas the next day that Steve has called to say he is leaving town the next day in the morning. Steve later visits Lucas. He has been posted to Cold Lake in Alberta and leaves the next day by train to Toronto and then flies to Alberta. Steve appreciates the cake served him by Elizabeth Clarkson. He soon leaves to prepare to travel and to spend some time with his family. Their goodbye ceremonies are marked by gifts and hugs and tears (30).

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