Actor-turned-writer Tobias Maxwell is the author of four novels, one of which, Thomas, was a semifinalist for the prestigious Lambda Literary Award. His fifth and newest novel, RAFAEL JEROME, begins with a chance meeting on a Paris vacation between Gary Silverman, a silver-haired sexagenarian from Santa Barbara, and Jeremy Jerome, an expat Canadian living in Los Angeles. The two become fast friends, visiting every museum in town. Eating together. Drinking together. Sleeping together (no sex, just sleep). They talk about travel. Their exes. Travel with their exes. They lounge around in bathrobes or just their underwear. Jeremy cries; Gary fakes a British accent. When the conversation turns to Jeremy’s father, the titular Rafael, Gary’s demeanor becomes odd, knowing. Finally, he admits to Jeremy that he knew his family. He knew Rafael Jerome.
Many works of fiction turn on a son finding out the truth about his father. That truth is usually dark: that the father was, say, killed by his brother, or that he is the most powerful Sith Lord ever. The secret that Gary reveals about Rafael? To tell it would spoil the story, but it certainly isn’t earth-shattering. Jeremy rushes off to his relatives in Canada, determined to uncover everything about his father, and this feels like an overreaction. True, Maxwell’s novel was meant as more of a character study than a mystery, and it succeeds on that front. Gary and Jeremy have such chemistry on the page that it is easy to forget they just met. (For Gary, of course, the meeting has additional layers: “The minute I saw you from the side, my heart beat. You were too young to be your father, but that didn’t register right away. You were Rafael Jerome.”) Chapters 6-12 switch from third-person narration to Gary’s point of view, a change that is jarring (a new section header would do the trick) but ultimately a good choice. Yet the “scandal” that lies at the heart of this story will be to some readers merely a thing to make them go “Hmm.”
Tobias Maxwell writes with crisp prose, natural dialogue and picturesque imagery in RAFAEL JEROME, an account of a family deep-dive that turns on an interesting secret.
~Anthony Piscano for IndieReader
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