A deeply felt novel about the “crimes” of love that ultimately brings fresh meaning to that tired phrase “family values.”
Stranded down south at Civil War’s end, orphaned, 16-year-old New Yorker Augustus Fitzwilliam Boyd meets up with Isaac, a soon-to-be-former slave. Heading north, the two pause in an abandoned house with a piano, where Fitz discovers not only his “music of the spheres” (which comes to him automatically at the piano) but his love for Isaac. In New York, Isaac finds work with a Jewish carpenter who has no qualms about his race, while Fitz works as a musician in a brothel. They live together as lovers (under the pretext that the black man is the white’s servant), but Isaac, obsessed with their “sin,” dreams of marrying and having children. When their physical relationship ends, Fitz has an affair with a society gentleman who introduces him to rich socialites longing for word from beyond the grave of their war dead. The act is only partly a con—Fitz truly believes in his otherworldly muse—and the socialites buy into it wholeheartedly. Soon, he takes the more impressive name of Dr. August and with Isaac as his manager embarks for Europe. There, Isaac marries a prim, brittle, white governess, Alice Pangborn, who bears him two children. (Blind, elderly Fitz, dictating to Isaac’s son, is narrating.) After life goes disastrously awry, Isaac, filled with remorse over a tragic household event and guilt over the plight of his race back home, where lynching is epidemic, disappears. Fitz and Alice return to New York—vastly changed since their departure—to live, work, and raise the children together.
From the battlefields of the South to the spas of Europe to the fiery destruction of Coney Island, Bram (Gossip,1997; The Father of Frankenstein, 1995, etc.) conjures up a historical world true to itself, one that lingers in the mind like the final strains of an unforgettable symphony.