A Philadelphia lawyer struggling with his sexuality and relationships befriends a mailroom clerk in this novel.
On the surface, Charles Hamilton appears to lead a fairly comfortable life with a bright future. After graduating from law school in the late 1970s, he easily secures a job in asset management at a brokerage house and is living with a British-born woman 10 years his senior named Carol Melbourne. Charles is young and attractive but has some mannerisms that lead many people to wonder if he is gay. Even Carol’s mother, the prim Edith Larue, laments: “What chance did Carol have? Some of these homosexuals can actually hypnotize a woman.” As the story jumps back and forth between the ’70s and the ’90s, Charles’ struggles are shown to be quite complex as more and more layers are revealed. He regularly visits a psychiatrist to work out his feelings about his sexuality and his partners, including those that result from Carol’s addiction to pills. Interspersed are scenes with Jimmy Zelroué, a gay, deaf mailroom clerk at the brokerage, whom Charles is intrigued by. They live in a decidedly anti-gay world where snap judgments and bigoted insults are the norm and the old-school ways of Philadelphia’s hardscrabble neighborhoods present an almost inescapable hazard. As the nation reels from the fallout of the savings and loan crisis, Charles turns to a hacker named Shirley Azalea to help him rescue someone he cares for. Nicholas (Black Mamba, 2016) has a superb ear for dialogue, easily writing about a time period when homophobic suspicion was loudly broadcast, whether in the financial world, academia, or working-class havens. While Charles is looking to connect, others whine and judge, terrified of a perceived homosexual threat. The novel’s many characters and their backstories are carefully portrayed, including several dynamic female characters, such as hacking pioneer Shirley. The author describes her operation’s technicalities as skillfully as he depicts the legal and financial issues that arise in the narrative. But the digressive structure of the book can make it unclear what year it is, and some extraneous characters and minor plot points play too big of a role.
A reasoned, pensive, and sometimes-tragic tale that yearns for tolerance.