Three New York friends, in their childhood and adult selves, deal with a wily pedophile in an affecting novel that is big-screen lurid without being superficial or too slick.
In his 10th novel, Yglesias (A Happy Marriage, 2009, etc.) presents the children’s past trauma and their present-day reckoning in alternating chapters. Jeff’s adult cousin, Richard Klein, has already molested the 8-year-old boy when his predatory attention turns to Jeff’s best friend, Brian. The third victim is Julie, Jeff’s young cousin, who is 11. It's hard to say whether the more devastating scene is the 23-page playlet in which Klein traps Julie on his lap in a room full of adults and children and forces the boys to watch him secretly molest her; or the paragraph in which Jeff makes an imaginary adventure of his desperate efforts to dispose of bloodied underwear without his mother’s knowledge. As adults, Brian is single and a successful screenwriter, Julie is a library archivist and married with a teenage son, while Jeff, on his third marriage, is the top film director in the U.S. After years apart, the three reunite because Klein has just managed to elude exposure in another scandal and the trio is debating going public. Yglesias provides several revelations that ramp up the shock in an already awful tale and add a touch of Agatha Christie–like mystery. The author’s experience with Hollywood as a producer and screenwriter (his own novel Fearless and other scripts) brings color and humor to the Brian and Jeff characters. Early in the book, a strange apologia for a character named Aries Wallinksi, who is clearly Roman Polanski (could this be a roman à clef in more ways than one?), previews many of the novel’s themes and then reverberates late in the story with Julie’s cry: “I want people to understand it isn’t just priests and a couple loner weirdos.”
Yglesias of course exploits headlines and Hollywood to tell his tale but not without sensitivity. Most important, he shines a Kleig light where it may be most needed, into the parlors and playrooms where many Americans endure or perpetrate these nightmares.