“Lamm had been hiding hungrily, filthily, in the capital’s closest approximation to Dante’s Inferno. His purgatory - smeared in sausage fat, charcoal dust, petrified kebab skewers - was the maintenance hole beneath a barbeque in Hyde Park.”
There is so much going on in Raphael Brous’ debut novel, I am Max Lamm, it’s a bit difficult to know quite where to start. Max Lamm, Brous’ hero, is an Australian-Jewish former tennis prodigy whose promising career comesto a crashing halt when an Internet video of him having wild sex with a Salvadorean prostitute in New York goes viral. When we first meet Max, he is living, as the quote above suggests, in a hole underneath a disused barbeque in London’s Hyde Park.
Why is he there? As it transpires, he is the proximate cause of the worst race riots in London for a generation, having accidentally killed a Pakistani teenager whom he thought was trying to mug him. Convinced the police are hot on his heels and having nowhere else to go, the hole in the ground seems the perfect hiding place while he reflects on his talent for messing things up and tries to come up with a way out.
I am Max Lamm is a rollicking, bawdy, darkly funny ride through the rubble of Max’s life, packed with ideas and images whilst being perversely minimalist in the number of characters that appear. Apart from Max, the only character with a substantial presence in the book is Kelly, the messed up daughter of a US Republican senator in whose arms and between whose legs Max seeks salvation.
Brous’ writing has been compared with Philip Roth and, although I have not read sufficient of Roth’s work to be able to judge how apt the comparison is, one of the many themes explored in I am Max Lamm is that of Jewish identity, family and loyalty.
Of itself, this motif would have been sufficient to fill out the story but Brous isn’t content with this and so we get explorations of, amongst others, the phenomena of collective hysteria, racial politics, the psychology of privileged youth and the possible sexual undercurrents of US male neo-conservatism. At times, it comes all a little too fast and furious and I can’t help feeling that the story might have been better served by a deeper treatment of a more limited selection of them.
As it is, though, I suspect that I am Max Lamm will be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ book – you’ll either love it or hate it. Personally, I loved it but I was reading it more as a satirical piece than anything else and so the exaggerated nature of some of the scenes worked well for me. I even sensed an almost Tom Sharpe-like feel to some of it, albeit a more sexual and hard Sharpe-ness, in the way Max’s actions and decisions become increasingly erratic and wild as each previous decision causes his situation to become more extreme and out of control.
I am Max Lamm is an intriguing piece of writing which demands a reaction from the reader, although I can’t say it will be for everyone. It did, however, work for me and I’m looking forward to see the direction Brous takes going forward as he has a truly distinctive voice that could take him in a number of different directions.
I’d like to finish by thanking Corsair for sending me a review copy and, if you’d like a second opinion, please do go and have a read of these other bloggers’ views: