A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to the launch of I am not Raymond Wallace, a fantastic, moving new historical novel by Sam Kenyon.
Set in New York in the early 60s, it follows Raymond Wallace, a young ex-Cambridge student who arrives in Manhattan to work in the New York Times newsroom.
While there, he’s tasked with writing an in-depth piece on the covert world of homosexuality in the city. What follows is a touching love story set against a backdrop of blackmail, secret clubs and office politics, all while Raymond struggles with his own sexuality.
The book then leaps forward in time and that’s when the gut-punch of the story takes place. I wasn’t expecting to be so emotionally involved, but Sam does a great job of setting up the second half of the story, drawing the reader into Raymond’s world and his emotions before the story twists and pulls the rug away. I’m not usually emotionally affected by most novels, what with being so butch and all that, but this really got me.
One surprising part of the prose is the way the narrator of the first part of the story is a distant third person, sometimes seeming omniscient. I usually associate distant third person with a cooler, more offhand treatment of the characters, but I felt completely involved in Raymond’s emotions as the story developed. The use of distant third helps hugely to establish the world Raymond finds himself in, and skilfully sets up the emotional shock of the second half of the story.
I am not Raymond Wallace is especially poignant if you’re gay or lesbian and grew up in a time when it wasn’t as accepted as today.
For full transparency – I know Sam from when we grew up together in a small town in southern England in a time when being gay was still very transgressive and coming out was a terrifying dance with the high possibility of being thrown out of home.
I realised Sam was gay when I was a teenager. I knew I was gay too, but I was too scared to talk to him about it. So I waited till I moved to London to pull on my hotpants and haunt the bars of Soho (where I can still be found to this very day, even though the hotpants are now bagged out and I’m short-sightedly squinting at men over my pint).
So nothing makes me more pleased to a fellow Hampshire boy has written such a fantastic book about such a moving, important subject. Go Winchester poofs!