I am Max Lamm by Raphael Brous is a strange book and even when I got to the end of it I was still not entirely sure what I’d just read. The basic story is fairly simple and the moral of the story somewhat muddled. The characters are deeply damaged but in some cases oddly endearing although the sporadic appearances of a cast of ghosts from Max’s past was a step too far on the overall weirdness scale for my liking. Cut the ghosts and I’d have been more enthusiastic about the book. I fully expected to get to the end and discover Max was himself dead, so eager was I to have an explanation for the presence of quite so many spirits.
The eponymous hero – though to be honest, there’s little heroic about Mr Lamm – is a young Jewish man gifted with prodigious talents matched only by his ability to court disaster. Max is an artist and was a professional tennis player, his life seemed set for stardom and wealth but fate took a wrong turn when film of him enjoying the services of a prostitute from El Salvador went viral on the internet. Quite why anyone would have made such a video or what they might have hoped to achieve by it remained unanswered questions but the film was required by the plot in order to kick start his spiral into self-destruction. Max was ridiculed and condemned and out of favour faster than you can say “cancelled shoe sponsorship deal”. All this has happened before the book even starts.
The book opens in London where race riots are rocking the city, race riots that Max has inadvertently set off by ‘sort of accidentally’ killing a Pakistani teenager who may – or for that matter may not – have tried to mug him. Years of practicing his backhand meant that when he thwacked the guy on the back of the head with a beer bottle, he hit the lad’s ‘sweet spot’ and broke his skull. Riots break out all over the city as the media whip up a frenzy of racial tensions and Max is convinced it’s only a matter of time before the police pin the crime on him. He goes into hiding, spending nights under a barbecue pit in Hyde Park until he’s picked up by Kelly Wesson, the daughter of a millionaire American politician. Kelly is even more screwed up than her new beau but having lots of energetic sex with a homeless man she picked up in the park is an excellent way to thumb her nose at her father and his aspirations of presidency. When Max discovers that Kelly’s father has secrets he can’t afford people to know, he sees an opportunity to blackmail his way out of trouble, but old man Wesson won’t take things lying (or perhaps I should say kneeling) down.
I received I am Max Lamm from another curiousbookfans reviewer who sent it on to me after deciding she just couldn’t get into the book. I like a challenge but I did wonder if it was going to be such rubbish that I’d also admit defeat. I didn’t give up and despite the silly ghosts I found that once I got into it (and once I’d learned to ignore the ghosts) it was pretty compelling stuff and quite the page-turner. Whilst not everything really seemed to knit together and the plot seemed to jump about all over the place, Max and Kelly were interesting characters and the ending carries a fabulously poignant and ironic twist. The whipping up of racial tensions and the repercussions of the death of Max’s assailant were entirely aligned with events of recent years and aspects of these events were quite insightful. Max’s interest in the Lockerbie disaster and the book’s inclusion of other terrorism hot topics gave a degree of interest and insight that I hadn’t expected in what I expected to just be another book of sex and violence.
The book is about damaged and unpleasant people and the abuse of power and money, but there are also some kind people to contrast the societal breakdown. When Max visits the synagogue to say Kaddish for his dead victim, he’s shown great kindness by congregants who take pity on his apparent homelessness and send him away with food in his pockets. If you are looking for clever and novel assessments of Jewish-Islamic tensions or deeply considered examinations of the nature of society going out of control, this probably isn’t the book for you, but in spite of that – and in spite of the ghosts – I rather enjoyed my time with Max Lamm and Kelly Wesson and I was left wondering what might have happened once I closed the covers and put down the book.
I am Max Lamm by Raphael Brous
Published by Corsair, July 2013
With thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy.
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