The Notorious Dr August: His Real Life and Crimes
A thought-provoking tour of America and Europe from the U.S. Civil War to the 1920s, Christopher Bram’s latest novel is a wonderfully written and finely developed look at the life of Augustus FitzWilliam Boyd (Dr. August) and his colleagues Isaac and Alice. The story begins in the violence of an American Civil War small unit action that brings the homosexual Augustus into contact with the deeply religious black slave Isaac.
Their wartime experience is the first step in a lifetime of travel and internal and external discoveries. They become lovers but Isaac ends up marrying a white woman with whom he has two children. The children also engage in their tortured voyages of self-definition. Augustus takes advantage of the late 19th century American fascination with spiritualism to establish a career as a musician whose music bridges the gap between the living and their dead loved ones.
Although Augustus knows full well that he is living a lie, he nonetheless is stunned to learn that there are moments when his art does indeed perform as advertised. All the time the two main and three secondary characters are inventing and reinventing themselves, the world around them is surprising itself with marvelous inventions like electricity, telephones, etc. The description of this lost world is one of the highlights of Bram’s prose. It is almost as captivating as his analysis of the effects these outside forces have on the people he created to fill the pages. A difficult story to sum up in a few lines, but a wonderful story to observe and appreciate. Christopher Bram has a rare ability and has demonstrated it anew with this novel. Highly recommended.