cover image The Notorious Dr. August: His Real Life and Crimes

The Notorious Dr. August: His Real Life and Crimes

Christopher Bram. William Morrow & Company, $26 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-688-17569-6

Encompassing dramatic shifts in place and time, from the end of the Civil War to the heyday of Coney Island, this sprawling, splendidly imagined novel dramatizes Victorian age yet eminently familiar dilemmas of race, spirituality and sexual identity through the unforgettable journey of a wonderfully motley cast of characters. The eponymous pianist-cum-spiritualist, Augustus Fitzwilliam ""Fitz"" Boyd, first meets Isaac Kemp, his lifelong love, on a Civil War battlefield, where teenage Isaac is a slave accompanying his master's son. Augustus, himself only 14, has been captured after playing the flute to entertain the Union troops. When both boys are set free, they take off for New York, where, after various vicissitudes, clever, enterprising Isaac becomes Fitz's manager, traveling with him to his s ance-like piano concerts all over the world. Eventually, to Fitz's chagrin, Isaac takes a white wife, Alice Pangborn, a puritanical New England bluestocking. Soon the couple's two children are also traveling as part of the entourage of ""Dr. August."" At the height of his popularity, Fitz performs for the privileged classes on an international circuit; both the cultural landscape and the musical selections are detailed with beguiling immediacy. Though the surroundings are glamorous, Fitz and his clan find it difficult to make ends meet. So when they are invited to stay in Constantinople with an old acquaintance of Fitz's, once a whore and now a wealthy widow, they seize the chanceDbut a tragedy tests the bonds that hold their most unconventional family together. Bram (Father of Frankenstein; Almost History) tells his story through Fitz's own recollections asDlate in lifeDhe dictates his candid memoirs to Isaac's son, who has never known the full story of his family. Informed by sources as disparate as Ricky Jay's Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women and Edmund Wilson's Patriotic Gore, this provocative, imaginative exploration is generously endowed with evocative period details and rich characterizations of people from all walks of life. 6-city author tour. (June) FYI: Father of Frankenstein was the basis of the movie Gods and Monsters.