American Faust follows the lives of three Americans from different time periods who make a deal with the devil and end up together on a country estate frozen in time.
Composed in part of vignettes, elaborate back stories, and theatrical scenes that lean heavily against the fourth wall, this gripping novel combines surprising storytelling approaches and a time-crossing narrative in which past, present, and future converge for the finale. Brown’s character development is intricately drawn, examining the complex points of view of the major players, especially James and, eventually, in the novel’s 1960s thread, Sharon Peters, a Connecticut divorcee whose descent into Club Heaven & Hell in Greenwich Village is a standout sequence that will shape many fates.
Romantic, thoughtful, sometimes bizarre, and rendered in crisp, memorable prose, American Faust offers mysteries that will please readers who prefer some subtlety in depictions of the uncanny, particularly the open-ended climax that invites numerous interpretations and will leave readers who relish the elusive hungry for more, though fans of straight-ahead genre fare may prefer a simpler approach. In playing in the realm of Goethe, Brown plays with form, expectations, perspectives, and the great themes of the original. American Faust follows in the steps of a classic by forging its own singular path.
Takeaway: This rich and playful deal-with-the-devil tale will enrapture readers with the ways relationships can harm and heal us.
Great for fans of: John Banville’s Mefisto, Ogan Gurel’s Waves.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
American Faust is a perilously delightful read, one that lingers in the mist of the mind from start to finish. One immediately feels drawn into an inexplicable world of past, present and future as the protagonist deftly involves readers in a dark and powerful Faustian bargain. Brown’s novel altered my very sense of time and purpose, adding the allure of a life lived eternally. My recommendation to read comes with a warning: prepare to stay in your seat until the very end.
Let me offer my congratulations on such an inventive, interesting, and imaginative manuscript. Honestly, it is one of the most innovative pieces of writing I have read in a long time. And not only is it original in its concept and approach, it is also clearly honed with a strong level of craftsmanship. Brown clearly has a wonderful grasp of language. This is a polished and impressive manuscript. Overall, the writing style reminded me of Thomas Pynchon or Thomas McGuane or W.G. Sebald.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Spanning three historical eras, Richard Brown Jr’s novel AMERICAN FAUST outlines the price of moral compromise for three separate protagonists - and highlights the enduring relevance of the medieval legend that is Faust.
Richard Brown Jr’s novel AMERICAN FAUST opens in the year 2000 with entrepreneur James , who his girlfriend refers to him as ‘my dot.com genius’, who is founder of a software company and in need of cash. In an age of financial scandals, insider trading, antitrust cases and recessions, it perhaps isn’t surprising that money is at the root of James’ vulnerability to temptation. Readers are taken back in time to meet Sharon, a housewife who values the ability to stay beautiful forever. The third protagonist is Lawrence (the ‘reincarnated’ Worthy). Lawrence dreams of escaping death, thus sustaining his lifestyle as a 1920s playboy. All three appear willing to sacrifice their souls for worldly ‘riches’. All three, too, could cite mitigating factors for their susceptibility to temptation. The suggestion may well be that evil and immoral behavior is contagious, and succumbing is easier than seeking an antidote. Ending in 2001, the novel is imbued with a circular structure and prompts speculation as to whether James may break the cycle of evil’s triumph over good. Because the novel embraces three very different periods in history (although the characters’ interconnectedness is clearly delineated), credence is lent to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard's assertion that ‘[e]very notable historical era will have its own Faust’. Here, Faust is embodied in the character Memphis Topheles, who surfaces in various guises throughout the story, indicating that temptation is ever-present and can take a range of forms.
AMERICAN FAUST is the latest example of a piece of work influenced by a legendary folk tale that is now half a millennia old. The story of Dr. Faustus selling his soul to the demonic Mephistopheles (reprised as Memphis Topheles in this novel) is a metaphor for all time. The story was famously adopted by playwright Christopher Marlowe in his 1592 play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus, and its central concept has underpinned many a story since. This timelessness has been adroitly picked up by Brown, who adds a new twist by taking a past, present and future angle. The author seems to point to the destructive cycle of self-indulgence at the expense of integrity and compassion. And while the title seems to target Americans, the story can easily be seen as universal. Can this cycle ever realistically be broken? Or is society simply becoming ever-more immoral, especially when those in the public eye fail to set positive examples? This novel certainly gives pause for thought and serves as a reminder that people do have free will, to be exercised for good or ill.
Stylistically, AMERICAN FAUST can appear rather ‘obvious’ and clunky at times – for example, the name symbolism (Mrs. Godwin and Worthy are just two) is less than subtle. However, such transparency is important in a morality tale and ensures that the point is not lost. Similarly, the fire motif that threads throughout the novel has very clear connotations, not least that of Hell.
IR Verdict: AMERICAN FAUST is a timeless cautionary tale that poses complex questions to which there are no simple answers. It is a worthwhile read, not least because it implicitly invites readers to ask uncomfortable questions of themselves.