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Jonathan Arnowitz
The Redemption of the Damned
Jamie Goldberg, hoping desperately to avoid dealing with his sexual abuse in early childhood, is quick to pin any symptoms of trauma on any convenient issue of the day. Newly out of the closet in 1980 Detroit, he thinks coming out would solve his problems. Yet, allusive darker traumatic secrets seem to linger. He discovers human sexuality is more complex than merely declaring one’s sexuality. He also learns the struggles of suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, and sexual acceptance only fester when suppressed. In short, he realizes his search keeps leading him where he does not want to go. Sometimes he is sustained only by his own wry sense of humor, love of music or the theater. Eventually a cast of Detroit characters accept him as he is, even if he does not, which prepares him for a date with his past he cannot escape. That confrontation threatens to damn him or possibly redeem him.
Set in Detroit during the dawn of the 1980s, the second volume of Taylor’s striking “Goldberg Variations” finds now college-aged Jamie Goldberg coming out to his liberal parents in the hopes of acceptance. Instead, he’s thrown out and told not to return until he is “cured” of his condition. With nowhere else to go and his college classmates becoming more and more hostile by the day, Jamie switches his major from law to theater before embarking on a self-destructive journey: beating Don Giovanni’s record of having over 2,000 different sexual partners. “I now needed daily proof that I was not ‘damaged goods,” Jamie confesses, heartbreakingly.

His real path forward is to learn to love himself despite the viciousness of society. Readers will be put through the ringer as Jamie strives to find and be himself in an era where even discussions of homosexuality were often still taboo. Jamie’s anxiety is infectious as he faces rejection of his confessions of love, plus psychology articles on “the homosexual panic,” tales of a gay cousin who embarrassed his family only to commit suicide, and vicious campus gossip regarding his sexuality. Only by recognizing and examining suppressed childhood trauma does Jamie come to understand his persistent need for acceptance … and begin to provide that same love for himself without outside support.

With rare power and disarming frankness, Taylor hones in on Jamie’s pain and struggle for acceptance, challenging readers to experience vicariously the ordeals he endures in a time not too far removed from our own. A sobering examination of recent LGBTQ history, Jamie’s wrenching trials and tribulations—and some revelations that will leave readers reeling—offer much to learn from. ’While this is the second book in the series, The Redemption of the Damned stands alone, though new readers on its wavelength will likely seek out its predecessor. Taylor has penned an unstinting portrait of doubt, fear, and self-hatred—and of finding a way out.

Takeaway: A wrenching, potent novel of coming-of-age gay in Detroit in the Reagan era, and one young man’s discovery that he’s worthy of love.

Great for fans of: Tom Spanbauer’s In the City of Shy Hunters, Edmund White’s A Boy's Own Story.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B