At the very end of the novel entitled James Grant, Misha, our narrator and the best friend of the title character, watches his young daughter laughing and splashing in the family pool. “Her window on life has such a clear and unblemished pane of glass framed within it,” he observes. “Would a few drops of reality spoil her view, I wonder.”
While anything more on the daughter will have to wait for a sequel, Misha is referring to the many drops and blemishes in author Stanislas M. Yassukovich’s adept character study of James Grant, a privileged yet troubled soul and a prisoner of his own family and social class.
Young James Grant is the smart, attractive, athletic, carefree son of extremely wealthy parents living in rarefied air on the north shore of Long Island, New York. His familial arrangement is unusual, however, in that his father, unofficially exiled from this exclusive clan long ago, is seldom around while his mother lives in Paris.
A STORY BEGINS
James and Misha are first drawn to each other in primary school. James is the only one to befriend the new student Misha, who is of European background. They become fast friends at an early age and remain so for the duration of the book.
As the boys grow up, the effects of James’s upbringing and background come to light and dominate the scene. He becomes the consummate playboy — polished at golf, tennis and polo, an alcoholic of epic proportions, slick with women. He’s free from any responsibility or the need to pursue anything of value with his time.
While his charm helps James in many exploits, it can’t hide his obsession with the bottle. “The ingenuity that rascal displays to get his hands on some booze would make Houdini look clumsy,” says his Uncle Nathaniel.
HELPING OTHERS OR HURTING ONESELF?
His close family and friends worry about him greatly and, failing to incite change, repeatedly enlist Misha to get through to him. Misha, unfortunately, becomes a more reluctant accomplice than a healing savior. He sees James as “a tragic hero, all the more needful of a solid friend like myself.” The others plainly see only a “rich kid, spoiled brat.”
In his frustration to help his friend, Misha tells Nathaniel, “I don’t know what to say … maybe James has a stronger character than mine.” To which Nathaniel replies, “Quite the reverse … I fear James has no character at all.”
As the years pass and the drinking escalates, stakes become higher. What previously comes off as adolescent escapades with some casual consequences now take on increasingly serious repercussions. Can Misha, or anyone at all, rescue James from his fast track to hell? Can he save himself?
PERTINENT DISCUSSIONS OF PROFOUND ISSUES
Author Yassukovich is masterful at revealing James’ soul, as well as intricately dissecting society’s upper class as they go about jet-setting their way through Long Island, New York City, South Carolina, Palm Beach, Paris and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Speaking of which, he says, “The class they belong to is not of our time. That class still exists and its prosperity is unabated. But its position in the American national psyche is greatly diminished, its glitter dulled by the passage of time — and a change in the mores of society as a whole … But I have written [this book] because I believe the foibles of the human heart and its redeeming strengths possess a universality which overcomes the angst of changing times.”
As Misha struggles to support James while simultaneously maintaining a safe distance, he is asked the ultimate question from, of all people, his father: “Are you intelligent enough to see him as a useful example of the path in life you should not follow? Or will you simply swim in his wake and drown in his consequence?”
Take the plunge and see for yourself.