Today is my stop on the I am not Raymond Wallace by Sam Kenyon online book tour and I’m so excited to be sharing an extract of the book with you.
I leave you with the extract of I am not Raymond Wallace:
Raymond Wallace arrives in New York in the autumn of 1963 on a bursary to the New York Times. He is researching an article on the ‘Growth of ‘overt’ homosexuality’ in the city. One lonely night he walks the length of Manhattan, and finds a bar in Brooklyn called Little Navy. There he meets Joey, and goes home with him. Walking back to his digs after that first night together, Raymond reflects on a past encounter with a figure from his time at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
[Excerpt from Chapter Seven:]
As he swallows the last bite of his sandwich Raymond finds himself simultaneously on 3rd Avenue, with the Chrysler tower in the distance, and in the tunnel beneath Emmanuel Street that night in his second term when he’d come across Stephen lounging on the steps by North Court.
‘Wallace, my saviour!’ Stephen had said, almost as though he’d been waiting just for Raymond. ‘It’s drunk out tonight, isn’t it?’ Stephen had added, groaning with the effort of standing. ‘May I escort you?’
‘I’m fine actually, thanks, Stephen,’ Raymond had said, trying to dodge past.
‘Don’t be a spoilsport, Wallace. We go back a long way.’
Despite Raymond’s protestations, Stephen had deftly and firmly hooked their arms together, making the journey across the court lurchingly awkward. At Z staircase he had dived to push the door open, then stood inside and indicated for Raymond to follow, as though it were his—and not Raymond’s—staircase they were entering. As they had walked up the half-flight of stairs, he had leaned exaggeratedly on Raymond as though for assistance, so that by the time they had reached the top step their cheeks were nearly touching. When Raymond had then tried to extricate himself from his grip, he had felt the sudden pressure of Stephen’s lips on his, smelt his sour drunkenness in his nostrils and then been assaulted by the grotesque, liver-like presence of Stephen’s tongue in his own mouth. Raymond had reflexively pushed him away, and Stephen had staggered down the stairs, laughing. ‘You, Wallace, know exactly what you are and what you want. You’ve always known it. And so have I.’
Raymond had shaken his head and turned swiftly to open his door. But as he’d flicked the lock behind him, his hand had quivered almost uncontrollably. From the safety of the half-closed curtains of his windows, he had watched Stephen’s hobbling retreat across the court with a penitent sort of relief—as though he’d avoided something awful, but only by a whisker.
The following day was when the scandal had broken. For it turned out that, on leaving Raymond that night, Stephen had taken solace in the arms of the organ scholar and the pair had been discovered in flagrante delicto by a cleaner in the morning. As Raymond turns onto East 47th Street he reflects that—at the time—Stephen’s consequent rustication had felt like a fortuitous reprieve.
Raymond expels any further thoughts of Stephen Bennett from his head and, for the remainder of his journey, indulges in infinitely more pleasurable recollections, slipping his hand into his pocket from time to time to touch Joey’s phone number like a talisman.
On a bookshelf in the lobby of the YMCA that afternoon, he comes across a copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. He has a vague recollection of having read it before, but can’t remember when. Taking it to his dormitory, he lies on his narrow bed and studies the claustrophobic tale of the fifty-year-old Von Aschenbach and his fatal obsession with the teenage Tadzio; of Von Aschenbach’s descent from his lauded position as celebrated man of letters to a parodic, tragic figure; of his impulsive decision to have his greying hair dyed an uncanny black, his pallid cheeks rouged; of his cherishing the odd insouciant glance from the callow youth, and of Von Aschenbach’s piteous succumbing to the encroaching pestilence with which the city of Venice is afflicted that fateful summer. For Raymond, this reads not as a story of lust and obsession, of age and youth, but rather of the realisation of loss; the desire to regain that which is gone.
When Mann uses the word ‘degeneracy’ to refer to his hero’s life, Raymond is reminded of a speech from a vicar in his first term at Cambridge, in which he had said—ominously, Raymond had always felt—that the past depends on the future—as though any sense of a good reputation was, as of that moment—and perhaps always is—defined solely by how one comports oneself beyond it throughout the remaining portion of one’s life. At the time it had generated in Raymond a pendulous sense of responsibility which he had experienced as a sort of curse. Now, lying on his bed at the YMCA that first night after the night before, Raymond realises that, if he should die at that very instant then at least he would do so without the pestilence of his future mistakes.
When Raymond returns to his room after his evening meal that night he takes off his clothes, removes a small mirror from the wall and uses it to examine his body. He is looking for evidence that something has changed; that something from his time with Joey has remained, there, on his skin; or perhaps he is checking for signs of contamination. He looks and looks but doesn’t find anything at all, and as he climbs into bed, he begins to wonder whether any of it—of last night—was real. And then, in the vertiginous moment just before he drifts off to sleep, he understands that it isn’t whether it was real or not that is his query; it’s whether he had deserved any of it.
What are your thoughts on the extract? Let me know in the comments!
Make sure to check out the trailer for the book by clicking H E R E.
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***I am in no way compensated by these sites. I am simply sharing it so people can find this book easier.
Sam Kenyon is a writer, composer and teacher, and lives in London with his partner, Mitch, and their daughter. He studied English Literature at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (MA Hons Cantab), before training as a performer and voice teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in London (ARAM, LRAM). From early 2013 he researched and developed a musical based on the life of the maverick theatre director Joan Littlewood. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed by Erica Whyman, Miss Littlewood premièred at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in June 2018. See his News page for more updates. The script is published by Concord Theatricals, and the cast recording available from the RSC shop, on iTunes and on Spotify. In September 2022, his first novel, ‘I Am Not Raymond Wallace’, will be published by Inkandescent. Spanning forty years, starting in Manhattan in 1963 and culminating in Paris in 2003, it is a novel about queer history and families, loss and redemption. He is the Voice Team Leader for the Royal Academy of Music’s teaching diploma, as well as a repertoire coach for their Musical Theatre Department, and he runs a private teaching practice from his home in South East London.