Stephanie Jones: Book Review - The Baltimore Boys by Joël Dicker

Publish Date
Friday, 12 May 2017, 12:13PM
By Stephanie Jones

The Baltimore Boys,“at once a prequel and a sequel” according to the author blurb, indisputably offers plenty of bang for a reader’s buck. This artful maze of a novel, Joël Dicker’s second and another, more comprehensive instalment in the life story of writer Marcus Goldman, records events which take place mostly along the eastern seaboard of the United States between the late 1980s and 2012.

Though the Goldman clan is neither sprawling nor especially complicated, as families go, the crises which befall it are, and from the jump, Marcus, as the narrator, promises to impart “the history of the Baltimore Goldmans” and refers darkly to the tragedy which apparently claimed, in one way or another, most of his close relatives.

Much of the story’s depth and mystery stems from the disparity between Marcus’s own recollections and those of others. As Marcus remembers it, whenever he and his father and mother, engineer Nathan and retail saleswoman Deborah, would visit his Goldman grandparents, his parents would be relegated to a sofa bed in the TV room nicknamed “the Stinkery” because of its airlessness, while his Uncle Saul Goldman, the head of a prestigious Baltimore law firm, and Saul’s doctor wife Anita would be given the well-appointed guest room with en suite bathroom.

In Marcus’s mind, this filial micro-economy is indicative of the chasm between the wealthy, esteemed Baltimore Goldmans and the workaday Montclair (New Jersey) Goldmans. Though each family produced only one child, and Marcus and his cousin Hillel were born within months of one another, the informal adoption of Woody Finn by the Baltimore Goldmans seems to Marcus another instance of one-upmanship, albeit one which vastly enriched his childhood. It will be years before Marcus’s mother corrects some of his assumptions and he begins to grasp how much the combination of youth and status consciousness caused him to misread.

Dicker spends all but the final few pages skirting around the tragedy, but the fundamentals are plain to see. The portion of the story close to the present day has Marcus conspicuously alone, travelling to Boca Raton from his New York home to start work on his next novel, and pondering a journey through Miami to Coconut Grove, where the home of his late Uncle Saul waits to be packed up. Florida brings him back into the orbit of the love of his life, Alexandra Neville, now a singer with the fame and acclaim of Adele, but at one time just another member of the Goldman Gang.

A dying Saul will lecture his nephew on the uselessness of self-pity (“There have been tragedies, and there will be more, and you’ll have to go on living in spite of everything”), and boy, he should know. Dicker is concerned above all with instability, whether financial or familial, and the “Baltimores” plummet from stratospheric privilege to painfully reduced circumstances in just a few wrong turns: the decline and fall of the Goldman empire.

Meta in the way of all novels purporting to be the work of their own narrator, The Baltimore Boys is a worthy successor to The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair and another showcase for Dicker’s uncommon storytelling prowess. Lots of novelists fancy they’ll hold your attention for 450 pages but fall well short; not Dicker, who unspools his tale with the lubricated ease of a bartop raconteur five whiskies in, so the ending feels like a pause for breath. We’re only just getting to know Marcus Goldman.

To get in the draw to win one of five copies of The Baltimore Boys by Joël Dicker click here.


Every week Stephanie reviews the Book of the Week.

As the Coast book reviewer, Stephanie Jones shares her thoughts each week on the latest releases.

Stephanie has a BA (Hons) in history and English literature, and a background in journalism, magazine publishing, public relations and corporate and consumer communications.

Stephanie is a contributor to the New Zealand Book Council’s ‘Talking Books’ podcast series (listen here), and a member of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award judging panel. She can be found on Twitter @ParsingThePage.


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