BOOK REVIEW: I Am Not Raymond Wallace by Sam Kenyon

August 28, 2022

I am not Raymond Wallace

By Sam Kenyon

The book opens in 1963: weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy, fresh-faced Raymond Wallace lands in the New York Times newsroom on a three-month bursary from Cambridge University. He soon discovers his elusive boss, Bukowski, is being covertly blackmailed by an estranged wife, and that he himself is to assist the strait-laced Doty on an article about the ‘explosion of overt homosexuality’ in the city. On an undercover assignment, a secret world is revealed to Raymond: a world in which he needs no longer pretend to be something or someone he cannot be; a world in which he meets Joey.

Kenyon has a keen eye for the small sharp details which allow a character to blossom in a few lines, offering insight and depth with his compassionate understanding of the complex drivers of human desire.  The book is laid out in three main parts, and we open in a repressed society of strait-laced America, with a young student journalist ‘Raymond’ being thrust into an underworld of smouldering gay temptations in Manhattan which expose more than expected and offer deeply desired satisfactions.

Raymond is unable to square his feelings with his increasingly desperate need to be ‘normal’, struggling with internalised homophobia, societal prejudices and deep shame while feeling the shocking liberation of love that meeting the man – Joey- he connects with on so many levels had shown him. He is torn, and with the tearing of hope comes tragedy.  Kenyon examines the anguish and ecstasy with clarity, allowing us insight into the sometimes-surprising reasonings of our narrator’s life and exploring with tenderness the agonising impact of not being able to live and love authentically.

The careful examination of Raymond’s motives give us understanding in how difficult navigating pre LGBTQ+ equality lives must have been for repressed or hidden Queer people. Showing how majority societies police their spaces, shutting out the deviant or immoral, communities echoing moral repressions, closing off and suppressing difference though polite expectations and blinkered family norms. We’ve all been there as Queer folx,  Kenyon offers us an almost forensic examination of the harm this causes, holding it up to the light.  There are moments when I feel my throat catch, my eyes well up.

Author Sam Kenyon

Forty years later, in Paris, Raymond’s son -Joe-  meets Joey and here the book lifts us up into a different space, one with a believable narrative twist which offers redemption and the way that people who feel unable to live in full honesty of their secret selves can smuggle the vital knowledge gained from a life of secrets, lies & repression out, via their work, writing and unconditional love, to a younger generation unbound by chains of shame.  Pain is a great fuel to burn through decades of sadness, a scorched earth of ashes is a fertile space for new growth.

This queer saga, and that’s the correct word for this story which reaches across time, and continents to bind lives together through the reverberating actions of a mistake made long ago.  Initially it’s a savage destructive choice but gradually as society turns towards acceptance and understanding and the next generation takes its place and stakes out the kind of lives they want to live, a restoration is generated which allows a family, both birth and chosen, to find it’s heart again.

His prose is without a shred of fat, lean, honed one might say chiselled as it feels like it’s been hewn from a quarry of words, to dig out the meaning written deep within. This isn’t’ a cold book, it’s filled with passion and as we share the narrators mind, we feel their seething struggles. Kenyon writes with conviction and gives us a convincing generational drama filled with kindness and humanity, offering up lives that can choose to find happiness, and that is a satisfying new addition to Queer literature.

Out September 15th paperback  £10.99

For more info or to order see the publishers’ website here: