Reviewed by Alina Oswald
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]an we run away from our past? Can we hide in the closets of our lives forever? Can we lead a double life? And if so, for how long, at what price, and, most importantly, who’s going to pay that price?
These are only a few of the questions the lead character in Kathey Norton’s new novel, Double Life, has to answer, when the past he tries so desperately to keep secret, finally catches up with him, affecting not only his own life, but also the lives of his loved ones. Double Life tells the twisted, and, at times, heartwrenching story of Richard Maxwell, a gay teenager who, disowned by his parents, ends up in San Francisco, in the company of Sean Montero, a male prostitute. It is the seventies, and, while Richard learns the tricks of the trade, he also learns to live openly and proudly, as a young gay man. He also falls for the daughter of a very wealthy man living in the City by the Bay. Soon, Richard finds himself stuck, unable to choose between two worlds—one of the privileges that come with money and wealth, and an adventurous, sometimes risk-taking life that accepts him for who he is, and allows him to be his true self. And his inability to choose between the two worlds forces him to lead a double life, and hide a past that is threatened to be exposed by the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.
While the story told in Double Life is not a new one, it is an important one, sometimes happening in real, present life, for reasons that surpass hiding one’s past or sexual orientation. Double Life helps us take that second look at our own lives, and reconsider the choices we are about to make. Most significantly, the message that comes through in this entertaining read is the importance of being true and honest not only to loved ones, but, mostly, to oneself.
The quote by author Robert Louis Stevenson included at the beginning of the book sums up this message quite perfectly: “To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”
Alina Oswald is Arts Editor of A&U.