Book Review: Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage
This powerful debut novel pulls no emotional punches as it explores the life of a troubled, vulnerable gay man trying to hold body and soul together as he searches for healing and acceptance. Jonah Keller is a broke waiter in New York City, clinging to his dream of becoming a famous playwright in the face of mounting bills and an increasing sense of isolation from his peers. So when he discovers an opportunity to meet and hopefully seduce the successful, accomplished older playwright Richard Shriver, he throws himself as fully into the pursuit as a Gilded Age fortune hunter a century earlier would have.
Their first encounter goes even better than Jonah imagined, as their film festival meet-cute turns into dinner and conversation, with Jonah asking:
“Why is it that rich people love to complain about being poor?”
“Would you rather we complained about the precocious twenty-five-year-olds who clamor for our affection?”
I laughed harder than his quip warranted. Our jokes were little pressure valves, each laugh releasing tension as we danced around the obvious: he was too old for me, too famous, too rich. By couching our circumstance in wry humor, we were able to dismiss May-December stereotypes and make space for something genuine to blossom. However calculated my efforts to ensnare Richard may have been, I did want something genuine to blossom.
I wanted love.
Soon, Richard is squiring Jonah to opening nights and glamorous parties where they rub shoulders with famous actors and wealthy investors. Jonah is dazzled and head over heels in love even before Richard invites him up to his Hamptons compound for a summer weekend getaway. With Richard paying the bills, Jonah is only too happy to escape the city’s oppressive heat but soon finds that the compound isn’t exactly what he imagined.
For starters, Richard’s butler is an ex he jokingly calls Mrs. Danvers. More disturbingly, the walled compound—home to Richard and four other members of his glittering artistic circle, who are waited on by a team of handsome, dead-eyed young men—has only one point of exit, an electronic gate that Jonah doesn’t have the code for. When Jonah and Richard’s relationship begins to go awry, Jonah becomes trapped in a nightmare, his hellish circumstances echoed by the howling pain in his own psyche.
Years later, Jonah has escaped the compound but not his demons. When given a chance for justice, he wavers:
Come forward. I hate that term. When you tell your story, you don’t come forward—you let people in. Into the dark place you’ve occupied for years. And what happens when the public enters? Maybe they rush to you with open arms, tell you the things you’ve longed to hear.
Or maybe those people stomp inside with their muddy boots, accusing you of crimes, confirming your worst fears about yourself.
But how to know which future awaits? Maybe it’s time to tell my story, our story. Pray we both survive.
At once sensitive and brutal, Yes, Daddy is a graphic, gripping examination of the harms done to friendless young men who’ve been taught that love and acceptance are conditional on denying their homosexuality, and whose instilled shame erodes their ability to fight back against predators and abusers. It underscores the responsibilities of parents to protect and nurture their children and highlights the ways that Evangelical Christian churches especially fail their congregations. But most of all, it centers on the flawed, seeking soul of a man who desperately wants to be believed, and how he realistically deals with years of trauma and guilt as he looks for healing and wholeness.
This is not a book for the faint of heart, but it is deeply worthwhile. Part Sunset Boulevard, part Gothic nightmare, this wholly modern examination of life and faith and what we owe to ourselves and to the flawed human beings around us leaves an indelible mark on the soul, asking us to be kinder, to take consent seriously, and to love as we would want to be loved.