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Max's Diamonds by Jay Greenfield
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Exposing the Ravages of Denial

What happens to an intelligent, perceptive and socially alienated boy who can't resist the pull of his own emotions? If he grows up in a culture of resentment and paranoia, overshadowed by past tragedies, it’s likely those emotions will drive him smack into truths he can neither face nor deny.

At the outset of Max's Diamonds, by Jay Greenfield, the boy is Paul Hartman, the place is Brooklyn, New York, and the time is the emotionally-scarred period following World War II. Emotionally-scarred, that is, if your extended family includes the Holocaust survivor who's sharing your room.

Such is the author's magic, he conjures a riveting tale of self-realization from the sorry scraps of everyday life. Because it's there, in that cramped apartment, that Paul's encounter with his adult cousin catapults him—on a complex trajectory toward rash impulsivity, petty deception and enviable good luck.

It's a trajectory that spans decades, through three marriages and the persistent resurrection of unrealistic hopes. For despite his early success, Paul's family secrets continually weigh him down, depriving him of the social standing he both craves and detests.

Drawn with a broad brush of courage, however, his personality bounces back again and again until his dizzying array of passionate loves, professional triumphs and moral failings resemble nothing so much as a blaze of fireworks. Instead of passing judgment, all we can do is let the sparks fly.

In one sense, however, Paul's pyrotechnics illuminate his central struggle: the ongoing tug of a lost heritage he refuses to recognize as his own.

Greenfield's writing is rich in emotional detail and the scenes near the climax of the novel's first half offer a harrowing, unblinking look at the horror of the Final Solution. In functional terms, these scenes also uncover the rocky emotional landscape separating Paul and his mother, who holds him to standards he considers irrelevant.

As the story progresses, Paul's world expands in direct proportion to his ability to distance himself from the past. Nevertheless, in wrenching himself free, he loses as much as he gains—and enters middle age with a cynical wreck of a soul.

Yet, like a seasoned illusionist, the author pulls a sliver of redemption right out of Paul’s bitterest disappointment. “The right woman,” met not entirely by accident, leads him to a fresh perspective that, at last, has a fighting chance to stifle his self-loathing.

With a deft touch for descriptive detail and a no-holds-barred quest for emotional honesty, Jay Greenfield creates a vivid world as real as it is phantasmagorical. For ultimately, Max's Diamonds encompasses both the fondest dreams and fiercest nightmares of the post-war era.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 1, 2016 – Finished Reading
March 17, 2016 – Shelved

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