Title: Yes, Daddy
Author: Jonathan Parks-Ramage
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 293 Pages
Category: Mystery/Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Rating: 4 Stars
At a Glance: To say I liked this book would be an outright lie. To say I was absorbed by it, despite my aversion to so much of it, and that the story has stuck with me for weeks after finishing it, can only mean the author delivered a compelling and chilling read.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Jonah Keller moved to New York City with dreams of becoming a successful playwright, but, for the time being, lives in a rundown sublet in Bushwick, working extra hours at a restaurant only to barely make rent. When he stumbles upon a photo of Richard Shriver—the glamorous Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and quite possibly the stepping stone to the fame he craves—Jonah orchestrates their meeting. The two begin a hungry, passionate affair.
When summer arrives, Richard invites his young lover for a spell at his sprawling estate in the Hamptons. A tall iron fence surrounds the idyllic compound where Richard and a few of his close artist friends entertain, have lavish dinners, and—Jonah can’t help but notice—employ a waitstaff of young, attractive gay men, many of whom sport ugly bruises. Soon, Jonah is cast out of Richard’s good graces and a sinister underlay begins to emerge. As a series of transgressions lead inexorably to a violent climax, Jonah hurtles toward a decisive revenge that will shape the rest of his life.
Content Warnings: Rape, Conversion Therapy, Human Trafficking, Abuse, Suicide, Gaslighting
Review: Jonah Keller would be an unsympathetic narrator of Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s debut novel, Yes, Daddy, but for the circumstances by which his life begins to spiral into chaos, and the resulting horrors that spring from it. This book asks much of its readers as we examine what is and is not understandable, what is and is not forgivable, who is redeemable, and how deeply our empathy runs for a character who consciously defies what are, by and large, considered moral and ethical absolutes, principles that should be black and white but which are clouded by gray areas that mean we question if he was pushed into the seemingly bottomless well of poor choices he makes, or if he deliberately jumps in with eyes wide open.
Jonah’s story is, at its heart, a cautionary tale about a son whose downfall comes at the hands of his parents’ Evangelical fervor and their belief that he must “pray the gay away” to redeem his soul and earn his eternal salvation. The ways in which Jonah’s mother and father betray their son’s trust for his own perceived good, not to mention how Jonah is manipulated by their chosen method of “help”, leaves the family wrecked beyond reconciliation, the result of which is the impetus for every bad decision Jonah makes from then onward. Whether this exonerates Jonah in the end is for the reader to decide.
The cast of characters surrounding Jonah are, with few exceptions, despicable creatures. Frankly, that’s putting it mildly. Jonah’s ambitions to become a successful playwright means he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that dream, which includes fleeing to New York City and subsequently seducing the much older Richard Shriver, a famous playwright himself, who can connect Jonah to the right people to help him achieve his goal. To say Jonah jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire is much too cliched for the series of events that occur once he has firmly ingratiated himself to the man he sees as his ticket to fame and fortune. Jonah’s plan comes very near to ruining his life as he is used and abused and abused some more, until his already depleted sense of self-worth is exhausted.
To say Yes, Daddy is a story about people with Mommy and Daddy issues might be oversimplifying the plot, and yet there isn’t a healthy or fully-functioning parent/child relationship in it, which imparts a certain level of insight into the dysfunction of its characters while not at all excusing the vile and horrendous situations Jonah finds himself in, or the horrors perpetrated against him when Richard reveals a darker side to his character. Jonah accompanies Richard to his Southampton compound for what was supposed to be a romantic getaway and a relaxing retreat from the city. The crimes committed on Jonah there (and throughout the story)—as well as to the other young men acting as house staff—means strong Content Warnings should be heeded for rape, conversion therapy, human trafficking, abuse, suicide, and, least of all, gaslighting. To say that the people who exist in Richard’s sphere are a pack of psychopathic narcissists bereft of anything resembling basic humanity and decency is not overstating the truth in the slightest.
Parks-Ramage delivers a story in Yes, Daddy that’s part horror, part psychological thriller, and part cautionary tale about the sort of damage that can be wrought by elevating religion to the point of rejecting compassion and reason. I was by turns fascinated and repulsed by both the characters and the story, which is to say the author has penned a successful debut that drew me in, kept me in conflict, made me feel things I didn’t necessarily want to feel, and left some evil deeds unsatisfyingly unpunished. In the end, however, there is redemption, albeit by way of so much loss and destruction, and a reconciliation that one could feasibly call a happy ending if looking at things from a hopeful point of view.
You can buy Yes, Daddy here:
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