Augustus Fitzwilliam Boyd, a.k.a. Dr. August, is a clairvoyant pianist who bridges the gap between many worlds -- homo- and heterosexuality, white and black races, the present and the afterlife. Christopher Bram's The Notorious Dr. August: His Real Life and Crimes starts off with its eponymous protagonist as a young boy who accompanies his musician uncle through different Yankee camps during the Civil War. When he is captured by Rebel soldiers he meets his first love: a beautiful, intelligent slave named Isaac. Together, the two will form a "friendship" that will last a lifetime and that will bring much joy and pain into their lives.
After the war, the two move to New York City but can only find work in a brothel. It is here that Mr. Boyd becomes Dr. August when he meets up with Orlando Wilson and gets his first taste of fame. Orlando is a painter who decides to introduce Dr. August into society in the hopes of winning some wealthy patrons for the newest musician on the scene. As Dr. August progresses from one opportunity to the next, he constantly faces moral choices which he fails to recognize until it is almost too late. From the raw beauty of New York City to the refined elegance of Europe, Dr. August is surrounded by ghosts of the past and the present. He can not escape either long enough to think for himself and in the end this will be his undoing.
The Notorious Dr. August is a well-written tale of a man lost in his own world. Dr. August is a pedophile and a homosexual among many other things and can't ever seem to understand what he has done wrong. He constantly goes through life like a child with blinders on. The fact that Bram tells these things in the story as mere character flaws and almost gets away with it testifies to his awesome abilities.
Bram is able to examine many societal taboos through the eyes of Dr. August, and the reader is forced to examine his own views on these issues from a new perspective. Love, race, sex, and what truly is art are all expounded upon. Some readers may be turned off by certain aspects of Dr. August's character, but those who read his story will experience a life that few have known. For those who can get past the actions of Dr. August, his is a story of dry wit and wry intelligence that will completely captivate you with its amazing historical accuracy; once you open the book you are swept away into a bygone era. Most importantly, both sides of every issue are explored within this novel; not just the "white" side of the Civil War is told but, through Isaac, the "black voice" is heard as well. Bram is an excellent storyteller with wonderful skills and hopefully his future works will be mainstream enough for everyone to want to read his works.