Make a deal with the devil (literally) in ‘American Faust’

“Think twice before making a deal with the devil. You may just get what you asked for.”

In “American Faust” (Ibex Press), the sinister Memphis Topheles lures several characters to an expansive, mysterious estate where the passage of time and reality itself is distorted. Those who accept the sinister invitation may enter but are unable to leave ... unless they can offer The Master an even better deal. In the literary modernist tradition, reminiscent of Henry Miller and Vladimir Nabokov, author Rip Brown presents players both human and divine in this tale of contracts, wagers and clever trickery.

The cast of characters is assembled piece by piece over several decades: Lawrence Revson makes a desperate plea to survive and escape the horrific trenches of World War I. Sharon Peters, a woman from the 1960s, can’t imagine growing old, yet she sees her beauty slowly fading along with the power she once held over any man who crossed her path. James Harris appeals to a powerful investor for funding to keep his information technology startup afloat. As the book unfolds in complex and clever layers, each of these main characters is presented with an opportunity to get exactly what they most desire. As in the canonical material from which “American Faust” derives its name, the promise of vast fortunes, beauty and immortality comes with a heavy price.

A TALE OF CONTRACTS, WAGERS AND TRICKERY

Readers are immersed in the wager between the malevolent Memphis Topheles and the Lord, who happens to be more interested in winning a bet than the welfare of the souls who are put through this exercise. The novel includes scenes in locations around the world, but the majority of the plot unfolds on the property of Lawrence Revson in a seaside town of Connecticut. Brown weaves intricate backstories for each character, depicting how they came to be in debt to this master manipulator.

Sharon’s descent and captivity are of particular interest. She first encounters Lawrence, already in the service of the devil, at a country club. Enticed by his youth, good looks and promises to take her to exotic places, Sharon follows Lawrence to a shady nightclub in New York City’s Greenwich Village. There, she finds a lavish spiral staircase ascending to Heaven, while crumbling steps lead down to the dimly lit, dirty basement of Hell. It is in this lower level that Sharon meets the robust and imposing Memphis, who introduces himself as The Master. He offers her a contract of her own, promising to preserve her vitality and good looks forever if she will use her beauty to bring him weakened men.

A FRESH AND UNIQUE TAKE ON GOOD Vs. EVIL

Decades later, tech entrepreneur James Harris receives an odd assignment to visit the estate where Sharon is captive in exchange for full funding of his first big venture. James rediscovers memories from his childhood on the grounds of the manor, which he is surprised to find kept in immaculate condition. The tension mounts as James meets Sharon and Lawrence and learns of the malevolent power binding them to the property and the true stakes of their situation.

“American Faust” presents one of history’s most often retold tales in a more contemporary setting. Through the lens of literary modernism, it becomes a fresh and unique take on the story. The epic elements of Faustian legend are all present: good versus evil, the Lord and the devil, man versus his own fallen nature. The addition of a wonderfully rendered setting, vibrant details and textures, and characters that are incredibly nuanced and complex make this a modern masterpiece. “American Faust” is a great choice for readers who love to revisit the classics as well as for those who appreciate contemporary literary fiction.

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