It’s 2009, and Jonah is a broke and lost aspiring playwright who has recently moved to New York. He’s working for a predatory boss at an upscale restaurant and barely scraping by. Estranged from his deeply evangelical parents who believe being gay is an unforgivable sin, he is isolated, desperate, and friendless.
So when he sees an opportunity to catapult himself into a life of wealth – and possibly success – he begins to scheme. Richard represents the kind of life Jonah can only dream of: a wildly successful playwright who has a penchant for (much) younger men. An engineered encounter at one of Richard’s events one evening, and Jonah is one step closer to escaping his miserable life. Soon they are inseparable.
‘I became giddy with the possibility that after months of hell, filled with the pain of inventing an identity in an unforgiving metropolis, I might have finally found hope.’
There’s a building sense of dread as Jonah is pulled into Richard’s orbit – the sheen of money and success a gloss over a much more frightening reality. And Jonah feel this too, deep down – ‘underneath the giddy euphoria of our early romance,’ he says, ‘I felt a nascent unease.’
It’s at an extended trip to Richard’s gated compound in the Hamptons that things take a turn for the worst: there’s a deeply unsettling but magnetic feel about these chapters; you can’t look away, even as things grow ever darker. Richard’s home is staffed by much younger men, there to cater to his every whim. And during the debaucherous parties with Richard’s circle of powerful friends, things get even more horrifying. Jonah reasons that it’s different for him – he and Richard are in love; it’s not the same.
‘Life was a horror movie on repeat, less shocking because we knew the twists by heart.’
This intense and propulsive coming-of-age novel doesn’t just explore this summer, but also what came before and what comes after. The idea of the ‘father’ features heavily – not only a queasy nod to Jonah’s relationship with Richard, but also his own fractured relationship with his father, and his struggles at a relationship with an evangelical God who he has been told despises him for what he is.
There’s a lot packed into this novel: class and power dynamics, the #MeToo moment for the gay community, religious fanaticism, the untouchable lives of the elite. It ended up being a lot more than what I thought it would be. Towards the end we realise that the novel is epistolary, and that the writing of it is in an attempt to heal.
What didn’t work so well: the novel felt overwrought and bordering on sensationalist at times, and it also suffers from a failure to flesh out plot points or character development that would make for a more interesting and believable exploration of the key themes. I felt particularly than the central conceit – the recipient of the letters and his relationship with Jonah – was used as a plot device. At more than one point, it felt like a first draft.
Nevertheless, Yes, Daddy is compulsively readable, described as a ‘modern gothic’. Parks-Ramage writes in expressive prose and creates a nuanced, complex protagonist who is flawed but deeply sympathetic. I’ve heard it’s being adapted for TV, so it’ll be interesting to see if the producers can sensitively balance all the weighty topics at play.
TW: rape, suicide, assault, conversion therapy, drug use