Odd Bookers: The Moralist

By Joshua Marcus

Joshua Marcus’s 2020 novel, The Moralist, is a fast-paced thriller with a literary bent, delving into the inherent grey in the concepts of morality, crime and punishment, and greatness. Inspired by the true story of Leopold and Loeb, The Moralist poses the question of what happens to good people who do something unforgivable – if they never get caught. Twenty years after Nate and Dicky committed a crime to try and affirm their status as the Übermensch (for whom everything is just), Nate has settled into a normal life with a wife and fourteen-year-old son. Dicky lives off his family’s wealth, still not having quite figured out what comes next.

Here is a peak into The Moralist: 

Amory wanted to lose himself in his newfound romance. He wanted to think of Brett, only Brett. And he did think about Brett. A lot. Nearly all the time. He thought about him in class, when the teacher’s voice faded to a background buzz and he scribbled sketches of Brett. He thought about him at home, whether alone in his room, masturbating, or having dinner with his parents. He thought about him when watching TV or reading, substituting Brett into the role of the love interest. Sometimes, it seemed the only time he didn’t think of Brett was when he was actually with him. With Brett, he let his mind turn off and his instincts take hold of him. Thus far, those instincts had not let him down. He had not done anything with Brett that he regretted, not yet at least. His hormones raged, but some internal code, from where he did not know, kept him from acting on his basest desires. And so, while he had pressed against Brett, feeling his own arousal pushing at Brett’s, they had still only kissed.

He wanted to lose himself in Brett, but an unfamiliar, uncomfortable feeling had crept into his internal world. A budding mistrust of his own dad. It had grown from the residue of his anger at Dad for barging in on them. When he tried to remind himself that Dad hadn’t meant to, his annoyance grew. Dad was way too absent-minded. Of course he wandered into Amory’s room. You could never just trust him to know where he was going.

And when the embers of that new anger fizzled out, he was left with a bothersome truth. His dad was absent. He was a good father and a good husband. Amory truly believed this. But he realised that Dad always seemed to be holding something back. He preached mindfulness and being present, but only ever seemed present on his own in his office. It was almost like he had a big bad secret, and thought that, by always being far away, it would never come out. Could this secret affect Amory? Catching Amory in the act of kissing Brett had seemingly set something off in Dad. It had made him present enough to shout at his best friend. He asked himself whether Dad and Dicky might once have … No, he didn’t want to go down that road.

As he was lying in bed a week after he had first kissed Brett, a memory flickered at the edge of Amory’s consciousness. A younger Amory, sitting in front of a PC, working on a family tree project for school. Googling his grandparents. Googling his parents. The secret might lie there …

Dread spread through his body. A familiar feeling when he lay awake at night. But, tonight, it weighed more heavily than ever before. Something bad had happened and something worse was going to happen. This he knew. His breathing quickened and he began to feel restless. He rolled onto his side and lay facing the wall, but the immutability of the wall held secrets he did not want to know. Secrets about what happened to everyone eventually and the horrors that fate contained. He rolled to face the other side and saw only the darkness of his room. A room he was used to, a safe room, but a room in which he now found himself suffocating. It was crowded with every dark thought he’d ever had. He breathed even faster, struggling to take in enough air. He sat up in bed and put his head in his hands. His entire body began to sweat at once. The cold moisture made him shiver. The shivering led to trembling, until he felt so agitated that he got out of bed. He needed to escape from the horror. Standing, he sensed the horror more vividly than ever. He walked to the bedroom door to leave these feelings behind, but found a corridor filled with nothing but that same horror. It too had held all his thoughts, thoughts that had become material, overwhelming him by superimposing themselves on his reality, exposing it for what it was. His room was nothing more than a shell in which pain and ennui resided. The corridor was the same. He could not escape because it was everywhere.

No! If only it was everywhere. If it was everywhere, he could choose to go inside himself. But the problem was internal. He could not escape because he was the problem. He could not escape from his own thoughts. He had discovered a terrible truth about the nature of life and death and now he was stuck with it forever. It would remain whether he stood, sat or lay down. It was not limited to familiar thoughts of the loss of his family or his own life or the interminability of death or the afterlife. It was no longer cogent. The thoughts that had led him to see reality in its true light had now been consumed in this overwhelming state that was so much worse.

Suddenly, he had a comforting thought. If he was the problem, he could be helped. It could be excised from his consciousness, like a tumour could be cut from a lung. He would need to share the problem. He would tell Mum and Dad. They would …

They could do nothing, he realised. It was nothing like a tumour. No, it was far worse. You could not cut something out if it was intertwined with everything you were. Even if he did ask for help, he would only draw his parents into this state. He had discovered something terrible, and all he could do was keep it to himself. He pictured sharing it with Mum and Dad: pictured them looking at each other, then looking back at him, their faces dropping, their breath catching. In his mind, they sat up in bed, put their heads in their hands, got out of bed, paced up and down, left the bedroom, and …

Amory noticed that the fear had subsided. Some of the agitation had worn itself away. Why? He started to think of why he had been scared in the first place and found the horror creeping up on him again. Immediately he suppressed it with thoughts of Mum and Dad, thoughts of other things, thoughts of anything but that. If he did not think about it, it could not harm him. Not for now at least. He pushed it deep beneath a fantasy of playing football for Manchester United. A childish fantasy, he knew, but one he always enjoyed.

For the next hour or so, he immersed himself in this imaginary world, at first by sheer force of will. Eventually, however, it became organic. In it, he was the youngest player ever in the Premier League. This fantasy had long ago evolved into a realistic story, in which he had his ups and downs, good runs of form, bad periods, times of heartbreak, and so on. It was a world he built on every now and then, picking up from where he had previously left off.

Eventually, thinking of nothing but a perfect green field and the warmth of camaraderie, he drifted off to sleep.

For those enjoying the brief bursts of suspense, go and read another excerpt from Marcus’s brilliant novel on his blog: https://www.thequeerjew.com/post/the-moralist-a-psychological-crime-thriller-excerpt

And for those ready to delve deep into Marcus’s fictional world, purchase the novel and start reading: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08KHBRV8T