B Ross Warren.
Max’s Diamonds A Boy’s Secret
For decades the Rockaway beaches were the magnet drawing tens of thousands of people to the cool Atlantic waters in the summer time. Coney Island may have been more well-known, but for the real New Yorkers it was Rockaway.
The permanent population lived in ethnic enclaves: Bayswater, Belle Harbor and Rockaway Park primarily Jewish, Rockaway Beach was loaded with Irish bars and Arverne, right in the middle of the peninsula, was a mixture. This was especially true in the days after World War II.
Jay Greenfield captures the atmosphere of Arverne in those days. But that’s not surprising as he apparently lived on Beach 69th Street toward the beach side. He parlays that feeling into his novel “Max’s Diamonds.”
Paul-please don’t call him “Paulie”-is a young boy who probably went to P.S. 42 on Beach 66th Street, although that isn’t mentioned. Maybe later on to Far Rockaway High School, famed for three Nobel Prize winners and years later for Dr. Joyce Brothers, corporate raider Carl Icahn and, yes-him too, Bernie Madoff.
Paul’s family is typical of those who came to the United States to escape the coming Holocaust in Europe. Most of his relatives never made it out. His family was amongst the lucky ones.
His daily routine is somewhat disturbed when cousin Max comes to live with his family. Paul is warned by his mother not to look at the numbers tattooed on Max;s arm. It’s no surprise that Paul sneaks peeks. Max spots him and tries to ay that it is OK to do so.
Max shares a bedroom with Paul, making the youngster a bit uncomfortable. Max tries to ease the situation, but Paul senses something more; although he can’rt determine what that feeling is.
Cousin Max gifts a new refrigerator to the family as well as other nominally expensive gifts; expensive especially for this post war days.
Not too long after, Max disappears. His body is found on the beach not far from their home. Police tell Paul that he committed suicide. Cousin Max’s death is added trauma for Paul whose father died earlier and is present only in flashbacks.
Paul finds a note and key hidden in Max’s violin case. What happens next can’t be covered with a spoiler alert.
Into the picture comes Cousin Bernie, a bit of a jerk and showoff. Paul is leery of him.
Bernie begins to question where diamonds that Max had could be. Where did Max get the diamonds? Where did they come from? And where did they go?
Let’s jump ahead somewhat. Paul becomes an attorney. You can imagine where the money for his education came from. He is conflicted and lives under a cloud of moral dilemma.
The reader might wonder how much of the story is autobiographical. Jay Greenfield grew up in Arverne post war. He knows the geographical area and he became an attorney before deciding that he enjoyed writing novels more than the courtroom.
Max’s Diamonds is a true coming of age story, one that many who grew up in the years after the war would be familiar with.
The story brings the reader back to a day many people this was a much simpler time, but in fact was as complicated, if not more so, than life today.
About the Author
Jay Greenfield was raised in Rockaway, New York. For several decades, he was a trial lawyer with a New York- based international law firm, where he argued in the Supreme Court of the United States, represented civil rights activists in Louisiana during 1964’s Freedom Summer, and was senior counsel in several cases establishing that, under New York law, homeless families have a right to shelter. He retired early to devote himself to writing fiction. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, Judy; they have three adult children and three grandchildren. MAX’S DIAMONDS (Chickadee Prince Books, 2016) is his debut novel.
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