This first novel from legendary screenwriter William Goldman crackles with the author’s precocious wit and playful sense of humor, but the clash between Goldman’s light touch and the dark nature of his plot make the reader uncertain where to place his sympathies. More succinctly, Ray Trevitt might be too much of an asshole to build a book around.
Now, if you read this book, for about the first half you’re going to think I’m nuts. Sure, childhood Ray might be a little rough around the edges, but he’s just a good-ole American boy, in the vein of Tom Sawyer. And you’d be right. Ray, the product of a marriage between a Greek scholar and one of his students, is a fun-loving, affable guy, quick-witted, sarcastic, and amusing. His exploits with his friend Zock (short for Zachary) and his attempts to chase girls will delight many readers, especially thanks to Goldman’s deceptively casual prose.
But about halfway through the narrative, events transpire which will not be spoiled here, and you’re opinion of Ray will have to change. And I’m sure Goldman knows that, I’m just not convinced he knows how much you’re opinion will and should change. Because Goldman, who it should be pointed out was 24 when this novel was published, never changes his tone. Even when Ray’s behavior is appalling, however understandably, Goldman still has him cracking wise, as though you’re supposed to enjoy watching him keep plugging away.
It is perhaps less than illuminating to write this review without mentioning the key turning point. It constricts me, prevents me from fully getting into my fundamental problem with the story. For now, let it suffice to say that Goldman uses a character, a really good, well-drawn character, in a way that I always hate, less like a person and more like a plot device for the protagonist. It’s too shallow for the great writer Goldman would turn out to be.
As an early work of a master stylist, The Temple of Gold is a worthwhile read. Certainly its brevity and the breezy nature of the prose will keep you from wasting too much time on it. But as a narrative in and of itself it is unfortunately lacking. An enjoyable disappointment, if you will.