A road trip to purge his emotional demons
Lenox restaurateur Jason Macioge has expanded his franchise, but his latest endeavor does not include a menu.
Thanks to his recently released novel "Only the Names Have Changed" he can now add published author to his resume.
The story starts with a twist. The initial setup is not the focus of most of the following chapters.
First we get Jay Gordon and Smitty Smith, former boarding school classmates, reunited in adulthood as they embark on a cross-country road trip. It turns out the trip is a healing adventure for Jay, who uses the time with Smitty to excise the emotional demons created by his past entanglement with a severely unbalanced woman.
And so begins the real story.
We flash back several years to meet Jay as an effervescent young man, energetically establishing himself in the fine-dining business.
The striking Madison -- known as "Maddy" (the inside joke of her name quickly becomes apparent) -- is his opposite. Having gotten sidetracked from professional employment into a life of extravagant shopping and travel, she has no specific goals.
When she visits Jay's restaurant the evening after her lavish second wedding, he is intrigued. But seeing that she is newly married he admires her from afar.
Almost one year later he encounters her again, and senses that things did not turn out for the best. Noticing her brooding presence, he mistakenly assumes the despair is the result of her recently failed marriage. What he does not see is that her otherwise seemingly carefree demeanor is masking an irrational, self-centered psyche.
Unknown to Jay at that time, Maddy was involved in adolescence and young adulthood in a small fundamentalist cult and an ill-planned early marriage resulted in a predisposition toward emotional instability.
She emerges from the bizarre experiences unable to connect her impulsive desires to consequences, and her behavior swings wildly from self-destructive at worst, to irresponsible at best.
Meeting her pleasant side during a subdued period, Jay sees no reason not to fall madly in love, and he does so with the same enthusiasm that has served him well in other areas of his life.
This time, however, things are not about to fall into place as easily as Jay has become accustomed to.
Macioge keeps the serious subject matter from becoming too intense as a standalone topic.
Both Jay's and Maddy's codependence issues have deep roots, but this is not a mental health case study.
Macioge touches on Maddy's half-hearted attempts at therapy and Jay's visits to a more effective counselor.
But the core of "Only the Names Have Changed" is much simpler. It is not about the question of Maddy getting better or worse, or why Jay feels compelled to help her in ways that inadvertently fuel her instability. It is, instead, a day-to-day account of the real-world effects of an extremely dysfunctional relationship.
We see Jay's high level of dedication and focus required for business and relationship success starkly contrasted against Maddy's lax motivation and resulting failures.
Periodically, Macioge inserts short, present-day chapters about Jay's and Smitty's cross-country trip. The flashback story is so engrossing, however, that it's tempting to brush over these interjections. Their escapades are amusing, but not particularly fascinating. They seem to be just two guys on the open road having some fun.
In fact, they are quite eager to partake in some mild debauchery as Jay purges four years' worth of frustrations. The mood is playful, but the regular depiction of substance- fueled long drives may be a bit over the top for the socially reserved to deliberately stay focused on.
Resist any urge to skim those portions and keep reading fully. While following them on the road you start to realize that Jay is rapidly resetting his adulthood and preparing to start over.
But more important, there is a wonderful, surprising conclusion that completely blindsides the reader and lends to the promise of happier times ahead.
This is a predominantly Berkshire-based novel with many locations and businesses positively depicted that tie into Jay's and Maddy's relationship.
Macioge clearly loves the region, and even downplays its typically brutal winters with some unlikely outdoor activities for the season.
He invitingly presents the county with much charm and, like Jay's personality, it contrasts with the tragic feel of Maddy's state of mind.
The pacing of "Only the Names Have Changed" stays consistently brisk.
An upbeat tone underscores this story of a relationship destined for failure, which helps maintain the reader's attention.
Macioge reaches readers who have either found themselves in similar situations, or know others who have, and keeps it quite fun along the way.
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