Charles Baxter's return
through the lives of their characters.
His new novel, The Soul Thief, features two memorable characters - the troubled and occasional narrator, Nathaniel Mason, and the enigmatic and ominous Jerome Coolberg, perhaps one of the most interesting and unlikable characters Baxter has ever created.
The story is told in two parts. The first takes place in Buffalo in "the early 1970s, days of ecstatic bitterness and joyfully articulated rage." Nathaniel is a graduate student, new in town, without friends or much ambition. He stumbles into love affairs and into an acquaintanceship with Jerome, who may be an evil genius or simply a poseur who has seen too many movies. As is often the case with graduate students, we can never quite be sure.
Nathaniel finds himself under a subtle assault by Jerome, who seems to be assuming his identity, commandeering the facts of his life, stealing his soul. One of Nathaniel's lovers is assaulted, and he is not sure whether or not Jerome is at fault. And the reader is never quite certain whether the assault is real or a reflection of Nathaniel's growing psychic instability.