Timothy Jay Smith will soon be in south Florida to promote his novel Cooper’s Promise in which a gay army deserter adrift in a war-torn African country gets involved with evil police, rebels fighter and a sex-trafficking bartender while falling in love with the son of a diamond merchant. Sound juicy? It is.
Smith and his novel are jointly fascinating in the way that Gore Vidal and Ernest Hemingway were fascinating explorers who felt compelled to colorize their novels with the foreign landscapes of their travel. Smith is like that ex-pat raconteur you might encounter in a Paris bistro.
While listening to his stories, you are never quite sure how he supports himself and you wonder how he assembled the collection of places and events that comprise his life up to that moment in that bistro at that table wearing that hat shading an eye calculating your value as a listener or the amount of cash in your pocket. You also wonder what he may be hiding and whether or not he is who he says he is.
I like that kind of man, and having read his engrossing and mysterious Cooper’s Promise, I’ll be eager to inspect him at his Fort Lauderdale or Miami appearances in October with the first being on Monday.
When I asked Smith who has lived all over the world how he has managed to have such an extravagantly picaresque life, I should have anticipated his elusive response, “A lot of aspirations, effort and risk.”
The novel’s protagonist, Cooper, is not entirely likable or winning. He is sexy and physically attractive in a scruffy and often unwashed way while retaining a skittishness and righteous indignation that borders on prissy. For this reason, I disagree with the reviewer who suggested that if Bogart were alive today, he’d want to play this character in the movie version.
Cooper is conflicted about many things. He doesn’t know who to trust in the wretched and evil African town in which he seems to have washed up without welcome. He is easily deceived and can even be relieved of his clothing by the local poor boys. He squirms with discomfort at the prospect of entering the baths in pursuit of Sadiq, the seductive young man who has his heart.
He does have in common with the typical Bogart character a prevailing desire to do the right thing, and Cooper’s Promise is ultimately about his struggle to rectify his personal situation and the messy lives of the people closest to him. Cooper’s recipe for redemption involves diamonds, sex, guns and a great deal of sleepless waterfront wandering in dangerous moments that would scare off a man with a smaller heart. I think James Franco or John Leguizamo should like to play this character.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Cooper’s Promise falls into the category of gay fiction in which the hero’s sexuality is incidental. Being gay is not among the many agonies that beset Cooper. He is more concerned about the slim possibility of his next meal and the unlikely hot water from a showerhead controlled by a resentful landlady. Smith is less concerned with the pornographic possibilities of a soldier in a steamy and lawless port and more concerned with the mechanical activity of Cooper’s heart.
That said, Cooper’s Promise is not without its erotic moments, and I am relieved to learn that Smith himself is at work on its screenplay because in the hands of another writer, the balance he achieves in his narrative could be easily scuttled and distorted.
Having just returned from a travel-writing gig in Greece, I was glad to know that Smith is at work on a new novel set in that gorgeous country.
He tells me, “I have started another novel, Fire on the Island, set in Greece, which was a finalist in this year's Falkner-Wisdom Competition in the novel-in-progress category. I have a long relationship with Greece, going back to my first job after my undergraduate studies when I lived there 1972-74, much of that on the not-yet-discovered island of Santorini. I've been back to Greece many times, and my partner and I now go twice a year for two months total to the island of Lesbos.
“My next book, A Vision of Angels, to be released in May, is set in Israel/Palestine. I am currently finishing the very final edits on that and expect to have it to the publisher in a few days. That story comes from the 2.5 years that I lived in Jerusalem and worked throughout the Palestinian Territories.”
For more information about Timothy Jay Smith and Cooper’s Promise: TimothyJaySmith.com
Meet the Author
You have three south Florida possibilities to meet the fascinating Timothy Jay Smith. Two readings and one book signing:
Oct 20 – 2 p.m. Books-a-Million, 12801 West Sunrise, Ft. Lauderdale, FL (book signing only)
Oct 24 – 7 p.m. LGBT Visitor Center, 1130 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach FL
Oct 29 – 8 p.m. Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables FL