Rayfiel, Thomas 1958–
Rayfiel, Thomas 1958–
Born 1958. Education: Grinnell College, graduated 1980.
Writer, novelist, and screenwriter.
Split Levels, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
Colony Girl, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.
Eve in the City, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2003.
Parallel Play, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.
(With Arthur Joffe) Harem (screenplay), 1985.
Also author of serial novel Lutwidge Finch, published online in zingmagazine.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including Grand Street, Quarterly, GQ, and Antioch Review.
In Thomas Rayfiel's first novel, Split Levels, the author takes on suburbia under the guise of his protagonist, Allen Stanley, a thirty-something who returns to his home town under less-than-ideal circumstances. The town holds little in the way of pleasant memories for Stanley, who left after his sister's suspicious disappearance and his mother's accidental death shortly thereafter. Things have not improved: his father is found in the bathtub with his wrists slashed. Stanley encounters past acquaintances, an amorous neighbor, the police (who view him as a possible suspect in his father's death), and an attractive teenage girl. Critics praised Rayfiel's skillful dialogue and his mystery-writer style. The ending and the discovery of the person responsible for framing Stanley for his father's murder will, according to Gilbert Taylor in Booklist, leave "mystery buffs … satisfied."
Rayfiel's second novel, Colony Girl, is set in a Christian religious settlement called the Colony, in the cornfields near Arhat, Iowa. Eve is fifteen years old and torn between her existence at the Colony and the world beyond. The Colony is overseen by Gordon, the sect's founder, who has recently withdrawn, choosing to watch cable television while he deals with his own devils. Eve, a previous favorite of Gordon, takes a summer job as a flag person on a highway crew and falls in love with her new friend Joey, as well as Joey's father, Herb. Gordon announces his plans to marry Serena, Eve's best girlfriend, which pushes Eve to dedicate herself to destroying the cult's leader.
Gordon was described by Commonweal critic Valerie Sayers as a "wonderfully vivid character." Rayfiel manages to avoid casting the sect leader as a villain, despite his penchant for sex and drugs. Eve's character is at times touched with wisdom beyond her years, and has the simplicity that children bring to things. Sayers also noted that although Eve is "an interesting soul," she never really "finds her voice," and felt that the novel's resolution is not up to the promise hinted at throughout.
Eve returns in Rayfiel's next novel, Eve in the City. Having left the religious colony where she grew up, Eve, now seventeen years old, lives and works in New York City. To her disadvantage, she lacks proper identification to find a legitimate job (she has, for example, no last name; no one else at the Colony had last names, either, since nobody in the Bible had them). To survive, she takes a job as a cocktail waitress at an illegal after-hours bar run by a Russian immigrant named Viktor. During an early morning walk home from work, Eve sees a man and a woman who may be fighting, kissing, or having sex—she cannot be sure of what she saw. When the man collapses with a knife in his gut, however, she is certain she saw a murder. She reports what she witnessed to the police, and in the process meets an attractive detective. Her life is further complicated when an artist friend takes intimate pictures of her, hangs prints of the pictures in the subway to attract graffiti, and displays the results as art in a prominent gallery exhibition. At the show, Eve takes an interest in a moody artist, even as she entertains a marriage proposal from green-card seeking Viktor and tries to further her own development as an individual and as a woman. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the novel "an enviably intelligent piece of writing." Eve remains a flawed but "likable heroine whom readers will want to follow further as she moves toward a brighter future," observed Beth Leistensnider in Booklist.
In Parallel Play, twenty-seven-year-old Eve has married and become a mother in a novel that a Kirkus Reviews contributor called "part anti-romantic comedy, part meditation on postpartum miseries and the joys of motherhood." Married to amiable, mild-manner Harvey, a doctor, Eve has not had sex with him in a year and worries that he might be having an affair. Meanwhile, she pines for ex-boyfriend Mark, a bodybuilding bad boy and carpenter. Worse, Eve struggles to reconcile her emotions and desires with the fact that she now has a child for whom she must be responsible. Resentful of the burden imposed by her baby, Ann, she also feels guilty because she is not the type of exemplary mom she sees on television and at the park. When Mark reappears in her life, facing his own difficult marriage, Eve has to confront her past feelings for him while deciding how to cope with her current situation. Slowly, Eve begins to realize how much Ann means to her and recognizes the importance of her family. "Eve remains a complex character with conflicting feelings whose voice sustains the novel," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1994, Gilbert Taylor, review of Split Levels, p. 1184; August, 1999, Ellie Barta-Moran, review of Colony Girl, p. 2028; August, 2003, Beth Leistensnider, review of Eve in the City, p. 1957.
Commonweal, October 22, 1999, Valerie Sayers, review of Colony Girl, p. 16.
Hudson Review, winter, 1995, Thomas Filbin, review of Split Levels, pp. 650-651.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2003, review of Eve in the City, p. 1097; November 1, 2006, review of Parallel Play, p. 1098.
Library Journal, August, 1999, Yvette Weller Olson, review of Colony Girl, p. 142.
New York Times Book Review, May 29, 1994, Marilyn Stasio, review of Split Levels, p. 15; September 21, 2003, Richard Eder, "Not in Iowa Anymore," review of Eve in the City.
Publishers Weekly, February 7, 1994, review of Split Levels, p. 16; August 2, 1999, review of Colony Girl, p. 73; September 22, 2003, review of Eve in the City, p. 85; October 16, 2006, review of Parallel Play, p. 30.
Grinnell College Web site,http://www.grinnell.edu/ (September 20, 2001), "Writers Who Are Alumni of Grinnell College."