Audrey Beth Stein is the author of the memoir Map, a 2010 Lambda Literary Award Finalist for Bisexual Nonfiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and is a two-time national prizewinner in the David Dornstein Memorial Short Story Contest. She teaches memoir and novel development at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Direct links to order Map can be found at http://map.audreybethstein.com.
Audrey chose to review one of her favorite novels The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, also a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. Enjoy!
The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
Dade Hamilton has no problem telling his ceiling fan or his soap dish that he’s gay. He fools around secretly with Pablo, the “Sexican” jock, wishing Pablo’s girlfriend Judy was out of the picture, until the day Dade blurts out “I love you” and Pablo smacks him in the face. Senior year is ending, Dade’s dad has just confessed to an affair (but not ended it), Dade’s mom is popping pills to pretend everything’s okay, and an autistic nine-year-old’s disappearance dominates the local news. In three months Dade will be off to college, but that’s a whole summer away, and Pablo Pablo Pablo isn’t just fading into the night.
Enter Alex Kincaid. Alex isn’t exactly Mr. Wholesome American Boy–at age twenty, he’s got a job at Taco Taco and moonlights as the drug connection for Dade’s classmates–but he’s hot and intriguing and compared to Pablo he’s a breath of fresh air. Dade doesn’t know if Alex is gay, but a short exchange at a party prompts Dade to ask a classmate who this guy is and how to find him again: “I was acting on some instinct that I didn’t know I had. I’d never gone out of my way for a guy before. Even my and Pablo’s first encounters were totally initiated by him. I never went out of my way to follow crushes around high school. I never approached anyone with the hopes of getting a phone number or even a name. I was afraid of giving myself away. I didn’t want anyone to know. Sometimes even I didn’t want to know.”
Alex is gay, and he’s also sincere, kind, and not afraid to show up with a bouquet of carnations for dinner with Dade’s parents after Dade comes out to them. The burgeoning relationship between Dade and Alex is one of the sweetest parts of the book, all the more so for its realness. In a world where so many adolescents fumbling through their own emerging sexuality (straight and queer) learn through unhealthy relationships and encounters, like the ones portrayed aptly and painfully between Dade and Pablo, it is wonderful and refreshing to read realistic portrayals of people treating each other with vulnerable kindness.
Of course the story doesn’t end this simply, not with an ex-not-boyfriend around or parents leaving Dade alone for two whole weeks, but I won’t give away the twists and turns, or why I found myself crying at the last chapter. Nick Burd has an easy and perceptive style that makes for an enjoyable reading experience. His three main characters feel like they must exist and make the choices that they do. Dade’s empathy for Pablo’s confusion–which doesn’t erase his anger or hurt at Pablo’s actions–is a nice touch, and occasional reported sightings of the autistic girl underline the theme of disappearance and reappearance that threads throughout the book. The Vast Fields of Ordinary well-deservedly won a Stonewall Book Award and was named a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and I highly recommend it for both young adult readers and adults who enjoy YA literature.