Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review -- The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

It's been awhile since I've read/reviewed a gay-themed book.  I picked one at random from my "to read" list, and it turned out to be a good one.  The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd takes place in a nondescript midwestern town during protagonist Dade Hamilton's last summer before going away to college.  He's somewhat of a loner (why are gay kids in books always misfits or loners?) working a job he hates at a grocery store, and he doesn't have any friends other than his secret "boyfriend" (more of a hook-up buddy) Pablo, who is a football star and dates the prettiest girl in the school.  Over the summer he meets new best friend Lucy, a lesbian girl staying with her aunt for the summer, and mysterious badboy Alex Kincaid, whom he is instantly attracted to.  This gives him the confidence to begin coming out to people and making the transition from confused teenager to comfortable college student.  Side plots include Dade's distant parents' crumbling marriage and a young girl who has disappeared or been kidnapped.

I identified fairly well with Dade (other than his and the other characters drug use and drinking).  He's a loner, is out to himself but not very confident, and is stuck in an unhealthy relationship with a "friend" (Pablo) that doesn't treat him very well and can't give him the relationship he deserves.  He's not quite sure what direction his life is going to take and although he is at a crossroads, he is letting himself float along rather than taking ownership and responsibility of his life.  I can also identify with Pablo -- he is obviously deeply closeted and confused about his sexuality, and he comes from a conservative and patriarchal culture where masculinity is valued.  This confusion leads him to a depression which shows itself as anger, promiscuity, taking advantage of other people, and the "brain damage" that many of us have experienced in the coming out process in a conservative Mormon culture.  I didn't identify with Alex much, who is comfortable with who he is but, like Dade, is floating along in life and has even fewer opportunities to change things.  Although Dade and Alex don't have much in common other than being gay, lacking direction, and liking weed, their relationship helps Dade realize what a good relationship is about and gives him the confidence he needs to take charge of his life.  He is able to finally put Pablo behind him and move on to something more positive.  All of the characters were well-developed and likeable.

I have to say that I absolutely hated the ending of the book.  In fact, I was mad about it for days after I finished it.  I won't give it away, but things didn't get resolved in a way that left me feeling happy and positive.  That's not necessarily a bad thing though.  A good book makes me think and feel strongly, whether in a positive or negative way, and this one definitely did.


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