Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
Dreaming Home, the first novel by award-winning short story writer Lucian Childs, is divided into six parts, each several years removed from the previous one, beginning in the late 1970s and ending in the present. Each chapter focuses on a different person. What connects all these people is Kyle.
We meet Kyle as a fifteen-year-old at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas, where his father, a Vietnam War veteran, is stationed. Kyle lives with his father and mother and a younger sister, Rachel. It is Rachel who commits the betrayal that, like a large rock thrown into a small pond, sets off an explosion of force whose ripples cause disruption far from the initial impact.
What happens is that Rachel finds out that Kyle is gay and tells her father. It is half the act of a mischievous twelve-year-old, half the confused obligation of a daughter of fundamentalist Christian parents. The father's reaction is brutal-first a physical beating, then exile to the Ministry, an evangelical Christian institution in a Texas industrial park where gay boys from "godly families" are bombarded with Scripture until they lose their sinful urges.
A few years later, Kyle finds himself in San Francisco, then at the height of not only the gay awakening, but also the AIDS crisis. In addition to trying to figure out who he is and what career path to take (as we all do, regardless of sexual orientation), he is also trying to find something he has lost: love. And not just the love of other people, but the love of his creative passions.
The promise of childhood had been shattered by the violence of a father haunted by Vietnam and a mother scarred by a seething resentment of the confinement of being a military wife. The chasm created by his sister's betrayal was unbridgeable. The years in the ministry completed the job, bringing into the world a young man distant from others and from himself.
Kyle's struggle to find himself is seen through the eyes of others, some of them gay, who have endured ordeals of their own. And as he stumbles through the years to find happiness and purpose, these same people endure the ripple effects of his behavior and the accompanying hurt and confusion.
Childs is an excellent writer, with a keen ear for dialogue and great skill in depicting the complexities of emotional conflict. One senses that much of this book is probably based on personal experience. Like Kyle, Childs is gay and originally from Texas. In particular, the scripture-laden words and thoughts of all those in the ministry seem to resonate with a painful familiarity. And he sensitively portrays gay life without glossing over its seamier side, allowing him to sympathetically evoke the turbulent emotional lives of these characters.
What Childs does not do is tie things up neatly. His characters are living souls, and life being what it is, they will continue to struggle to find happiness, or at least some level of satisfaction with their lives. The memory of pain will not go away, but with luck it will recede, allowing something positive to fill the emotional hole that has been created.
Dreaming Home is published by Biblioasis.