Nathan and his family move around a lot. They have currently found themselves in a rented farmhouse in a small, rural North Carolina community in the 1950s. The family that Nathan’s parents are renting from live in the main house on property. They have a son, Roy, who is a senior at the same high school that Nathan will go to as an underclassman; Roy even drives the local school bus. Very small town. Where Nathan is school-focused and shy, Roy is outgoing and more socially minded. Roy is a refuge for Nathan from his abusive father, and Nathan is a space in which Roy can be himself. In the shadows of the woods, the solitude of the school bus at the end of the route, and the seclusion of a cemetery, Roy and Nathan find themselves falling in love. This isn’t the love of romance novels with grand gestures and public proclamations; this is a love filled with self-loathing, doubt, and unease.
Jim Grimsley’s writing is superb. He has an almost lyrical style of writing that I found entirely captivating. Grimsley activates all of the senses when describing the area around the farmhouses; it is easy to understand why the boys would escape to that idyllic world for each other.
The first portion of the novel is a standard, gay, coming-of-age story. The plot and plot points are a little cliched, but I am willing to give Grimsley’s a pass for this due to the beauty of his writing. But about two thirds of the way through, there is a severe and startling shift in tone, genre, and pacing. It is stunning and startling. This shift in genre leads to an ending that, in my opinion, is ambiguous. The tone/genre shift and the ambiguous ending all work together. So if you find yourself convinced you know how this book will end, keep going. Keep reading.