Winner of the Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award
Finalist for the Binghamton University’s John Gardner Fiction Book Award
Finalist for the Saroyan Prize for Fiction
Longlisted for the Chautauqua Prize
"Hilarious, Devious, Original, and Unforgettable."—Karen Russell
A vivid and assured work of fiction, from a major new voice, following the life of a young man growing up, leaving home, and coming back again, marked by the start beauty of California's Mojave Desert and the various fates of those who leave and those who stay behind.
This series of powerful, intertwining stories illuminates Daley Kushner's world - the family, friends and community that have both formed and constrained him, and his new life in San Francisco. Back home, the desert preys on those who cannot conform: an alfalfa farmer on the outskirts of town; two young girls whose curiosity leads to danger; a black politician who once served as his school's confederate mascot; Daley's mother, an immigrant from Armenia; and Daley himself, introspective and queer. Meanwhile, in another desert on the other side of the world, war threatens to fracture Daley's most meaningful - and most fraught - connection to home, his friendship with Robert Karinger.
A luminous debut, Desert Boys by Chris McCormick traces the development of towns into cities, of boys into men, and the haunting effects produced when the two transformations overlap. Both a bildungsroman and a portrait of a changing place, the book mines the terrain between the desire to escape and the hunger to belong.
The first-person narrator of McCormick's engaging coming-of-age story is Daley Kushner, the son of a "severely cautious" Armenian immigrant mother who won't let her son play paintball as a kid, growing up in Southern California. There are 12 stories, linked not only by Daley but by prominent characters in his life. The stories in which Daley, known in the book as Kush, interacts with his friends have a shaggy, circuitous, random feeling a combination of edge and aimlessness that believably evokes adolescent anomie and angst. The opening story, "Mother, Godfather, Baby, Priest," by far the longest, falls into this category and sets the table for what follows. Teenage Kush and his friends are grappling with issues involving sex; Kush is also queer and discovering his sexuality, which informs his outsider status in this and later narratives. Stories with a more conventional focus, such as "My Uncle's Tenant," about a charismatic but ultimately unsavory character Kush meets through his uncle Gaspar, benefit from the background that other stories have provided. Close friend Karinger figures at least peripherally in every story, and the penultimate one, "Shelter," depicts a warmly amusing escapade involving the duo at just the right point in the book. A lovely, quiet book by a promising new voice.