Rating: B-/ It’s attraction at first sight for Nathan, the sensitive new kid in town, and his somewhat older classmate Roy. Living across from Roy in a house rented out on Roy’s property, fifteen-year-old Nathan is the victim of incestuous advances from his drunken father, and discovers sexual pleasure for the first time in the arms of the quiet, intense Roy. Nathan starts hanging out with Roy and his friends every day, chubby scaredy-cat Randy and ultra-aggressive alpha male Burke. But, unknown to to them both, Nathan and Roy are headed for unthinkable tragedy, in the form of a jealous act of violence.
Dream Boy is incredibly short, just under 200 pages, and is easy to fly through within a day or two. Not as fluffy and frivolous as the title suggests, Dream Boy is actually a pretty dark and disturbing read, with a jarring scene of violence at the end. The funny thing about Nathan and Roy’s romance is that Roy is actually kind of an asshole. Seriously, Nathan is too good for him. Now, I have no doubt that Roy cares about Nathan, in his own backward way, but his insistence that he’s going to do what he wants and sleep with who he wants and that Nathan is ‘not his boyfriend,’ while Nathan is expected to be faithful and compliant, as well as Nathan’s desperate attempts to please Roy, makes it seem like a fairly unhealthy relationship. Most infuriating of all is Roy’s refusal to stand by his man when they do get caught, treating Nathan like dog crap in the process.
Now, this is not exactly a criticism, there are plenty of romances like this in real life, and Grimsley isn’t really romanticizing these kinds of relationships, but the book made me feel worse and worse for Nathan and madder and madder at Roy. The sex scenes are a bit cheesy, though the rest of the book is very solid. The whole book is steeped in atmosphere, the pervading feeling of Southern Gothic in a time long past (I believe Dream Boy is set in the 1960’s, but don’t quote me on that.) There are some really cool moments, like when the characters explore a decaying mansion that has been abandoned to be devoured by the elements, and even a hint of the supernatural.
Nathan’s parents killed me, his dad was the worst, obviously, but his mom was such a weak and passive person that it was hard to feel any sympathy for her decision to keep her child rapist husband in her life, and moreover, in her son’s life. I know religious fundies do it a little different than we do when it comes to the women’s independence, and that the mom probably felt helpless without her man. But seriously?
There comes a time when you just need to get yourself and your kid out of the situation. Not to mention the father didn’t seem to be physically violent toward either of them (as far as slapping and hitting them goes, I know rape is violence, obviously,) so I couldn’t figure out why the mother would be too afraid to (a pack her bags, or (b kick her pathetic, rapist husband in the nuts and make him leave. It was simply an enigma. I think her religion had a lot to do with it.
Overall, I liked this book. It was a very concise, touching novel with some romantic parts and some heartbreaking parts. I don’t know if I’ll watch the movie version. It got pretty bad reviews and the actor who plays Roy looks like way too much of a pretty boy. I pictured Roy as s bit more powerful and effortlessly masculine. I recommend this book but only if the reader knows beforehand that it’s not a light romance.
There are moments of heartbreak and emotional and sexual violence galore. The writing is effortlessly beautiful, however, and the characters will stick with you for a good while. Jim Grimsley has a gift with writing Southern Gothic that doesn’t seem forced, and with taking somewhat stereotypical characters and putting a new spin on them. The character who will stick with me most is Nathan. The poor kid deserved a happy ending, and his fate is a real kick in the teeth. But at the same time, what happens to Nathan seems weirdly inevitable, and ultimately, not surprising.