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Dream Boy ~ A Capsule Book Review

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Dream Boy ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The novel Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley is set in rural North Carolina. No time is given when the novel takes place, so we’ll assume it’s in the 1950s since it has a 1950s feel. Nathan and Roy live on neighboring farms. Nathan has just moved to the area with his mother and his creepy, alcoholic father, so he’s new to the local high school. Roy is older than Nathan but still in high school. Roy drives the school bus and when they start out in the morning, Nathan is his first passenger. Nathan seems troubled and withdrawn. Roy reaches out to Nathan and they become friends, despite their obvious differences.

Since they live in an isolated farming community, Nathan and Roy have lots of chances to be alone together. They take long walks in the lonely woods where they discover an old cemetery and, later, an abandoned and long-neglected plantation house. Expectedly or not, surprisingly or not, their friendship develops into a furtive sexual relationship. Later, Roy becomes jealous when Nathan seems to be experienced in the practice of being with another man. Where did he learn it, Roy wonders?

Nathan has a secret. We know it if Roy doesn’t. Since he was a small boy, Nathan has been sexual abused by his own father, a person who has plenty of problems of his own, alcoholism being just one of them. Nathan’s mother just hangs in the background and, doing nothing to help, wallows in her own sorrows.

Afraid that his father will come into his room at night and try to rape him, Nathan begins sleeping in Roy’s barn or in the old cemetery that he and Roy discovered on one of their walks. Roy knows that something is wrong with Nathan but doesn’t suspect what it is. He helps Nathan all he can and tries to protect him. When Nathan and Roy go on a weekend camping trip with two other boys, the other boys learn firsthand the nature of Nathan and Roy’s special friendship, leading to the novel’s tragic conclusion.

Jim Grimsley is a talented, interesting writer. Besides Dream Boy, I’ve read some of his other books, including Boulevard, My Drowning, and Winter Birds. Dream Boy is a slim novel, under 200 pages, with elements of the southern gothic. The ending is a little ambiguous, but I suppose that’s the way it’s meant to be. Nathan’s victimhood is to become Roy’s lifelong sorrow.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

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