Bük Kloob is a series of book reviews loosely related to a book club I started.
Some stories don’t seem to be about anything until they are about everything.
Chris McCorkmick‘s Desert Boys is exactly that: a sprawling through recent time, by way of California, to reflect so much yet so little. The book is McCormick’s debut and loosely revolves around what feels like very personal, real life tales of growing up in the hot West of the Antelope Valley.
It all starts innocently enough, tales of said kids: there’s a story about high school boys maturing and dealing with military enlisting in post-September 11 America; there’s a story about casual racism by way of student mascots that booms and builds into political activism; there’s a story about how sketchy fathers can influence young kids; and there’s a story about how seemingly inoffensive careers in agriculture and landscaping are actually more loaded than imagined. The stories feel independent of each other until you notice certain names and themes repeating, pointing out how these aren’t short stories but something bigger. Geographic connections aren’t the only things that tie these characters: it’s a personal story focusing tighter and tighter around said geography.
That’s where the book really succeeds, which would be a bit of a robbery to spell out too much as that’s for you to discover. Yet, the themes McCormick covers in a book that came out a few months ago feel so now, as they mainly as they relate to race. The largest theme presents itself as homosexuality being strangled under suburban heteronormativity but that’s a trendy distraction from the real, more pressing issues: politics, race, and ideas of passing. A few of the stories—particularly “Notes For A Spotlight On A Future President” and “The Immigrants”—address unique situations that McCormick couldn’t have possibly seen articulate themselves as race related brutality and Trump’s political views have gained media attention in the present. Stories like those two feel quaint and everyday and could have passed by as good writing any other year—but now? They feel somewhat vital, common tales that address the every day American experience in the best and worst ways imagined. They’re all metaphors for the political micro-actions that happen every day in small towns.
Desert Boys is successful not because it draws a circle to bring you into the center of a conversation but because every point of interest along the journey is interesting and feels bigger than it should, like a dinner party conversation that you see later played out similarly, and randomly, on a television show. What’s also of note is that it’s particularly great queer fiction meshed with “an American story.” Unlike the very OK Guapa that came out earlier this year, Boys is light and loose yet still punchy. Perhaps it is that every day relatability, that quaintness, or the fact that McCormick shoehorns all this in through the short story structure; regardless, the book feels quite triumphant. It’s a wonderful, unexpected political read in a highly political year.