by Justin Deabler
St. Martin’s Press. 304 pages, $27.99
FIRST NOVELS, especially coming-out novels, arrive with a certain amount of baggage. I tend to open them with trepidation, prepared to be assaulted by clichés about the closet and bad sex. That’s why Justin Deabler’s first novel, Lone Stars, comes as a welcome surprise. Deabler avoids the traditional landmines of coming-out stories by working on a broader canvas.
After a brief prologue, the multigenerational story opens when the gay protagonist’s parents are children in 1950s Texas. We meet them separately as each struggles against their family’s dysfunctions—Lacy’s secretive mother, Aaron’s demanding father. Their stories come together when they become pen pals while Aaron is serving in Vietnam. The courtship is tentative and tender, serving to build the reader’s empathy for both characters. We’re primed to forgive them for whatever parenting mistakes they’ll make, because we see where they came from.
This first section, aptly called “Love,” sets up the novel’s structure with echoes of the familiar nursery rhyme: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.”