Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley

Genre: Fiction

Year of publication: 1995

Rating: ♥♥♥½

Summary: A short novel about a boy in the rural south who has been sexually abused by his father. Nathan’s family has been forced to move several times because of the rumors, and they have recently settled in a new home. Nathan hopes that this time his father will leave him alone and they will not have to move again. Meanwhile, he falls in love with the boy next door, Roy. The two share a tender but fragile affection, made tenuous by Roy’s need to hide their relationship, and Nathan’s trauma. When his dad tries to abuse him again, Nathan escapes into the woods on a camping trip with Roy and two of Roy’s friends, knowing that one way or another, he will never come back.

Thoughts: The “dream” in the title is descriptive of the writing style. Sometimes it’s hard to discern what is reality and what isn’t. This dream-like quality might reflect Nathan’s way of coping with the darkness and violence in his life — which is considerable. Yet despite all the bad things that happen, his gentle spirit and ability to love seem intact.

I don’t know what the future might hold for the characters. Is Roy really “out” — even to himself? Can Nathan ever really heal? Roy mentions that they “go up north,” but what will they do? Are they old enough to get jobs? Will they be on the street? The story ends on a happy, but uncertain note.

I think the theme of religion as inadequate comfort, or as a false front, is quite strong. Nathan’s dad is always reading the Bible, especially when he’s thinking about doing bad things. Roy hides his homosexuality through his relationship with his church girlfriend. Nathan sings hymns a few times at places in the story that seem to highlight their ineffectiveness. Even in the opening scene, everyone is using the mask or vehicle of religion to hide their true thoughts and desires. I don’t know what this “means” or “represents,” if anything, but I found it interesting. Maybe that self-reliance and self-truth is the source of strength, rather than an outside power.