cover image The Bright Lands

The Bright Lands

John Fram. Hanover Square, $27.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-335-83662-5

Fram’s ambitious debut takes a critical, terrifying look at a small town in Texas, where high school football reigns supreme and puts a double bind on those who are desperate to get out. Former high school quarterback Joel Whitley, now almost 30, returns home to Bentley, Tex., from Manhattan after a decade, distressed by a series of desperate text messages from his younger brother, Dylan, a star high school quarterback himself who has become disenchanted with football. Joel, openly gay, has embraced a new life as a data analyst, but when he’s back in the stadium watching Dylan play, old feelings of angst return after someone makes a homophobic remark about a black male cheerleader. Dylan soon disappears, which may be related to an out-of-town s&m club and a supernatural creature that occasionally causes underground rumblings. Joel teams up with a former classmate turned sherrif’s deputy to search for Dylan, and they begin to uncover the town’s dark secrets. While Fram stacks the deck with a few too many secondary characters (old loves, family ties) and subplots (drugs, murders, nefarious schemers), his attempt to connect Bentley’s long-buried secrets with generation-repeating bullying and homophobia is commendable. This offers as many weekend frights as celebratory lights. (July)