cover image Home After Dark

Home After Dark

David Small. Liveright, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-87140-315-5

In Small’s haunting coming-of-age tale, 13-year-old Russell Pruitt grows like a determined weed in the wake of masculinity so toxic it has literally killed a menagerie of pets in the small California town where he lives with his troubled father. The mystery of the mangled animals is one of several dark threads in Small’s fictional follow-up to his critically acclaimed memoir, Stitches. In a hero’s-journey narrative punctuated by episodic adventures, Russell searches for a sense of “home,” as Small again juxtaposes the horrors of an unhappy childhood with the bleak underbelly of 1950s and ’60s America illustrated with his signature fine pen lines and grey wash. Even the grill of his father’s Buick growls menacingly. The men and boys in Russell’s life are absent, monstrous, victimized, or all of the above; Russel’s entrapment takes physical form when he’s stuck in an abandoned drainage tunnel in the arroyo. His Chinese-immigrant landlords show him kindness, but being young, angry, and white, Russell doesn’t see it, at least not at first. The story traffics in archetypes—the mean kid who frames the weirdo; the festering cruelty beneath the idyllic small-town facade—but never tips over into trite. With strikingly few words, Small tells Russell’s story in close-ups of bullies’ sneers and bird’s-eye views of parking lots. Cats, dogs, lions, and other animals haunt Russell’s waking life and his dreams, perhaps because he, too, fights tooth and claw to survive. In depicting the toll of the harsh environment surrounding these lost boys, Small unearths an (almost) impossible tenderness. (Sept.)