cover image Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land

Boys and Oil: Growing Up Gay in a Fractured Land

Taylor Brorby. Liveright, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-324-09086-1

Poet Brorby debuts with a lyrical meditation on what happens “when you don’t fit in where you’re planted.” Growing up in 1990s Center, N.Dak.—a speck of a small town where, he writes, “fields grow into mines”—Brorby became intimate with the region’s long history with coal and his family’s reliance on it, for work and warmth. He also quickly learned that “the prairie could... burn boys who liked boys.” While exquisitely conjuring his awe for the area (“During the ‘golden hour’ on the prairie, the North Dakota palette reveals the subtle differences between ocher and umber and sienna”), he conveys his complicated relationship to it as a young queer man hiding in a town where “it wasn’t safe to be gay.” As the engrossing narrative unwinds, Brorby recounts his subsequent exile: escaping to college in the mid aughts; being rejected by his parents after coming out (his mother’s response: “But we don’t know any gay people”); protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline as a budding environmentalist in grad school; and navigating relationships with men out west. In the process, he offers a beautiful and complex look at how one can grow in the most unlikely places. Even at its most elegiac, this brims with quiet hope. (June)