By Dale Boyer. $14.95; Dale Boyer Works; 218 pages
This is Dale Boyer's first novel. He did not select an easy topic to cover for his first novel. While I had my own criticisms about the basic story arcs and language, overall, this is a good summer read.
The Dandelion Cloud is set at the fictitious, small Illinois college of Thornton in 1979. The story's main protagonist, an eighteen-year old lanky Moline boy named Justin is a lost boy. He has no idea who he was; who he is; who he will be. He is the archetype for every closeted teenage gay man ever to go away to college at any age. While at Thornton he meets two senior classmen; Craig, the enigmatic art student and Kyle, the beefy, hunky psychology major. Together they form the trifecta of confused emotions that propel the main story of the novel.
Without giving too much away, The Dandelion Cloud focuses on Justin's unrequited love for Kyle. This is no surprise. Kyle is described in vivid detail, right down to his "swinging manhood." All jokes about Harlequin romance language aside, Boyer also employs, what I think are some rather stunning metaphors. After the same shower scene where Justin catches Kyle and his swinging manhood in all their sudsy glory, Boyer uses this line; "As Justin watched Kyle, privy to the nonchalant, unconscious sacrament that Kyle performed, he felt again the onrush of emotion that had gripped on the day that he'd first seen him." That is a powerful metaphor. How many of us as gay men felt to be in the presence of the divine when the love of our life is there, before us?
But this is my main criticism about this book: Boyer uses some superb language that aptly describes precisely what gay men feel when they are in love or think they are in lovebut he reinforces those metaphors with very peculiar breaks in verisimilitude. In a very emotionally charged scene, after a significant, if not the most significant event in the book, the three men are talking and pouring out their hearts to one another. "I do feel closer to you guys that to probably any other friends I've had," one of them says. This is then bookended with Craig asking "brightly," "Did I tell you guys that I was thinking of asking somebody out?"
Now, without revealing too much this was jolting. There is just no rhyme or reason to this tidbit about Craig's love life. There was another odd detail about Craig that bothered me. Later in the book, Craig is asked to describe the young woman he has asked out. He couldn't. Craig says, "I don't know, how do you describe someone?" Keep in mind, Craig is an artist. He has painted numerous portraits. How is it that he cannot come up with enough language to describe the woman he is dating? It was details like this that repeated on me and interrupted some of the flow and cadence of this book.
Still, despite Boyer's early foibles in The Dandelion Cloud, it is not without merit. There is one line that struck me in the face like a cast-iron frying pan. Justin, in a moment of recognizable and deep pain says, "I've wasted so much time." Who among us has not thought this after either dating a man we thought was "the one" or loving someone who just could not love us back the way we need? This is this book's greatest attribute- it is raw.
Boyer accomplishes three major storylines in the space of a little more than 200-pages. This keeps the novel moving at a brisk pace without becoming tiresome.
I cannot help but wonder how much of this is actually fiction and how much of it is Boyer's own story covered in his own dandelion cloud. There are just too many details that speak of the story of the every-gay-man. Meeting the first man we knew was gay. Recognizing that we just got an erection from looking at another guy. Trying hard to buy our first porn and try to make it look natural, as if we are just picking up some milk or bananas. There is something here and I believe with his future writing, Dale Boyer will be our own Donna Tartt.