Nick Burd–The Vast Fields Of Ordinary

The What: Dade lives in the suburbs. Dade is gay. Dade is dating Pablo, if by “dating” he means “largely being ignored by and sometimes hooking up with.” His parents’ marriage has collapsed, his dad is never home, and his mom is propped up by white wine and pills. His last summer in town is looking bleak until he meets Alex, who is suspiciously attractive, and apparently interested in Dade. Based on this framework, you probably think you’ve read this story before. Patience, grasshoppers. Patience.

The Good: Nick Burd doesn’t describe, depict, or convey what it’s like to be a queer teen in the heteronormative suburbs. Nick Burd nails what it’s like to be a queer teen in the heteronormative suburbs. The neighborhoods take on a life of their own. They are lumbering, preternatural things, and Dade stumbles through them in his quest to externally reify his inner self-awareness. The people he meets along the way are the people we suburbs-raised folks have known since birth: the nouveau riche, the never-riche, the pill-popping, the norm-obsessed… Burd knows his subject, and he brings it to life with skill and nuance. Quite honestly, I haven’t ruled out writing him a drooling fangirl letter; we’re trying to do similar things in our writing with the-suburbs-as-space, and I’d love to learn from him.

The Meh: I can’t tell you the meh without ruining the plot for you, so suffice it to say that a major event toward the end of the novel was mistimed. By the time Major Event hits, neither the reader nor Dade are sufficiently invested in its outcome for the emotional impact to resonate.

Hand It To: Nancy Pearl’s character, setting, and language readers; gay teens and those who like to read about them; suburban teens.