Books by Dale Peck

WHAT BURNS by Dale Peck
Released: Nov. 5, 2019

"A fresh collection marred by its author's insistence on provocation."
A collection of inventive stories about queer life that is often too edgy for its own good. Read full book review >
NIGHT SOIL by Dale Peck
Released: Aug. 14, 2018

"A compelling novel about queer identity and the sins that continue to haunt the American project."
A lush, provocative, and thought-provoking story of queer identity at the intersection of art, family history, capitalism, and the American racial order. Read full book review >
Released: June 7, 2016

"Peck's collection masterfully evokes the range and diversity of its era."
A new anthology of fiction explores the chaotic literary energy of the 1980s. Read full book review >
Released: April 7, 2015

"Raw and heartfelt—though uneven—Peck's hybrid memoir contributes to that goal."
Witness to a transformative decade in gay history. Read full book review >
SPROUT by Dale Peck
Released: June 1, 2009

When he was twelve, Daniel's dad packed the two of them up and moved from New York to Buhler, Kan. Daniel embraced his outsider status with the help of best friend Ruthie, dyed his hair green and accepted the nickname "Sprout." The summer before his junior year, English teacher Mrs. Miller coaches him for a statewide essay contest; in prepping, Sprout begins to acknowledge his secrets (both public and private). Everyone knows his dad is an eccentric alcoholic and that his mother died of cancer in New York. Everyone suspects Sprout is gay, but no one imagines his purely sexual relationship with school hunk Ian. When Ty, the damaged son of a Timothy McVeigh-loving nut, enters Sprout's life, everything gets shaken up. Peck's first aimed squarely at the YA audience is, at times, charming. Sprout's narrative voice is strong and realistic, and his observations are entertaining. As a whole, though, there're just too many issues. Add to the above: dating parent, teen pregnancy, betrayals of and by friends. Dedicated readers, especially young gays in the square states, will identify—and it's important enough for that reason. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 2009

"Too clever for its own good—the labyrinthine plot eventually becomes mind-numbingly impenetrable."
Peck (The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage, 2007, etc.) constructs a gothic story in lively prose, to ultimately soul-destroying effect. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 2007

Washed back nearly five-and-a-half centuries by a sudden tsunami in the usually placid Ocean of Time, pre-teen siblings Susan and Charles, first introduced in Drift House (2005), tackle a space/time storm (confusingly mislabeled a "time jetty") that is leaving a trail of destruction stretching from the Twin Towers through Pompeii and Atlantis to ancient Babylon. Once again lacing his tale with inscrutable elements—including at least one (possibly more) strong-willed magical volume(s) and at least one (ditto) other-than-human time "Returner" who single-handedly fills out the cast with multiple appearances in various guises—Peck plunges the separated Susan and Charles into contrived encounters with Pre-Columbian residents of Greenland and North America, and then on to twin cataclysmic climaxes over modern Manhattan (for Susan) and beneath the Tower of Babel (for Charles), before a final happy reunion aboard their ship-like Quebec mansion. Floating thinly atop its opaque, anthropocentric metaphor ("The jetty is a manifestation of the eternal human desire to cheat time, to get to the end without going through the middle," explains the Returner, with typical clarity), the sequel is as likely as its predecessor to leave readers at sea. (Fantasy. 11-13)Read full book review >
DRIFT HOUSE by Dale Peck
Released: Sept. 1, 2005

Three children join an ineffectual uncle in a Quebec house that turns out to be a ship capable of sailing across the bathtub-like Sea of Time in this long and self-conscious crossover novel. Leaning heavily on characters with either conveniently patchy memories or more knowledge than they logically should have, Peck pits 12-year-old Susan, her geeky little brother Charles and Murray (who's five at the start but after a solo trip into the future comes back an old man magically disguised as a child) against the last of the powerful, petulant mermaids—whose Queen is set on closing the Great Drain that impels all life, death and change. Readers who don't mind talking animals, imbedded literary references ("curiouser and curiouser," a winged "butterfrog" comments at one point) or words like "virago" in their fantasy, may be willing to embark with this doughty crew—but as Charles comments with tiresome frequency on his sister's fondness for British vocabulary, "it's affected." Note broad hints of sequels to come. (Fantasy. 11-13)Read full book review >
Released: June 24, 2004

"'I am throwing away my red pen,' Peck claims in his introduction, vowing to write no more hatchet jobs. That's a shame: his partisan, nastily persuasive naysaying adds a valuable perspective to our cultural debates."
Twelve essays by the bad boy of contemporary book reviewing reveal a passionate, committed commentator who definitely has an axe to grind. Read full book review >
WHAT WE LOST by Dale Peck
Released: Nov. 3, 2003

"The brief, years-later section tacked on at the end is insubstantial, following, as it does, the scorched earth of what came before."
A childhood you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy: a series of mistakes, tribulations, and brutality, tempered by the sanctuary of an uncle's farm in the Catskills. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1998

Though it's not a fully successful novel, this fascinating melodrama of sexual and racial confusion, conflict, and injustice is both a bold departure from and a logical outgrowth of the brooding studies of gay angst (Martin and John, 1993; The Law of Enclosures, 1996) that established Peck as one of our most interesting younger writers. Thematic and other echoes of the earlier books resound throughout this big novel, which relates through a large chorus of townspeople's voices the explosive occurrences after writer Colin Nieman and his lover "Justin Time" flee AIDS-polluted New York for a rural Kansas town that's effectively divided into white and black subsections, Galatea and Galatia. The pair's interrelations with numerous bruised and guilty souls—a black hustler named Divine, a woman "archivist" obsessed with unearthing her town's secrets, and a wealthy matriarch who may have ordered a murder are prominent among them—reveal a dauntingly intricate heritage of violence: the lynching of a black teenager falsely accused of "touching" a young girl, the real crime that underlay the town's mania for "justice." The ambiguities in both of the novels Colin has written (and will write) and of the very one we're reading are—a bit affectedly—linked to that mystery. More persuasively, the infectious momentum here powerfully dramatizes what its characters call "humanity's need to reveal itself through written confession" and the truth that "most people have only one secret, and that secret is whom they truly love." Peck incorporates his story's grand mal particulars into a surprisingly tightly plotted narrative, weakened but not quite sunk by its penchant for excess (the resolution of that lynching victim's story is both overwrought and opaque). And to its benefit and detriment (in almost equal measure), this very literary fiction is derivative, to varying degrees, of James Purdy, James Leo Herlihy, Erskine Caldwell, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, an Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1996

From the widely praised author of Martin and John (1993) comes another grim, affecting, and structurally ambitious work, this a blend of fiction and biography based on the lives of the author's parents. Beatrice and Henry are college lovers who meet shortly after her father dies. The reclusive and death-obsessed Beatrice, whose mother has been dead for several years, is attracted to brain- cancer-stricken Henry (``he was beautiful in the way dying young men are beautiful''), and the two of them have several months of living-for-the-moment bliss before Henry agrees to a risky operation that they're both sure will kill him. Meanwhile, a concurrent storyline concerns a bitter married couple, Beatrice and Henry, who've been together for 40 years. When the older Beatrice and Henry visit an old friend who's dying of cancer, the two are brought face to face with their wasted lives. After young Henry survives his operation, Peck shows the marriage of young Beatrice and Henry disintegrating in alcohol and distrust, petty insults and horrible affairs. The old Henry and Beatrice move to the country and have one last chance to get over a lifetime of mistakes. The entire middle of the book, though, is taken up with a straight biographical description of Dale Peck Sr., a violent, alcoholic womanizer who may have caused the death of his pregnant wife. This section appears as if to show the troubled source for the fictional lives of Beatrice and Henry. And it is no accident that the couple has an estranged son named John, the same John who was the autobiographical character in Martin and John. The re-using of a character is an interesting device that gives the novel extra weight, as if one were watching a painful but fascinating and beautifully crafted documentary. Overall, Peck uses his relentless eye for human weakness to paint an exceedingly harsh and detailed portrait of a failed father and husband. Bleak, challenging, and impressive. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1993

Unconventionally structured novel of identity and relationship permutation: narrator John appears in alternate realities that usually involve paternal brutality and a gay lover named Martin—in a promising if somewhat insubstantial debut for a 24-year-old stylist. John and his guilt-ridden, closeted drag-queen father move to Kansas after leaving mother/wife Bea to die of a degenerative disease. No: John, Bea, and father Henry live together on the prairie; John discovers a boy named Martin in the barn. No: John is raped by stepfather Martin after his father's death. John has a stepmother named Bea. He and Martin fall in love and live in Kansas working nightshifts, dreaming of New York. Martin is an independently wealthy New Yorker who showers John with gifts. Henry is the stranger who tortures John throughout a long sadomasochistic weekend, blowing his mind clear of Martin's death from AIDS. A scar around the left eye, a hand crippled from abuse, a woman named Susan reappear. ``John'' also designates the older men the narrator sometimes hustles: ``a name that remains unconnected to any identity no matter how many times it is assumed.'' Susan eventually ruptures what illusion remains, calling John by the author's name, ``Dale.'' Later, the authorial voice explains that ``Each fiction is always opposed to some truth....Soon the stories I imagined were as horrible as the one I lived.'' The multiplicity and truncation here eventually feel like a game instead of painful obsession or real probing into the imaginative life. Despite powerful, sometimes tender moments, then: ultimately more writing exercise than existential exploration. Read full book review >