In 16 short stories linked by a single narrator, Nimmo (Pele, Volcano Goddess of Hawai’i, 2011, etc.) sketches the world of a gay Iowa farm boy in the 1940s and ’50s.
Lachlan MacLennan is the fourth generation of his Scottish family to live in Tools Rock, a small farming town in central Iowa. The residents notice but tolerate one another’s eccentricities, including a communitywide obsession with the weather, and most people follow paths very similar to their parents’. But times are changing; Lach’s cousin Letha, a young woman, eschews marriage and leaves town to attend college in Chicago, and young Lach can foresee a life for himself far away from Tools Rock. As a child, he escapes Iowa for upstate New York when his father is hired to work in a wartime defense job and the family moves to an Army base. (Lach charmingly begins one story: “I always felt a little guilty because I had so much fun during World War II.”) After the war ends, the MacLennans return home, to Lach’s great disappointment: “No movies. No soldiers. No river. No army base. Nothing but cornfields. And all the people looked alike.” He acclimates himself again to Tools Rock, but he never really fits in. At an early age, he senses that he doesn’t share the attraction to girls that other boys have. His attempts to explore his own sexuality include repeatedly viewing explicit photographs that he discovered in his friend’s parents’ closet and, in college, making very awkward overtures to men who advertise on bathroom walls. However, as Nimmo portrays it here, growing up intellectually gifted and gay in a 1950s Iowa farm town isn’t very stressful for Lach. His very conventional family and friends accept him, and he manages to emerge unscathed into adulthood, ready to form mature relationships with other men. Some readers might construe this outcome as unrealistic. The prose style matches the personalities of the plainspoken Midwesterners (“Tools Rock had its share of strange people. Some were downright weird”), but readers might have welcomed more drama throughout.
A somewhat uneven collection that showcases the author’s keen eye for cultural detail and his affection for his characters.