Nelson’s debut novella is the coming-of-age tale of two gay teenagers in a small Nebraska town during the mid-’90s.
Told through the eyes of smart, shy Chris, the story opens with the hook of his missing best friend, the fiery, sad cutter Vyv. Vyv’s disappearance is a mystery that yields whispered suppositions of abduction and fills everyone who ever knew her with the inexplicable sorrow of an erased life. Only Chris knows that Vyv has simply run away, first to Lincoln, then farther east and, eventually, all the way to New York City. The two, who have the kind of inseparability that only seems possible in adolescence, keep in contact through e-mails that propel the narrative. Vyv’s voice—desperately grappling between the hope and despair of her new freedom—sheds light on the angst that Chris deeply understands in his friend but with which he does not completely sympathize. After all, he has stayed at home, to drive her car, watch his homophobic grandfather’s decline and take on a new job as a helper to Albert, a middle-aged man in the midst of a “re-wilding” project on the outskirts of town. Chris is at first awed by Albert’s pioneer spirit and his snazzy politics, but, as the summer progresses and Vyv gets farther and farther away, he comes to see Albert’s imperfections and develops a strong bond with him despite them. Told in lucid prose, this story’s evolution is at once surprising and organic, revealing tidbits of the pain and love Chris and Vyv will never share again, piece by piece. Despite the possible bildungsroman pitfall of overdramatized awkwardness, Chris’ woes ring urgent and true, and the presence of Vyv’s absence becomes a weight the reader also has to bear.
Refreshingly earnest and artfully wrought, Nelson’s debut is a quick, compelling read that warrants a wide audience.