Table of Contents
Advance Praise for
The Vast Fields of Ordinary:
The Vast Fields of Ordinary
is bold. Engaging. Heartbreaking. A book worthy of attention.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
“The Vast Fields of Ordinary
is a wonderfully engaging and satisfying book about all kinds of growing: growing up, growing together, growing apart. Dade Hamilton and his family and friends (and enemies) are all vividly and complexly imagined and realized, and I loved spending time with them. Nick Burd’s extremely accomplished and beautifully detailed prose reanimates the usually moribund American suburban wasteland; like an alchemist, he finds the wonder in the ordinary.”
—Peter Cameron, author of
Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You
“Nick Burd’s debut novel unfolds like the summer vacation it chronicles: in the beginning the vista seems limitless, but as the pages turn and the days pass the plot thickens and the end comes way before you’re ready to put it down. This is a mysterious, funny, wise, generous story, and its main character is someone you need to know, and you’ll never forget.”
—Dale Peck, author of
Martin and John
“Who can resist a kid who survives his senior year of high school despite having been given the nickname ‘Vagisil’? Not I . . . Dade Hamilton’s coming-of-age tale with a Midwest twist is devastatingly real—but it’s also funny, touching, and ultimately quite hopeful.”
—T Cooper, author of
Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes
A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Published by The Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa • Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2009 by Nick Burd
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The vast fields of ordinary / by Nick Burd.
Summary: The summer after graduating from an Iowa high school,
eighteen-year-old Dade Hamilton watches his parents’ marriage disintegrate,
ends his long-term, secret relationship, comes out of the closet, and savors first love.
eISBN : 978-1-101-05080-4
[1. Coming out (Sexual orientation)—Fiction. 2. Homosexuality—Fiction.
3. Coming of age—Fiction. 4. Dating (Social customs)—Fiction.
5. Family problems—Fiction. 6. Iowa—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.B915985Vas 2009 [Fic]—dc22 2008046256
For my mom,
and my sister
Endless thanks to my agent Nicole Kenealy and my editor Alisha Niehaus. Words cannot express how grateful I am for your guidance, support, and unwavering faith in this book.
I’d also like to thank Nicholas Job, Robbie Imes, Jane Beachy, Brian Rothman, Heather Kaufman, Jared Hohl, Zachary Woolfe, Jason Napoli Brooks, Caroline Rabinovitch, Dale Peck, Jim Freed, Jackson Taylor, Kathryn Musilek, Brian Fender, Ryan Day, Sheala Hansen, Caroline Cazes, Eric Luc, Cameron Honsa, Karolina Zarychta, the staff of PEN American Center, and my family.
“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
—e. e. cummings
I spent a good part of my senior prom drawing
DH + PS
in a giant heart in the last stall of the Cedarville High boys’ bathroom. It covered the entire wall and took two red markers and almost an hour to complete. Every now and then, groups of guys would come in and piss in a line at the urinals and talk about how they were gonna get lucky with their dates, but for the most part it was just me and the marker stink and the muted sounds of crappy hip-hop coming through the walls.
When I was done I went back to give it all one last look, to tell it good-bye and head home for the night. My black-tuxedoed and frilly-dressed classmates were standing around the dim gymnasium, their voices striving to rise above the thumping beat of the music. I was wearing a powder blue tuxedo that I’d found at a thrift store just three days before. The prom theme was “Out of This World,” and there were silver cardboard stars hanging from the ceiling and a twelve-foot tall green blow-up alien behind the table where the punch and cookies were all spread out. Principal Dugan was dressed like an astronaut and making the rounds, saying hello to students who inevitably rolled their eyes or flicked him off as soon as he passed.
I stood at the entrance and thought,
Good night, everyone.
But I didn’t go. Instead I went over to the bleachers, where a few other dateless losers were sitting and watching. They were all scattered at a safe distance from one another as if their loneliness was contagious. I saw Fessica Montana sitting in the very top row. She was wearing a hot pink dress and glittery eye shadow, and her hair was overcurled. She saw me and gave me a little wave and a shrug as if to say,
Here we are
. I waved back and looked out at the crowd.
It was then that I saw Pablo for the first time all night. He was in the center of the dance floor with a few of the other guys from the football team. He was moving his shoulders just slightly, too cool to really dance, but far too popular to get away with just standing around. He and the other players were not-so-subtly passing a flask back and forth. A few feet away, Pablo’s girlfriend Judy and the rest of the mall girls were shimmying into one another, screaming and laughing and in love with being watched.
It didn’t take long for Pablo to notice me staring at him. The moment his eyes met mine I thought of the previous afternoon in his bedroom, the lights out and his mother moving around upstairs and our hands traveling frantically over each other’s bodies like we were in a race against time. I waved at him. Pablo let his gaze linger for a moment longer and then turned to Bert McGraw. He grabbed the flask out of his hand and danced off toward Judy. I understood that this was his way of saying that I no longer existed to him.
I stood up to go. I looked at Fessica. She was staring at me, her sadness somehow pointed at me now. I wonder if she’d seen what had just happened, if she knew. She looked like she was about to come down and say something, but whatever it was, it wasn’t going to fix anything, so I turned and left.
I drove home with my windows down and my yellow bow tie unraveled on the passenger seat. Outside the car, the night hummed, quietly alive. I moved unnoticed through town, first past the strip malls and the office buildings and then through the residential maze that made up the periphery of Cedarville. I felt like a galactic traveler who’d landed on some ghost version of Earth where all the people had disappeared. When I reached my subdivision it was dark, save for the globe-shaped lamps that stood at the foot of every driveway, and I noticed that ours had gone out. It was nothing more than a gray sphere on a black metal rod. In the absence of its light our front yard had become shades darker than the rest of the yards on our block, and later that night I dreamt our dead lamp grew arms and legs and lurched down the street like a robot.
My father, Ned, ran Cedarville’s only luxury car dealership, and my mother, Peggy, was an art teacher at St. Jude’s, the smaller of the two Catholic schools in town. When I was thirteen we moved from the country to Cedarview Estates, a new housing development in the eastern part of Cedarville. The houses were all painted safe colors. Taupe, beige, and dusty blue. At night their windows glowed with a soft golden light. My mother hated it there.
“It’s like a village of futuristic lighting fixtures,” she said. She was out on the front porch smoking a rare Marlboro Light. “Sometimes I feel like if I stare at them for long enough I’ll start to see them moving real slow. Like glaciers.”
My parents had initially moved out of Cedarville and into the country when they found out they were having me. My mother wanted to raise her kid in a farmhouse. She wanted an unnamed cat and a few chickens that she didn’t know what to do with. She wanted the space and the sunsets, the weird bugs in the yard. I spent my days wandering off the porch into the cornfields that ran behind the house. I would stand in the middle of the field, close my eyes, and spin myself around to try to make myself as lost as possible. One evening at dinner my father told us that he’d heard good things about the new Cedarview Estates being built in town and that maybe we should think about moving.
“It’ll be great to move back into town,” he said. “We’ll be closer to everything. Plus, a guy from work knows a couple of the guys behind the development. He said it’s going to be gorgeous. Real state-of-the-art living style.”
“I don’t see anything gorgeous about cracker-box houses,” my mother said.
“Well, we’re not twenty-five anymore, Peggy,” he said.
She slammed her silverware onto her plate and asked what that had to do with anything, and I took my food up to my room so they could fight in peace.
The house in Cedarview Estates was too big for us. We had three extra bedrooms and a huge basement that my mother had taken over with art projects. Headless mannequins painted blue. Black stick figures acting out Biblical scenes on shattered mirrors. There was a fireplace we used one Christmas Eve and a stainless steel refrigerator with built-in flat-screen television. We had a pool out back and a man who came to clean it once a week. There were stereo speakers installed in the walls, and sometimes the house would sing.
I didn’t mind the house and our new neighborhood. It took some getting used to, but before long I saw it as I saw the cornfields that ran behind our old place in the country. It was a space to be explored and to disappear in. My parents, on the other hand, fought about the house all the time, about what it meant and what kinds of people it made them. My father thought it represented a new level of adulthood and affluence, like it was a giant arrow indicating that they were moving in the right direction. But my mother saw it as a surrender to normalcy, a rejection of the fantasy where she created sculptures in the barn and heard the voice of nature in the black silence of the rural Midwest evening.
One night my father and I were reading the paper in the living room when my mother’s voice came through the intercom on the wall.
“I just want you to know that I’m in the master bathroom using the bidet. I can’t believe this. Dade, if you can hear me, never, ever let yourself become this.”
My father looked up from the sports page and gave a dismissive shake of his head before going back to reading.
My mother’s fellow teachers referred to her as The Hippie. She had long sandy blond hair and always wore flowing peasant skirts and gauzy tops that revealed the teenage girl slimness in her arms and shoulders. Her eyes lit up when someone told a clever joke or when she noticed that one of the flowers she planted in the backyard was beginning to bloom. But there were many days when the light behind her eyes went out and it seemed like the world she saw left her hopeless and disappointed. We’d been in the house for a year when she made an announcement at the dinner table.