A Globe and Mail Best Spring Book • One of Lambda Literary Review's Most Anticipated LGBTQ+ Books of June 2023 • A Southern Review Book to Celebrate in June 2023
A queer coming-of-age—and coming-to-terms—follows the aftereffects of betrayal and poignantly explores the ways we search for home.
When a sister’s casual act of betrayal awakens their father’s demons—ones spawned by his time in Vietnamese POW camps—the effects of the ensuing violence against her brother ripple out over the course of forty years, from Lubbock, to San Francisco, to Fort Lauderdale. Swept up in this arc, the members of this family and their loved ones tell their tales. A queer coming-of-age, and coming-to-terms, and a poignant exploration of all the ways we search for home, Dreaming Home is the unforgettable story of the fragmenting of an American family.
About the author
Lucian Childs has been a Peter Taylor Fellow at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. He is a co-editor of Lambda Literary finalist Building Fires in the Snow: A Collection of Alaska LGBTQ Short Fiction and Poetry. Born in Dallas, Texas, he has lived in Toronto, Ontario, for fifteen years, since 2015 on a permanent basis.
Excerpt: Dreaming Home (by (author) Lucian Childs)
Me and Ti’s duplexes were just like all the rest—white one-story boxes, stretched out like Play-Doh, they were so narrow and long. Our house was teeny—nothing like my grandparents’ big, swanky place in Dallas—but I liked it anyway. Had my own room, my treehouse. A screened porch on one side where the nights were cool and nice.
With her key, Tiana let herself into the house next to us. Over at ours, the carport was empty, ’cept for my brother’s Schwinn, slumped all sad-looking against one of the supports. The front door was half-open and nobody home—a Mason jar bursting with calla lilies on the dining table the only sign of life. My big brother Kyle would be around someplace, drawing probably. He was three years older than us, but such a spaz. Don’t think he had a single friend.
I shut the door to my room, ditched my pack and fell backward onto my bed. That day had been a nightmare. I got detention sixth period for shooting spit wads. Plus, this crazy girl nearly pulled out a bunch of my hair, fighting on the playground. I did call her boyfriend a freaking dork, but still. . .
Flopped there on my bed, I scanned the trig tables I’d written out in marker on heavy board and tacked to the celling. They were the first thing I saw in the morning and the last at night. I thought maybe, if I wasn’t so up-in-your-face all the time, Dad would love me, and anything to do with numbers cooled me right down. Turned out I was a big success in math class, which shocked the heck out of everybody, since my grades were mostly the pits.
The low afternoon sun lit up the inside of my little matchbox, making me warm and drowsy. I woke up when Ti squiggled in through my window like she always did, though now she was getting a little too big in the butt. She wore blue jean short-shorts, frayed at the edge, and a tight tank top that showed off her new breasts. The top was a brag meant as a put-down, me having only nubs yet. But I’d started my period already, so, really, she wasn’t all that.
She moved her shoulders quick, swinging her teeny purse around and smacking me in the face with it. Plopping down on my bed, she grabbed the copy of Teen from my nightstand and leafed through the pages of models in cute skirts and flounced tops. After a bit, she tossed the magazine aside and said, “What do those stuck-up white girls have to do with me? Squat. Rae Rae, let’s go get ourselves into some trouble.”
Since we were all the way out in Venable Village, our options in the trouble department were pretty much zilch. After a minute, though, I said, “I got it. How about we go find my brother?”
We barged into his room, guns blazing, a couple of lean, mean commandos. He wasn’t there, but, taped to the wall above his bed, the portraits he’d sketched glared back at us. My parents, darkly shaded, fingerprint smudges at the edge of the paper. Ti and me popping bubblegum. Our grandparents, penciled in thin, shaky lines. People he’d drawn out of magazines.
Since that was a dud, we ran out behind the house to the patio table. He drew out there sometimes, if it wasn’t too hot and the bugs not too bad.
But we got diddly.
Ti pointed up with her pinkie finger, mouthing the word treehouse. Sure enough, in an opening in the wooden box Dad built in the fork of a bodark, the top of Kyle’s head was swiveling back and forth.
Ti and me kicked off our shoes and snuck up the ladder, this time a couple of Special Ops ninjas, climbing real slow and quiet. Ti pulled up the rear, head-butting me in the behind at the top, making me jack-in-the-box partway through the hole in the floor.
Kyle was cross-legged, drawing, hunched over, flopping across his brow that long light-blond hair—strawberry, Mom called it, though I don’t know why. His nose was super straight and he had a jaw like the blade of a plow. He was prettier than me by a mile. “Hey, brother,” I said, scrambling through the opening. “What’s shaking?”
He covered the drawing super quick with his hand and jerked up straight. He was mega tall and nearly bumped his head on the ceiling. His sketchbook was balanced on one knee; on the other was the magazine he was copying. He slapped the magazine closed and crammed it under the sketchbook. Flipped to a fresh page and started penciling the outline of his hand.
“What’s it look like I’m doing?”
“Look to me,” Ti said, barreling up the ladder, “like you hiding something. What you hiding, Kylie Ky?”
Praise for Dreaming Home
"Eminently accomplished, [and] often deliciously droll ... The novel asks provocative questions: At what age are we wholly accountable for our actions? To what degree do we hold a traumatized person responsible for perpetuating harm?"
—Kia Corthron, New York Times
"This queer coming-of-age, told as a series of interlinked stories from six points of view over a 40-year period, is based in part on the author’s experiences in AIDS-era San Francisco. American-born, Toronto-based Lucian Childs, as you’ll glean from that last detail, came of age some time ago, but is still embracing new rites of passage: Though his stories have appeared in literary journals since the early aughts, he’s making his book-publishing debut at the tender age of 74.”
—Globe and Mail
"It takes a special book for me to detour from non-fiction [...] Dreaming Home is a reminder that intergenerational trauma and the coming out journey make for a challenging and uncomfortable path."
—Brian Bradley, Toronto Star
"Childs is an excellent writer, with a keen ear for dialogue and great skill in depicting the complexities of emotional conflict ... His characters are living souls, and life being what it is, they will continue to struggle to find happiness."
—Ottawa Review of Books
"Childs’ ruthlessly genuine depiction of Kyle through these narratives is illustrative of a smart and thoughtful engagement with the simultaneity of a person whose sense of self is moulded by their suffering."
—The Miramichi Reader
"Though weighty, the stories or chapters in Dreaming Home are easy to devour because they feel so real and personal ... The language is sparse, yet beautifully written, illuminating brief moments and observations that root you to the lives and experiences of these characters, making them vivid and real."
—Will Fawley, Prairie Fire
"Juggling six different points of view and forty years of cultural history would be an impressive feat for a seasoned novelist, but Lucian Childs managed to pull it off—with style, humour, and pathos—in his debut, the buzzed-about novel-in-linked-stories Dreaming Home."
"In elegant, emotionally resonant prose, Childs creates a nuanced and sensitive portrait of a life shaped by loss, abandonment, and generational trauma ... Thematically sophisticated, Dreaming Home also explores persistent issues in the gay male community such as sexual racism and the disparagement of older men."
—Shawn Syms, Quill and Quire
"The marvel of Childs’ small book is its sharp, heartbreaking examination of how the people we love are also affected by our trauma, are witnesses sometimes to it, and live in its lifetime of complex, difficult reverberations, all from that singular hurtful moment, that seemingly insignificant choice in our past. Childs understands the true gravity of trauma, extending beyond just the traumatized individual to the friends, family, and lovers beside us, and in these six dazzling, entwined stories he maps their orbits around their damaged polestar. Because of this, it’s their collective story—each character’s voice amplifying the others—that glows the brightest."
—Patrick Earl Ryan, author of the Flannery O’Connor Award-winning short story collection, If We Were Electric
"Both intimate and far-reaching, Dreaming Home movingly explores how people change, and how they don’t; how they heal, and how they can’t ... or maybe still can. There is seemingly no life Childs can’t dream his way into, and every character in this beautiful book is drawn with empathy and tenderness."
—Caitlin Horrocks, author of The Vexations
"Dreaming Home is nothing short of a conjuring act. In Kyle, Lucian Childs has created a living, suffering man out of negative space. Yet we come to know him, and feel for him, thanks to the cast of funny and flawed characters whose lives he touches. Through their love, exasperation, and remorse, the void that is Kyle miraculously takes on its human shape. Entertaining and wise, Dreaming Home is wonderful debut."
—Caroline Adderson, author of Bad Imaginings and A History of Forgetting
“Dreaming Home is the propulsive tale of how one act of cruelty can reverberate through many lives and for many decades. Childs intricately and carefully brings to life the constellation of characters who circle around Kyle and his queer coming of age. Dreaming Home poses brilliant and important questions, forcing the reader to consider the power we have over one another and the twisted and painful paths life can take toward joy."
—Lydia Conklin, author of Rainbow Rainbow
"In Dreaming Home, Lucian Childs constructs, from various perspectives, the life of Kyle—a young gay man traumatized early in life, first by his father and then by conversion therapy—who is searching for, as the title suggests, that most elusive of things: home. As he takes us from Texas to San Francisco to Florida, Childs brings it all—compelling prose, first-rate storytelling, and a bittersweet and utterly effecting renegotiation of the meaning of family."
—Lori Ostlund, author of After the Parade
Praise for Lucian Childs
“The stories of Lucian Childs are marked by their breath and diversity of characters—not just gender ... but age, economics, level of education, and types of concerns and life problems. He can be funny, he can be poetic, but his humor is always the appetizer toward a main course of slightly darker journeys, of the sadness and even desperation that attends the exploration of identity.”
—Nancy Zafris, author of The Home Jar