Thursday, April 18, 2024

New novel delivers queer epic tale from the Lone Star State

Lone Stars by Justin Deabler follows the arc of four generations of a Texan family in a changing America.

Julian Warner, a father at last, wrestles with a question his husband posed: what will you tell our son about the people you came from, now that they’re gone? Finding the answers takes Julian back in time to Eisenhower’s immigration border raids, an epistolary love affair during the Vietnam War, crumbling marriages, queer migrations to Cambridge and New York, up to the disorienting polarization of Obama’s second term. And in these answers lies a hope: that by uncloseting ourselves—as immigrants, smart women, gay people—we find power in empathy. Please enjoy this excerpt:

LONE STARS By Justin Deabler — Prologue

The cry rang out through time and space. It shot down the hallway and into the bedroom, past the cats wheezing on the bed, over Philip snoring through his mouth guard, and pierced the hazy bubble of Julian’s melatonin tablet. He rocketed up to a sitting position, out of habit, and waited to see if it was a passing thing. Their son howled again.

“Your turn,” Philip mumbled and pulled a pillow over his head.

Julian squinted at the blue spectral glow of the baby monitor, lowered to mute because Pablo had a real set of lungs on him. He stood at the edge of his crib, facing the camera with an omniscient stare, and shrieked. “Hang on,” Julian sighed. He stuffed his feet in his slippers and hurried to the nursery.

The baby had worked himself into sorrowful hiccups. Julian picked him up, careful to bend at the knees and save his back, which could go out at any moment. He paced in a circle on the rug while Pablo fussed, and sang the usual songs. He couldn’t help falling in love, he began, singing like Elvis, like they heard in the hospital cafeteria the day their son was born. They walked some more. The rainbow night-light cast shadows around the room—the stuffed bear looming on the wall and the origami birds hanging from the ceiling, undulating to the current of the humidifier. The nightmares were a new thing, over the last few weeks. They sent Julian scrambling to Google in his own daddy terror, like the colic and stranger danger had sent him before, back when they rode into town—and then eventually moved on, like everyone said they would. But Pablo wasn’t everyone’s baby. He was theirs.

His hiccups softened to the occasional whimper, felt as a tiny hot breath on Julian’s collarbone. He went to the window and nudged the curtain open. The treetops in Prospect Park stood black against the cobalt sky, lit by a lonely moon. Julian’s throat tightened. He had to pull back at times like these and not think too big, about climate change and the world Pablo would inherit, or raising a kid to be good today amid all the noise. Pull back, he told himself, because now, tonight, life was so great it defied logic. How was it possible—after all the struggles of growing up, and so much loss—that Julian could enter the nursery, and Pablo could gaze up under a halo of black curls, and suddenly everything that came before made sense?

Julian looked down at a book on the windowsill. The Story of Pablo, it said in round letters on the cover, with a smiling dark-skinned cartoon boy and two white cartoon dads. It had come in the mail the day before. He would soon be old enough to understand when they read it to him, about the mom who loved him so much when he was in her tummy that she gave him to her older friends Julian and Philip to raise.

“What will you tell him?” Philip had asked when they leafed through the book that afternoon, during the baby’s nap.

“About your family?”
“What do you mean?” Julian replied.
“Well. He sees mine all the time. He’s met his birth mom. But your mom and dad. What will you tell him?”
“I don’t know. Stories.”
“But which ones?” Philip persisted. “History is about the future. What will you tell him about where you came from?”

A streetlamp flickered outside, on the park. Pablo shifted on Julian’s chest, maneuvering his thumb into his mouth, and sighed peacefully. The world was silent again. Out of nowhere Julian remembered a painting he saw many times as a kid. It was one of his mom’s favorites, a Magritte at the Menil Collection in Houston. He and his mom used to stare at it for what seemed like hours: a painting of a house in both day and night, a blue sunlit sky at the top, until the eye traveled down to the dark roof of a house, and shadowy trees, and a streetlamp in the nighttime.

Gently Julian kissed Pablo’s head and looked out at the park. He thought about the night, and dawn, and his mom and dad and other people who were gone. And he wondered—which stories to tell?

From Lone Stars, by Justin Deabler. Copyright ©2021 by the author, reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Press.

Justin Deabler grew up in Houston. He dropped out of high school when he was fifteen, went to Simon’s Rock College, and graduated from Harvard Law School. He is the General Counsel for the Queens Public Library. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband, son, and two cats. Lone Stars is his first novel.

Order Lone Stars here.

Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

Queer Forty Staff has 2388 posts and counting. See all posts by Queer Forty Staff

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.