Peck, Dale. “Night Soil”, Soho, 2018.
Dale Peck’s “Night Soil” introduces us to a mother and son and then presents the queer, complex family history and present education of the narrator and insider-outsider, Judas ‘Jude’ Stammers. We read about family secrets, sexual explorations, art world wealth, and legacies of racism and environmental destruction. Jude’s mother Dixie is an artist and her pottery is lauded. Jude is pathologically shy, and retreats into a world of anonymous sexual encounters at a roadside rest area. He really wants to be in a relationship with one of the boys at The Academy, the private school he attends. The Academy was founded by Judas’s grandfather who had been a nineteenth-century coal magnate. Jude’s mother’s secretive nature, causes him to explore his family’s history, and the Academy’s as well and he discovers a series of secrets that cause him to question everything he thought he knew about his world.
Writer Dale Peck mixes parable and a queer coming of age story to give us this story of love and longing. Here is queer identity at the intersection of art, family, capitalism, and the American racial order.
Jude’s face and torso have a very prominent birthmark and he is a self-deprecating and sexually receptive youth, who eventually is prized by a black boy who attends the Academy. Jude is sexually precocious and has been allowing other males to have sex with him without letting them see him or his body.
The story is beautifully told and intelligently written look at a shy boy who remains detached from others around him. Judas masks his loneliness by escaping through his sexuality. He explores his sexuality in bathroom stalls and anonymous sexual experiences. He will not show people who he really is, not only physically, but personally. As he learns about the secrets his family has kept hidden for generations, he explores who he is and what he wants to be. He knows he can only pursue his sexual desires with random older men although we never learn why.