If it’s true that a good man is hard to find, Lori Ostlund’s first novel, After the Parade (Scribner; 352 pages), demonstrates that leaving one might be just as difficult. As the book opens, Aaron Englund has finally worked up the nerve to break up with Walter, his older lover/Henry Higgins of 23 years, with whom he long ago fell out of love. Having packed his possessions, Aaron steers his U-Haul away from the security of their home in Albuquerque toward San Francisco. Not because he wants to join the city’s famous gay scene, but because Taffy, a colleague, lives there and has promised to help him get situated.
A night at a motel in Needles not long after his departure foreshadows a central theme—that of Aaron coming to terms with his difficult childhood. After overhearing an assault in the neighboring room, he shoulders open the door, interrupting a man beating his young son nearly to death while the boy’s mother looks on. Later, the desk clerk on duty during the attack informs Aaron that the kid—whom we eventually come to clearly see as a stand-in for Aaron—is in a coma and may not survive. Aaron doesn’t stick around to see how the drama ends.