Review: ‘Boys Come First’ by Aaron Foley

Boys Come First

Boys Come First is an uproarious novel about the joys and woes of being a Black, thirty-something-year-old gay man living in Detroit. With the city operating as the star, setting and—in many ways —the most volatile lover any of the three protagonists has ever had, the story solidifies into a lens, through which we glimpse the heart’s troubled wanderings.

Race plays a key role in steering Troy, Dominick, and Remy through their professions, streets, and love lives. And yet, the novel doesn’t alienate its readers by assuming the form of a political treatise. Both the dialogue and the narration are sexy, witty, self-aware, and undeniably enlightening; particularly to a White audience. 

The complexity of the gay experience, with the casual racism, gender norms, anonymous sex and emotional disarray that often define it, is shoved to the center of the stage. And from there, it cracks Blackness into a myriad of chips, presenting the scrape and bite of every expectation and consequence that shapes it.

Achieving all this while seamlessly stitching us to the men’s sides is quite an achievement. Particularly when our emotional engagement with their troubles, frequently reckless and sore, emerges as the fruit of this labor. 

Somehow, Foley manages to maintain an impossible balance between the novel’s light, jovial tone, and its narrative depth. Much like the banter between the three protagonists, which often swings from hilarious to cutting, the relationships he weaves can shift from terse to violent in a breath.

Dysfunctional relationships appear in many forms, unveiling the abusive tendencies we tolerate in the name of an ideal, a vision, a desperation that chokes. As a result, all three men appear unforgivably, hopelessly human. In a world, in which comparison and noise serve as identity fillers, all three stretch the confines of their skin.

Sex becomes more than an outlet; it’s an odyssey through loneliness and expectancy. The ends of the world are reached repeatedly — ruthlessly — with a shrug and a snort. Dominick’s sexcapades are especially wild, moving from sensual to savage with all the poise of a punch to the groin.

Overall, Boys Come First is a rowdy confrontation with social constructs, racial friction, and the power play within any relationship. It stimulates a feel-good air, easing delight and abandon over the bone-rattling force of its subject matter.

Publication date: May 31, 2022 (Belt Publishing)

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