Lone Stars 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,
Lone Stars 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.
- St. Martins Press
- February 2021
- 304 Pages
“Deabler’s bighearted debut…this novel proudly and emotionally defines what it means to be from the Lone Star State.” —Publisher’s Weekly
“Growing up gay in Houston, Texas does not sound like a recipe for an easy life, but it is a rich, meaningful, and endlessly interesting life, portrayed with sensitivity and verve in Lone Stars, a triumphant debut by Justin Deabler.” —Matthew Sharpe, author of The Sleeping Father
“Deabler’s lovely first novel read as if preserved in amber–come from a gentler and more generous time. Enormously poignant, Lone Stars is written with great care, honoring the nuanced and shifting shapes of two men moving together through the great journey of being fully alive… It illuminates with its tenderness, it’s quiet clarity, and finally its vision of hope.” —Carole Maso, author of Ava
“Deabler’s wide-ranging empathy and emotional intelligence mark him as an important new writer to watch.” —Eliot Schrefer, National Book Award finalist, author of Endangered and Threatened
“At once epic and timely, Deabler’s stunning multi-generational novel is a deep dive into the complexities of family and identity. It is a reminder of how frequently American history repeats, a complicated love song to Texas, and (I’ll be honest) a tear-jerker. You won’t be able to set this one down.” —Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire and Skinny
“Lone Stars is a wonderfully humane and honest novel about a complicated modern American family. This perfectly paced story builds on secrets, betrayals and unconditional love toward a big-hearted ending that may leave you in tears.” —Jim Lynch, author of Before the Wind
1. Throughout the book, Lacy confronts sexism in various settings: familial, educational, financial, religious.How do these dynamics affect her choices? How does Lacy discover a form of agency in a world of men (and women) who don’t think of her as a protagonist?
2. At different times, characters in the book confront what it means to be able, or unable, to live where they are born. What kinds of migrations occur across the story? How do these experiences resonate with and vary from one another? What do the migrants leave behind, and what never leaves them about the places where they were born?
3. Late in his life, Aaron finds a sense of community with fellow veterans at the VA in Houston—a bond that resulted from an experience of war of which he had no choice. How did the trauma of Vietnam affect Aaron and the family he would go on to have?
4. Several of the characters in the book—Aaron, Lacy, Julian, Bonnie—struggle with the feeling of being alone.What does the story suggest about companionship, and how a person might find a lasting version of it?How much do time and context—e.g., two working mothers meeting in the 1980s—inform the companionship people are able to find?
5. Across different generations, characters in the book must decide whether to come out or remain closeted about who they are, whether it’s their national origin, sexual orientation, or some other aspect of themselves. How do these dynamics of secrecy influence the characters and their choices?
6. Both Lacy and Aaron make the decision to cut themselves off from their families of origin, yet the imprint of those families appears to remain in each character. How do the dynamics of their families of origin shape their decisions as adults?
7. Throughout the book, Lacy and Aaron and Julian are writing—letters, notes, speeches—and discovering important things about themselves in the process. What is it about the space of writing that helps these characters learn about themselves? How are they otherwise constrained?
8. Many of the men in the book—Ernest, Aaron, Julian, Philip—confront what it means and requires to be a father. How do their approaches to fatherhood vary? How much are they shaped by the models that came before them?
9. Lacy and Aaron’s marriage is one of many lows and indignities. After so many, what is it about Crystal that makes her the last straw for Lacy?
10. Both Lacy and Aaron, and Julian and Philip, commit quickly to each other as intimate partners. What prepares each of them to make such a rapid decision? How do their experiences of commitment differ? Does the book signal whether Julian and Philip’s marriage will take a different path than Lacy and Aaron’s did?
11. The book ends with an unconventional tableau of present and future family: Julian, Philip, Clayton, Tasha,Vanessa, a pregnant Marisol. What does the story suggest about how families come to be created? About what we inherit from our parents?
The Man with the Muddy Boots
For the first time in her life, Lacy Adams paid attention in church. There was nothing special about the service that Sunday. Her dad sat beside her, blank-faced as usual. Junior doodled in the hymnal. Her mom fanned the wet Gulf air blowing in from Harlingen, while the familiar calls of green jays floated through the open windows. But that morning Lacy felt different. She had just learned the scientific method at the end of the school year, and her teacher said it applied to everything but the Bible. And ever since then Lacy had looked at the world with narrower eyes, tingling with a sense that asking questions, using her mind, could unlock mysteries around her. She sat forward in the pew and listened. The pastor told the story of beautiful Queen Esther, a Jew in a hostile land who loved her people and saved them from slaughter when she revealed herself as one of them. And now, today, the pastor preached, let us pray for the freedom-seeking people behind the Iron Curtain, under the soulless Soviet grip, who have to hide themselves like Esther to survive.
After the sermon, the congregation rose to pass the peace. Lacy and Junior hopped to their feet, but they could never reach any hands to shake. The Adams family had a pew reserved for them, front and center, and no one sat in the pew behind them—a distance the farmers kept out of respect, Lacy knew, to give her family more of God’s light. She watched her parents lean over the empty pew, but when her dad stuck out his hand and said, “Peace be with you,” a farmer with a thick beard just stared at it, keeping his own calloused hands on his belt buckle. “Not while you’re still around,” the man growled, loud enough to hear, and turned his back to them.
Her dad didn’t blink. He turned to his wife and shook her hand, and then Lacy’s and Junior’s for good measure. The service resumed. Lacy could tell that her mom was seething, but she didn’t speak as they filed outside and piled in the red Buick and drove home. She held her tongue while she warmed the pot roast and set the table. She led them sharply through grace. “The nerve,” she huffed when they started eating. “The disrespect, inside First Baptist? After all we’ve done for them, to refuse to shake your—”
Lacy’s dad lifted his hand for silence. The family watched him sweep the last bites off his plate and run the good linen napkin over his mouth. “They’re blowing off steam, Mary,” he said, standing up. “Two days and it’ll be over.” He had changed before the meal, out of the Sunday suit and snakeskins he got in Houston, into dungarees and work boots. He settled his Stetson on his massive gray head and went out the door without a look or goodbye.
“Pure white trash,” she resumed, talking to no one in particular like she did at the table and in the car and whenever Lacy’s dad wasn’t around. She smoothed the blond hair she wore in a fluffed-up Grace Kelly style. “None of those fools had to sell to your father. Drowning in debt, and he bailed them out and gave them jobs. Couldn’t grow corn in Eden. Do you see your daddy taking a day of rest? Ten years he’s worked on the Plan—the feedlots, cattle, sticking his neck out—to change how America eats. Pure disrespect.”
“Can I have some more—” Lacy began.
“No, ma’am.” Her mom slid the bowl of potatoes out of reach. “You’ve got to reduce to look good for your Girl Scouts pageant. Junior, you want seconds?”
“Yes, please,” he said, and shot a wary look at Lacy.
“Is your troop ready?” her mom asked, serving Junior a heap of mashed potatoes. “Y’all just got the one more singing practice, right?”
“I guess,” Lacy said impatiently. “But first I have to turn in my family tree to get my Family History Badge. It’s due tomorrow.” She hated Girl Scouts. It wasn’t her choice to go, and she never wanted to mix with the uppity town girls. But anything Lacy did she did full steam, and for two weeks her mom had put her off, saying some other day they’d do her tree. “I can go get it,” she said.
“Manners, Lacy, not at the table.” Her mom sighed irritably and stabbed her pot roast. “I already told you about my family. I was orphaned, working in a washateria in Laredo when your daddy came in on a business trip with a tear in his shirt, and I had a needle and thread. Then we got married and had y’all two blessings. The end.”
“You were born in Laredo?” Lacy persisted. “I need your birth date, and your mom and dad’s names, birthplaces, and birth dates, to finish—”
“Write ‘deceased,’” her mom snapped. “Junior, how was Boy Scouts this week?”
“OK,” he chirped. “Wanna see what we did?” He wiped his face on his sleeve and jogged to the foyer. Junior was as cute as a puppy, with blond hair as light as their mom’s, not like the black mop on Lacy’s head. He charged into the room, doing an elaborate fall-roll-and-point maneuver, and aimed a pretend gun at their mom. “Kill the wetbacks!” he shrieked, spraying the table with rounds of fire.
“Junior!” their mom scolded. “Get up. Don’t say that word again.”
“What word?” he asked, rising in confusion.
“Wetback. It’s ugly. And no running in the house.”
“But that’s the name of the operation,” he objected. “Operation Wetback. We met the Border Patrol in Boy Scouts. They’re doing sweeps now. They started in Brownsville. Now McAllen, up the river to Laredo, all the way to El Paso.”
“And we like Ike,” their mom pronounced. “We always support our president. But.” She straightened her place mat. “Not all Mexicans are bad people, Junior. Some of them don’t want to blend in and be American, speak English or eat our foods—”
“Animals,” he barked. “That’s what the patrol man said. Live like pigs and send our money to Mexico, and we gotta get rid of them. He asked the Scouts what we think. I said build a big wall. With swords on top to stick them if they get all the way up.”
“Get rid of them?” Lacy said, slightly disturbed but masking it in the superior tone she had to take with her brother sometimes. “Listen, nosebleed, your patrol guy is talking about us.”
“Excuse me?” her mom blurted. “What on earth are you talking about, Lacy?”
“Our farm?” she said, suddenly filled with doubt at her mom’s tone. “Daddy’s business. His workers are Mexican, aren’t they? Like Xavier, he’s from—”
“Oh,” she sighed. “Yes, a good number of them.”
“Because one of the town girls,” Lacy muttered. “In Girl Scouts.” She bit her lip, unsure if she should continue but needing to test hypotheses. “She said Dad’s filling up the county with cow shit and Mexicans. And ruining everything.”
Her mom watched her and then leaned forward and asked, in a not-friendly voice, “Do you know what a pioneer is, Lacy? The man with the polio vaccine? Henry Ford? Thanks to your dad we’re going to be rich. We are rich.” She put a finger to her lips like they had a secret. Her eyes blazed. “But this week we’ll be really rich. Junior, you, me—the three of us. And we’ll move into town where we belong.”
Copyright © 2021 by Justin Deabler