If you're going to write a novel about a group of friends, it's a good idea to make them seem like people your readers would actually like and want to hang out with. Aaron Foley pulls it off in "Boys Come First," a charming debut novel about the friendship among three Detroit men.
Dominick, Remy and Troy have four things in common: in their 30s, Black, gay and native to Michigan's largest city. As the book starts, Dominick is bailing on New York City after his advertising career and decade-long relationship crumble in rapid succession. Returning to his hometown and moving back in with his divorced mom, he connects with old friend Troy, a teacher with a messy personal life. With Troy's friend Remy, a real estate agent whose business prospects are catching fire, they're a trio, bantering in bars and cracking each other up in group texts.
Lighthearted and episodic, "Boys Come First" follows Dominick, Troy and Remy over the better part of a year — their romantic adventures and misadventures, their work and family lives, and their travels around and across the great, struggling Midwestern metropolis of Detroit, which becomes a sort of fourth main character.
Foley, a journalist and Detroit native, has written two nonfiction books about the city, and his love for and frustration with it shine through on every page. He spins through neighborhoods, name-checks intersections, catalogs some of its best bars and restaurants — while exploring whether one of Black America's capitals is becoming yet another fixer-upper for "upstart white Detroiters" interested in reclaiming the city's ruined architectural glory. "They were the ones on Facebook ranting about affordable housing, completely unaware that their own presence was the reason the goddamn prices were going up," Foley writes.
The critiques never get too heavy-handed, though, and ultimately Foley is more interested in his characters' sex lives and dating mishaps than their views on gentrification. All three men are prolific on sex apps but also thinking about long-term relationships, negotiating that modern thirtysomething space between the wanderings of the previous decade and the settling down of the one to come.
Funny, contemporary and often amusingly raunchy, "Boys Come First" feels almost revolutionary in the way that Dominick, Troy and Remy aren't made to experience the kind of suffering over sexual orientation that once seemed a hallmark of queer literature. Foley gives us characters who are comfortable as gay men and proud to be Black men, but are still flawed, very human, wise and foolish in roughly equal measure. You probably know people like them.
Patrick Condon is an editor at the Star Tribune.
Boys Come First
By: Aaron Foley.
Publisher: Belt Publishing, 300 pages, $17.95