“Mom, what’s a fag?” asks a five-year-old Rae. The answer from their evangelical Christian mother involves, expectedly, images of sin and hell and then the clincher---“and God made AIDS to punish gay people.” First Spring Grass Fire
, Rae Spoon’s debut work of fiction, depicts many such instances of a child’s pain and confusion while growing up queer in a conservative Pentecostal family in Alberta. There is violence, a broken marriage, a schizophrenic father and a healthy dose of angst. Comprised of a series of very short vignettes, the book is anchored by Spoon’s charming narrator, a surrogate for the author, whose voice fluctuates effortlessly from sardonic to lyrical. Rae clashes with their family, moves out---“The next week I told my mother that if she didn’t help me move out, I would jump off the overpass by our house. So she did.”---then falls in love. Scattered throughout are gorgeously pithy moments of tenderness and wisdom.