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A brilliant, hilarious, and ultimately devastating debut novel about how racial discord grows in America
In the rural Ohio of the late 1980s, social outcast Barry Nadler begins his freshman year of high school with low expectations. He resolves to go unnoticed as much as possible, until his world is upended by the arrival of Gurbaksh Singh, Gary for short, a Sikh teenager. Charismatic and wildly conspicuous, Gurbaksh befriends Barry and pulls him into a series of startling and uncharacteristic exploits.
But as Barry becomes popular-adjacent at school, the rest of his world starts to unravel. His mom’s trips for her job with Marriott seem to keep her away longer. His philosophy professor dad is dealing with something. And soon his classmates and neighbors begin to react to the presence of the Singhs, a family so different from theirs. Through bitingly comic asides and wry observations, Barry becomes increasingly tuned into the seeds of xenophobia and racism finding fertile soil in this insular community, until tragedy unfolds.
In bracing prose that captures the authentic voice of a heartrending awakening, David Stuart MacLean’s How I Learned to Hate in Ohio shines an uncomfortable light on the roots of white middle-American discontent. At once darkly funny and surprisingly moving, this is a humane, provocative, and undeniably resonant debut novel for our divided world.
About the Author
David Stuart MacLean is a winner of the PEN Emerging Writer Award for Nonfiction and author of the award-winning memoir The Answer to the Riddle Is Me. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Ploughshares, Guernica, and on This American Life. He has taught creative writing at the University of Chicago, Columbia College, and the School of the Art Institute; is co-founder of the Poison Pen Reading Series in Houston; and was a Fulbright Scholar to India. Raised in central Ohio, he now lives in Chicago. How I Learned to Hate in Ohio is his debut novel.
“A sharp debut...observant and piercing set pieces about suburban malaise and economic drift punctuated with starker themes... MacLean distinguishes himself with his voice — that is, Barry's voice, at first sarcastic and distant, then earnest and ultimately heartbroken.”
— Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“MacLean has mastered the tones of striving diffidence in his teen characters as their worlds fall apart at home with badly behaving adults, anger simmers below the surface of daily life, and racial violence erupts. How I Learned to Hate in Ohio becomes not only a finely observed novel but one with a deep social conscience.”
— National Book Review