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Fiction Literary

Between the Head and the Hands

A Novel

by (author) James Chaarani

ECW Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2023
Literary, Muslim, Coming of Age, Gay
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price

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The candid story of a young man abandoned by his family and religion and left searching for identity in an unfamiliar world

When Michael Dawouk is disowned by his Muslim family for being gay, he turns his back on the religion and culture he grew up with. He is forced out onto the street, only to be taken in by a former high school teacher who offers him room and board in exchange for sex.

Michael is soon left with nothing to believe in, until he meets Wyatt, a successful Texan businessman who takes him under his wing. But what Michael can’t see is that his mentor is just as lost as he is. Searching for the connection and belonging he lost when he left home, Michael immerses himself in temporary pleasures — nights of danger, intrigue, and meaningless sex — until he begins to crave a kinder form of love.

About the author

Contributor Notes

James Chaarani’s work has appeared in Condé Nast’s Them, The Advocate, Slate, and Vice. The Toronto, Ontario, resident was selected for Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices in Los Angeles.

Excerpt: Between the Head and the Hands: A Novel (by (author) James Chaarani)

When he told her he was gay Michael’s mom, Samira, said he’d never live a normal life. She asked, “Are you going to change, or are you going to be a faggot?” When she said “faggot,” it sounded like it was the first time she’d ever used the word. Maybe it was; she’d probably only ever heard it used on TV. It didn’t sound right coming from her mouth. It was like she wasn’t sure she could say it, but once she had, it was a lot easier for her to say it again: “Faggot! Is that what you’re going to be? I won’t have a faggot living in this house!”

She’d somehow learned the word even though her English wasn’t great. It was a word that meant more than just being gay. It meant non-Muslim, non-Arab. Maybe he was ajnabi? When Michael was a kid, they’d go to Lebanon on vacation for a month or two, and his cousins who lived there, who he hardly knew, would call him that.

Michael went downstairs to the laundry room and grabbed a suitcase from behind the washer. He was calmer than he thought he’d be, telling himself that this was how it had to be. It was fate; there was no reason to get worked up over it.

His mom was still leaning against the doorframe of his bedroom when he came back up. She had this look like she’d been punched in the gut. Michael went past, pretending that she wasn’t even there. It was the way things needed to be.

He’d always told himself that if his parents asked if he was gay, he’d say yes. She asked, so he said yes. He got it in his head that if he was honest about it, things would turn out in the end, like the world was simple like that. He didn’t even cry in front of her; he was able to keep it all in by taking deep breaths. His whole body was full of tears, but he wouldn’t let any of it show.

He packed his favourite clothes, his school textbooks, and a notepad, and dragged the suitcase down the stairs. His mother followed quietly like a cat. He couldn’t even hear her, but she was behind him. She stopped at the second-last stair facing the front door. She stood there, stunned, and when she started to cry, Michael thought she was going to take it all back, everything that she’d said, but she didn’t. She didn’t try to stop him when he opened the front door either, or when he closed it behind him, which surprised him a bit.