Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Butterfly’s Wing by Martin Foreman (Lethe Press)

Buy it Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

First published in 1996, The Butterfly’s Wing is an affecting and engaging novel about a relationship between two men, and what happens when an act of terrorism forces them apart. Andy, an officer in a world aid organization, is kidnapped and held hostage in Peru, leaving Tom alone in England, not knowing what is happening to his lover or if he will ever see him again.

The power of this story lies in the two voices that are telling it. Tom, who has been alone on their jointly-owned English smallholding for over a year now, tries to relieve his pain by starting a journal, in the form of a long letter to Andy. This device is wisely chosen by the author, for Tom, who has had a hardscrabble life moving from one waitering job to another, lives an existence that is centered on Andy, and the second-person narrative powerfully conveys his need:

Do you remember everything about me? My hair and the spots of my skin? Can you hear my voice? Do you remember holding me? Where your arm fits into my waist and your hand holds my head? And my nose and mouth in your neck, kissing you? Do you remember all that?

Elsewhere in the world, in a miserable cell where he doesn’t even have enough food or blankets, Andy at least has pen and paper, so he’s writing too. He’s a well educated man and his journal takes a more conventional form, though there is raw emotion there too:

This is hell. This is the hell I have seen others suffer, but I have always escaped. This is the hell of solitude and poverty and illness and pain. This is the hell of torture and famine and death. This is the hell of no hope, no fucking hope.

Perhaps now is the time to mention that reading this novel is no walk in the park. And yet, if that’s a downside to the book, it’s also part of the upside. There is nothing inauthentic in these pages. Martin Foreman has done important work in HIV in the developing world, and his grasp of world politics and economics convincingly informs Andy’s writing and his arguments with his captors. Just as tellingly, every detail of Tom’s life on a struggling farm seems real. To an important degree, this book and these lives have been lived by the author.

Tom and Andy also reflect on their lives as gay men. When Tom came out he was disowned by his family, while Andy met with only grudging acceptance from his parents. Tom and Andy are, in their own ways, amazed by the love they have found for each other. But there is nothing private in their world, and when the media “break” the news that Andy is gay and has a lover waiting for him at home, the new angle to their story has the potential to harm them both. Will Tom’s sexuality gain him ill favor among those who would otherwise help him in his search for Andy? Will Andy’s captors kill or torture him because he is gay?

I will say nothing about the ending of the novel except to note that it has one, and that it is up to each reader to decide whether or not the resolution is satisfactory. But no one will be able to read this book and remain unmoved.

Andy is familiar with the work of Joseph Conrad and Graham Greene, and invokes those names in his journal. I would add Malcolm Lowry to the short list of fiction writers who have painstakingly explored the intersection of the political and the personal, seeking those profound moments when something as slight as the stir of a butterfly’s wing changes lives on the opposite side of the world. Oh, and add Martin Foreman’s name to the list, also: he has earned it.

Reviewed by Wayne Courtois

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The Haunted Heart and Other Tales – Jameson Currier (Lethe Press)

Buy it Now at Giovanni’s Room or at Amazon through The Dreamwalker Group.

Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, most everyone has a ghost story. Some are scornful, some fully embrace the spirit world and others ride the fence. Jameson Currier has told a bunch of them in his career and he’s finally collected them in one spectral bundle called “The Haunted Heart and Other Tales” from Lethe Press.

What impressed me most about this collection is the wide variety of stories. Currier’s subjects, both human and spirit, are from varied walks of life – and afterlife. His characters are not merely stock players sent to deliver a scare but nicely fleshed out, three-dimensional people. Yes, even the ones who have no flesh.

The universality of these stories also strikes me. It could be a straight couple with kids in the chilling haunted snow-globe story, “The Woman at the Window” or in the breathless action of the crazy-jealous lover shooting “Incident at the Highlands Inn,” but Currier’s gay characters claim these tales, making them ours. Powerful stuff, indeed.

The title story, “The Haunted Heart” is all ours, being about not only AIDS but also about one of those lifelong friendships many of us have that could, at any point, turn a beautiful romance. This story is exceptional for the subject matter as well as being from the point of view of the ghost, a sailor who latches on to many of the central character as he travels from one location to the next.

Other standouts for me include “Wait!” about an encounter with a ghostly boy as well as his live parents, “The Man in the Mirror,” which recently appeared in Icarus (see our very first review for this blog) and “Death in Amsterdam,” whose ending took me back to the last shocking frames of an old Donald Sutherland movie, “Don’t Look Now.”

So, forget the beach reading. Summer’s over and autumn creeps up on us like a shadow in the sunlight. Celebrate it by reading this perfectly chilling collection of tales from one of the modern masters of the genre. And don’t let that squeaky floorboard distract you – there’s no such thing as ghosts, right?

Right.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Assembly Required – Raymond Luczak (RID Press)

I always enjoy reading stuff by people who walk between worlds. Their viewpoints are usually fresh, their insights truthful and their language informed by both of the spheres in which they travel. With one foot in the Deaf world and another in the hearing, Raymond Luczak is no exception and Assembly Required is his story.

From his beginnings as a butcher’s son in Ironwood, MI to his coming out at the prestigious Gallaudet University in DC, Luczak details childhood memories, university experiences and his love of music, art and literature as well as technology. He also gives us a primer on “How to Meet a Deaf Man,” covering the different way hearing men treat Deaf guys as well as why Deaf men and women are so politicized.

You didn’t know that? Neither did I. I had no idea the Deaf community was so passionate and polarized by American Sign Language (ASL) as well as other internal issues. But even though I learned a great deal from this book, I also found out I have much more to learn.

Luczak’s language is simple but far from simplistic. Rather than over-writing passages about personal heartbreak or the joys of discovering who he is both as a gay man and as a Deaf one, those portions of his life are blissfully under-written. Many memoirists have not learned that less is usually more and exhaustive descriptions of their feelings serves to limit those experiences they seek to describe rather than make them truly universal.

My only complaint about the book is that it’s criminally short at less than 150 pages. It’s also a bit scattered – not that I need a chronologically correct version of Luczak’s life, but a more sequential ordering would have given me a better grounding to understand his struggle.

But don’t let that stop you from experiencing this fine lesson in humility and humanity from someone who sees gay issues from a fresh, unique perspective and can communicate his perspective with powerful common sense in a language we can all understand.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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