Monthly Archives: June 2010

Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography by Jerry Rosco (University of Wisconsin Press)

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We live in an age of great literary biographies. Over the past few years Blake Bailey has given us his one-two punch of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates and Cheever: A Biography; Brad Gooch published his affectionate Flannery, a long overdue life of Flannery O’Connor; and Carol Sklenicka wrote the majestic Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life.
No less majestic, in its own way, is Jerry Rosco’s Glenway Wescott Personally: A Biography. First published in 2002, the book has just been released in paperback, and belongs on the bookshelves of every bibliophile. It provides a rich reading experience, not least because Wescott knew so many cultural figures of the twentieth century. Among his friends he counted Jean Cocteau, George Platt Lynes, W. Somerset Maugham, Marianne Moore, Kathryn Anne Porter, Joseph Campbell, and Dr. Alfred Kinsey—and those were just close friends. His acquaintances and correspondents included virtually every literary figure one can think of, from Robert Frost to Auden to Wescott’s fellow expatriate writers in France in the 1920’s.
Rosco was close to Westcott during his later years, and recorded many hours of interviews with his friend. Thanks to those interviews, and quotations from Wescott’s extensive journals, we get the author’s “voice” throughout the book, and a chance to know him intimately.
Despite his aristocratic-sounding name, Wescott came from a poor farming background in Wisconsin. He made his way to Chicago for college, which soon led him into a world of literature, art, and society. His open relationship with Monroe Wheeler, who made his name as a curator for the Museum of Modern Art, lasted for more than five decades, even as it allowed each partner to take on lovers over the years, sometimes on a long-term basis; yet the love between Wheeler and Wescott was never in doubt.
Wescott had the gift of friendship, but in this, too, he went his own way. That he became less well known than his fellow expatriates may partly be due to the fact that he avoided them, preferring to bond with the locals. “I knew a lot of Americans,” he said of his time in Paris, “but Hemingway despised me, Fitzgerald was a drinker with a miserable wife, and the Americans who hung around the cafes bored me to death.”
Another reason why Wescott did not achieve the level of fame of Hemingway or Fitzgerald was his literary output. Three novels and a novella (The Pilgrim Hawk, still and always a classic), a handful of short stories, some art and literary criticism, some early poems…he was aware of never “producing” the body of work that was expected of him, and that is what makes the Wescott of this book such a sympathetic character: he had talent, but he also had self-doubt and the fear of failure; he struggled in the way of all artists. 
Wescott was known far and wide as a speaker and raconteur. His voice and commanding looks often made him the center of attention, even when he preferred not to be. In his role as president of the American Institute of Arts and Letters he worked for writer’s rights and recognition, and expanded his literary acquaintanceship still further. He never forgot his family, though, remaining especially close to his brother Lloyd and his parents; he was primary caregiver to his mother during her difficult last months. One of the most moving aspects of Glenway Wescott Personally is that it introduces us not only to a great writer but also a great man.
It’s particularly apt to remember Wescott during Gay Pride Month. He was an important figure in the lives of many gay artists, and was instrumental in getting E. M. Forster’s novel Maurice published, after Forster’s death. Wescott’s first novel, The Apple of the Eye, contained a gay theme—unusual for a book published in 1924. His friend Marianne Moore even urged him not to publish it, fearing it might harm his career. But in this, as in so many things, Wescott went his own way.  He was openly gay his entire adult life, never hesitating to appear in public with his partner; the work he did for the Kinsey Institute was invaluable to a modern understanding of homosexuality. 
After Wescott’s death, Jerry Rosco went to work editing his journals, a volume of which was published in 1990 under the title Continual Lessons. More of Rosco’s critical writing can be found in the recent book The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered, edited by Tom Cardamone, in which Rosco presents a cogent argument for bringing Wescott’s first novel, The Apple of the Eye, back into print. It’s not likely, given the efforts of Rosco and other friends and admirers, that Wescott and his work will ever be forgotten; we can be grateful for that.
Reviewed by Wayne Courtois
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Biker Boys – Christopher Pierce, ed. (Cleis Press)

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I’ve never been into bikers—all that hypermasculinity and noise seems artificial and posed to me, but after reading Christopher Pierce’s erotica anthology, Biker Boys, I might just have to give that world of exhaust, chrome and sweaty leather a longer look. 
As with most all anthologies, not every story will appeal to everyone but Biker Boys hits the mark far more often than it misses and with such top names in erotica as Simon Sheppard, Shane Allison, Dale Chase, Rob Rosen and Jeff Mann, that’s no surprise. 
Sheppard’s “Two Bikers in a Room at the Motel 6” leads the collection off with a story about a chance encounter between two bikers in a parking lot—one of them ostensibly straight—followed by Landon Dixon’s “Engines of the Night,” a neatly done piece that begins with dueling riderless bikes. Michael Braken also makes a strong statement with an interesting sex/character story called “Meat and Potatoes” that manages to be both street-smart, hot and nihilistic all at the same time. 
Dale Chase hits the road with “Hard Ride,” about the eternal divide between a real biker and the business-suited wannabe, Xan West gives us some biker BDSM with “Ready,” featuring a muscular biker daddy and his boy, and Logan Zachary parks it in South Dakota for the orgiastic “Sturgis Bang.” My favorites also include Derrick Della Giorgia’s “Number 023 of the 200 Made” which makes some interesting points about egoistic consumerism along with some hot sex and Dusty Taylor’s “Tulsa,” about a road trip with all the trimmings. 
But, again, Jeff Mann wins the day with “As It Flies,” a biker bondage story that combines gags and ropes with tats and wistful lust to form a motorcycle love story like no other in this book. It’s uniquely Mann and well worth the price of the book alone. His work is so poetically erotic, it almost makes me want to be roped and tied. Almost. 
Pierce has gathered a varied, diverse collection of biker erotica that mostly challenges the conventions of the genre, providing us with some hot stories that intrigue as well as titillate. So don those leathers, pull on yer boots and polish up that chrome. But if you pick up any hitchhikers, be careful. You might become an entry in the next volume. 
But that’s not really a bad thing, is it?
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Sodomy! – Simon Sheppard (Lethe Press)

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He knows they’re young and, better, that he’s old.
He shares his distance from them like a joke.
They love him for it….
They see him as an object, artifact, that time
Has ploughed criss-cross with all these lines
Yet has a core within that purely burns.
“Auden at Milwaukee” by Stephen Spender

Who is Simon Sheppard? The “erotica king” of San Francisco. An editor, columnist, award winner, delightful elder lecher (I know the feeling, mon frère). That his writing receives accolades from Felice Picano and Gavin Atlas speaks for itself.

The hook, “A Retired Writer in the Sun” grabbed my sensibilities. This short provides that the “Witch of Capri,” an aged, retired writer of gay erotica, suffers the intrusion of a young interviewer intent on getting to the core of who, what, when, where this “old queen” is, has been, may continue to be. The young man, Quilty, is told, “I’d beg that many of us who write dirty stories do it, at least in part, in an attempt to master lust. Not to overcome it…” Quilty, the youngster, could not restrain his hard-on against the “…laser-like desire [from the old writer] that went straight to his cock.” …I am a writer, you know [said the Witch]. Many things that should be true, aren’t.’ He looked directly at Quilty’s crotch. ‘Would you like help with that?'”
“Just remember to say, Quilty,” with which the Witch ends their encounter, “to quote me to the effect that the current state of erotic writing is lamentable. Lamentable.”
I believed somewhat that the truth had been told. Believed more that the old Witch had just lost his muse, had just lost his interest, had just ceased to feed on the new writers, the new dirty storytellers who—whether the Witch knew it or not—carried on in his stead, celebrated his, the Witch’s passion.
“Two Bikers in a Room at the Motel 6″—one of whom rides a Suzuki, of all things—who encounters a jeaned/leathered, slightly skuzzy biker—a Harley man, a hetero—who, well, likes it through the backdoor, as they say. “Okay, fag,” Duane [the Harley man] rumbled, “let’s see how good you can fill me up.”…Trev, the Suzuki boy, gritted out, ‘You take it, you fuck.’ Where had that come from? Virginia Woolf would have been appalled.”
A delightful read, “Marcos y Che,” of an imagined love affair between “Che” Guevara and a masked, always masked fellow revolutionary. Sheppard unabashedly provides—in the voice of a struggling writer, the protagonist—a slushy, poorly written, not-worth-a-second-look account of the imagined affair: “Che had slid his hand down to the front of Marcos’ fatigue pants, where his dick stood at attention…” At attention! The struggling writer, reflecting on the visage of Che and his fellow revolutionary in a sixty-nine position, takes out his own dick and, well, just prior to orgasm, “…imagined writing an essay on ‘The Artistic Responsibilities of the Horny Leftist Fag in Times of Resurgent Bourgeois Authoritarianism.'”
One of my favorites, “Lorca,” gives us Federico Garcia Lorca; a poet, a tortured queer shot dead days before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The story, though, gently told, presses against a older writer’s contemporary infatuation with an office-supply clerk—his nametag reading “Federico”—and the visage of the poet himself, nearly a century before, celebrating his flesh, his ease of comfort within the confines of a secluded pond where, yes, his fate awaits. “There will always be those who hate the beautiful young men.”
Onanistic shackling, the delight/regret of barebacking, immigrant boys aboard ship sailing toward the promise of America, a forty-something internet voyeur hooking up with a nerdish kid for phone sex—each story so different, so unique in their content; all exposing the depth and breadth of Sheppards’ skills.
Sheppards’ metaphors are sublime. “And then, without a word of warning, he shoots his load, salty as the Pacific, abrupt as a storm at sea. Or something.” And another: “And then Nick was filled with cruelty, too, cruelty and desire, plunging himself, without lubrication, into Billy, his lust implacable as the tides. He felt himself enveloped, plunging into darkness, into light. Shining silks from the Orient, gold from Eldorado, none of it could match this plunder. Nothing.”
Sheppards’ pairing of oldsters with youngsters is a recurrent theme. My favorite back-and-forth: The boy observes, “A big, strong hand came down on the back of my head, forcing me further onto his big, stiff dick. ‘That’s it, you overeducated little fuck [said the oldster]. Show me you understand what life is really about.'” “…Well, [the youngster concludes] that seemed like more of a philosophical challenge than I was up to at the moment, but I did my level best.'”
I suspect, like Spender’s conclusions about Auden, Sheppard “…shares his distance from them (the youngsters) like a joke. …Yet has a core within that purely burns.”
Reviewed by George Seaton

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Silver Foxes: Steamy Stories of Older Men by C.B. Potts (Lethe Press)

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While it’s a reviewer’s job to be as impartial as possible, there are always going to be genres or themes that will appeal more than others.  So I think it’s only fair for me to mention that a collection about hot older men had me intrigued before I opened it.  However, even setting that fact aside, this was a terrific book.

C.B. Potts is an extraordinary writer, and she knocks this out of the park.  As Bill pointed out in a previous review, it can be difficult for a single-author collection of erotica stories to keep a reader’s interest.  Often as you get further into a book, the author’s fantasies become predictable if not repetitive.  That’s not the case here as Ms. Potts frequently did a bang-up job of creating unique characters, setting vastly different moods, and finding distinct and affecting voices.  Sure, the silver foxes are usually the dominant tops, but not always, and most of the pieces feature self-possessed younger men who are confident about what they want.

Some of the stories such as “Goodnight Daddy” and “Ring Tones” seem more like interludes aimed at arousing the reader as they don’t have fully developed story arcs.  Others such as “R&R,” a riveting tale of an older soldier taking care of a younger, somewhat unstable, compatriot in the jungles of Viet Nam show Ms. Potts phenomenal skill at storytelling.  Ms. Potts also reveals a talent for humor in a few of her pieces.  The way she tells the story in “Seducing the Hunter” through the non-stop babbling of an egotistical older writer who sees himself as a notorious bad boy is pure genius.  (This was my favorite story, and it’s so good.)

Not all the stories are boiling hot, but I think they’re not all meant to be.  “Ringside,” about a coach’s feelings for his young champion, is more of an emotional battle against feelings of lust that don’t feel right given the circumstances.  On the other hand, the primal couplings in “Rough Road” and “Rural Rentboy” were…er…quite nice, and I’ll be reading them again.  For those who like a bit more romance, “Where the Buffalo Roam,” a story that pairs a college senior with an older cowboy holds a promise of love, and there’s something charming about a record company rep’s hookup with a strapping young bluegrass banjoist in “Mountain Music” that makes me think they’ll be more than friends.

I suppose if you’re not the type who enjoys intergenerational gay erotica or lusts after older men, this book might not appeal. However, I’d still urge you to give it a try.  I bet you’ll be converted.

Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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Where the Girls Are: Urban Lesbian Erotica – ed. D.L. King (Cleis Press)

Buy it now at Giovanni’s Room or at our Amazon.com store to help support our site Where The Girls Are: Urban Lesbian Erotica.
I know what everyone is probably thinking. What do I know about lesbian sex that qualifies me to review this book? Before reading Where the Girls Are, I’ll admit not much, but let me tell you something, sex or no sex, D.L. King has one hell of a collection here.
The anthology’s theme is Urban settings, whether it’s a country girl coming to the big city in search of fun and excitement (actually there are only a couple of these) or a city girl just out for a good time; this collection is full of great stories, characters and as one would expect from these writers, wonderfully written.  We have blossoming lesbians, young and old lesbians, high power New York business lesbians and a country girl who could give any big city girl a run for their money.  
With the exception of a couple stories, the collection is full of unique and well-written stories that will keep you turning the pages.
While each of the stories in this collection deserves mentioning, I’m only going to mention a few that were among my favorites.
Rush Hour by Lisabet Sarai, is the story of two strangers desperate to get to an important meeting during rush hour in New York on a rainy afternoon; and the fun and interesting developments when the two fight for the same cab and I do mean fight.  Now who couldn’t relate to that!
Come to my Window by Andrea Dale is another story that I found refreshing and well written.  It’s short, about 9 pages, but it’s packed full of hot steamy sex in a unique and fun setting – pressed against a window overlooking the city of New York.  Who wouldn’t have an orgasm with that kind of view, not to mention the excitement of possibly of being seen in the act.
There is a wide range of stories in the collection that can please a wide range of tastes and sexual fantasies.  From the BDSM story by Rachel Kramer Bussel, My First Play Party, to a fun and interesting take on the fashion world in Crystal Barela’s, In the Dressing Room, there is literally something for everyone in this collection.  
Come on in and have some fun.  You know you want to.
Reviewed by William Holden

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If Jesus Were Gay & Other Poems – Emanuel Xavier (Queer Mojo Press)

Buy it now direct from Rebel Satori Press or from our Amazon.com store to help support our site If Jesus Were Gay & other poems
If Jesus were gay, he’d undoubtedly be tight with Manny Xavier. After all, they both come from humble beginnings, they both have powerful, authoritative voices and they speak undeniable truths, both universal and personal. And nowhere does Manny show his talents better than his new collection, If Jesus Were Gay & Other Poems.
Xavier’s poetry is not pretty—its language springs at you on tight, muscular haunches, going for your throat or your heart, but for all its aggressiveness, it has a grace and nobility that enables it to capture scenes both sacred (“Waiting for God,” “Resurrection” and “The Fourth King”) and profane (“Morning After the Cock,” “What I Never Told You About Prostitution”).
Manny has lived a complicated, disturbed life as a drug addict and prostitute but like the best of artists, he’s taken those traumas and transmogrified them into art—little pieces of wrought irony that shock at the same time they tap into your own core of experience and show you that we’re not so different after all. As he says in “The Untitled Poem”:
Nothing is too difficult to consider for poetry
too hard to share with an audience hungry
for revelation
The colors of memories are never too bright
for white pages
Xavier never shies away from the issues or the tough questions—and there are tough questions galore. He asks them of his tricks in “Without Rhyme” and “Just Friends,” he asks them of the father who abandoned him in “Daddy Issues” and “Father” and he asks them of society in the title piece, “If Jesus Were Gay”:
If it was revealed Jesus kissed another man,
but not on the cheek
would you still beg him for forgiveness?
ask him for miracles?
hope your loved ones get to meet him in heaven?
would wars be waged over religion?
would world leaders invoke his name for votes?
would churches everywhere rejoice
and celebrate his life?
would rappers still thank him 
in their acceptance speeches?
Tough questions, indeed. 
I had the privilege of reading with Manny at a Saints and Sinners function some years ago and I was never more thankful we spoke in alphabetical order. I would have hated to follow him. He blew the room away from the first stanza. People were literally sitting on the edge of their seats as he performed his poetry with all the verve and fire he could summon. The sight was magnificent, and his words were astounding. No one could follow that. And as I read If Jesus Were Gay, I could hear Manny’s voice—anguished, pleading, pissed off, hurt by family and friends but exultant and elated at his survival of them all. You can too. His Legendary: The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier, is available for download on iTunes. Listen to it and keep that voice in your head as you read this book. 
And then see if doesn’t haunt you for days. 
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Strings Attached– Nick Nolan (Amazon Encore/Melcher Media)

Buy it now from Giovanni’s Room or from our Amazon.com store to help support our site Strings Attached.
In two words, this book is “not bad.”  What Amazon Encore does is re-release the best of what was self-published through their Booksurge division, usually after giving the manuscript a thorough edit.  There are enough good things about this novel that I can see why Amazon Encore chose it.  
At core, the story is a rags to riches fantasy.  Seventeen-year-old Jeremy Tyler is stuck with an abusive, direly alcoholic mother in Fresno, but after an extra-huge binge lands Mom in rehab, Jeremy is whisked off to his Great Aunt Katherine’s mansion in Ballena Beach.  This is déjà-vu for Aunt Katherine as she had to take in Jeremy’s father, Jonathan, after his parents died, and a portion of the plot is Aunt Katherine’s plan to mold Jeremy into the perfect gentleman worthy of representing the Tyler family. 
Jeremy has another problem:  He’s gay and doesn’t want to be.  He hopes to have beautiful and exotic Reed as his girlfriend so she can “straighten him out,” but he longs for his swim team rival, gorgeous but sociopathic, Coby.  Meanwhile, he fends off the advances of flamboyant but sweet-natured Carlo, who is too out and proud to make Jeremy comfortable.
As a writer, I noticed a few rules that Nick Nolan broke such as head-hopping from one point-of-view to another to a third, but I think what is most important is whether or not a writer conveys his meaning clearly, and I think he did that.  The problem, in my opinion, is that the book attempted too much.  If you look at the new cover Amazon Encore gave Strings Attached, you’ll see how busy it is.  In this story, there is a Pinocchio motif, there are references to Greek mythology, there’s a mystery surrounding the death of Jeremy’s father, there’s something sinister about Katherine’s husband, Bill Mortson (Did you catch that last name?  That pain you’re feeling is the author hitting you over the head.)  There’s Jeremy’s transformation into the Prince of Ballena Beach by his gay ex-marine butler, Arthur.  There’s the mix-up with Reed and Coby, there’s a burgeoning romance with Carlo, there’s the scheming of Jeremy’s mother, and I could go on.  
The trouble with this undertaking is that the book is only about 290 pages and takes place over a school year.  It’s pretty unbelievable and highly soap operatic although, surprisingly, the pacing is somewhat slow in parts.  I’m not sure expanding the novel would help, but having more time pass might have made it more realistic.  Even then, I wouldn’t buy that Jeremy, who was repulsed by Carlo’s loud flamboyance, would turn around to the point that he finds Carlo an irresistible love interest.  Carlo does tone things done halfway through the book after realizing that his “flaming” behavior was a reaction to his father’s oppression instead of the “real Carlo,” but that only serves to make Carlo disappear as a distinct character.  
Still, this is a fun fantasy.  Who wouldn’t want to basically wake up rich?  Even if part of the lesson is that wealth doesn’t lead to self-acceptance, I think it provides a pleasant background for young readers who may be going through the same struggle.  Also, in Arthur, Jeremy has a loving father-figure who I think many a young gay man would wish for.  The dialogue given to the teenagers is sometimes pretty clever, and Aunt Katherine is a well-drawn and formidable character.  While not perfect, I think many readers will enjoy this novel.        
Reviewed by Gavin Atlas

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