Monthly Archives: August 2010
Steve Berman’s introduction to this collection of twelve speculative shorts emphasizes what he believes to be the misplaced priorities of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s emphasis on recognizing the worth of storytelling only from GLBT writers. Berman notes that the content of Wilde Stories 2010 – The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction, encompasses work from whom “…a quarter…are women. I neither know nor care what their orientations might be.” Berman, then, is eminently more concerned with content rather than labels.
And content he gives us.
Laird Barron, in the first of the shorts, “Strappado,” (a particularly gruesome rite of torture), tells of a chance meeting between two professionals in a bathhouse in an “Indian tourist town,” not far from Mumbai. The two join a gaggle of Europeans who find themselves slumming in a dingy discothèque, then on to what they believe to be an outlaw exhibit of macabre art. The plot twist engages, and Barron’s writing is superb: “Kenshi wore a black suit; sleek and polished as a seal or an banker. He swept his single lock of gelled hair to the left, like a gothic teardrop.”
Ben Francisco’s voice is so strong in “Tio Gilberto and the Twenty-Seven Ghosts,” that I was not so much charmed as intrigued. Fleeing New York for his uncle’s haunted house in San Francisco, Daniel, a part-time stand-up comic, suffers well—and, at times, not so well—the presence of spirits who infest his uncle’s home: “The ghosts have a party at least twice a week. They gather around the piano and sing Broadway show tunes. …I don’t like Broadway show tunes, and I don’t like old movies, and I don’t like audiences I can’t see or hear.” This is a delightful story.
Richard Bowes short, “I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said,” shows us a sixty-something-year-old whose hospital stay is experienced as through a search engine embedded in the narrator’s mind. He sees himself as the subject of a blog, encompassing his present state as well as that of an earlier hospital encounter as a young man. The hospital writhes with spirits: “A lot of being sick is like one long nightmare. In my Capricorn everything was terror and magic. At night, patients in a children’s cancer ward could be seen floating amid the trees of a scared grove.” Good stuff, here.
A train ride through snow and the palpable presence of wolves is what Tanith Lee, writing as Judas Garbah, gives us in “Ne Que Von Desir.” in a dining car lorded over by the Spirit of Eating, the narrator meets a mysterious stranger who ravages him; “He’d wounded me in a dozen places, grazed, blackened and drawn blood. I had done as much for him.” But he’s not the only one the stranger has ravaged – he’s gone through the whole train, male and female, in a scant few days of travel. This short is so full of literary gems that it is impossible to celebrate them all.
Simon Sheppard gives us, “Barbaric Splendor,” in which a Nordic crew, in the year 1640, finds itself shipwrecked upon the shores of Xanadu, where the Great Khan keeps his palace. This story is told in the form of a ship’s log, the narrator being a corncob-up-the-ass kind of Christian fellow: “…the Sodomitical vices of Xanadu are unimaginably foul, and to that I shall never be reconciled.” Well, reconciled he soon becomes. Sheppard is a masterful writer, and this short is no exception.
“Like They Always Been Free,” by Georgina Li, is a short-short that takes us “underground” where the business of “…minin’ some shit-torn planet…” (the syntax throughout reminiscent of Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”). Our protagonist, Kinger, is in a dismal, literally dog-eat-dog environment, his only comfort Boy: “Boy kisses Kinger’s fingers, his wrists, his throat, sucks hard where Kinger’s blood beats strongest, blue like Boy’s own skin, makes Kinger ache…”
Joel Lane’s, “Some of Them Fell,” tell of four young friends finishing up their English schooling with a trek to the forest—a celebration of their release from the school and city—with hash, wine, cigarettes and their disparate psyches. One of the boys, Adrian, and the narrator find themselves together, fumbling through their first sexual encounter. A gruesome finding of three bodies in the woods, ends their revelry. Their lives go on, with the narrator discovering the extent of the darkness that haunts Adrian’s soul.
“Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine,” is a naughty, hilarious, pun-intended story from Rhys Hughes. Lisping vampires have harnessed sunbeams for their benefit, and the best and the brightest of “Scrofula Yard,” are on the case. A favorite exchange: “…The vampires have turned into farmers and the keepers of orchards.” “Where do they get their sperm food from?” “Two sources. They plant spunktrees and harvest the nuts. Creamy goodness! They also entice human settlers with the promise of fertile fields and virgin forests. Then they suck off those poor saps until they’re drained.”
Jameson Currier’s “Death In Amsterdam,” is the least speculative—if at all—of these stories. And perhaps it was Berman’s intent to include this work in the anthology simply to communicate the extent of Muslim violence against gay men in Amsterdam. This is a disturbing account of the underbelly of what one naturally assumes to be a wonderful vacation spot for gay/lesbian tourists.
A wonderful short, “The Sphinx Next Door,” by Tom Cardamone tells of misdirected mail, a seeping box, meant for, yes, the sphinx next door. The narrator’s conundrum is how/when to deliver the box to the sphinx. A bit of trepidation here: “I think most of the sphinxes in New York are Egyptian, aloof, noble guardians. They tend to work in banks or human resources, if they work at all.” A charming read.
“The Far Shore,” by Elizabeth Hand, sees the ruin of a ballet dancer who agrees to inhabit the secluded Maine habitat of an old friend who is off to Florida. There, alone against a treacherous Maine storm, the Finnish myth of Tuonela, the land of the dead, is played out with the protagonist taking on the role of the curious mortal lured to discover the secrets of the dead by the ferryman, in this case, a fallen swan. The tempter, the swan, embraces the protagonist “…neither falling nor flying, but somehow held aloft. As when he had been airborne above the stage, muscles straining as he traces a grand jete en avant, a leap into the darkness he had never completed in waking life…”
I enjoyed this collection, and look forward to Steve Berman’s next.
Buy it now from our Amazon.com store – XOXO Hayden
I had it set in my mind before I even opened the cover that I wasn’t going to like this book. All I could think about was here we go again, another coming-of-age story about some young boy trying to fit in, blah, blah, blah. We’ve all been there and done that a dozen or more times. Chris Corkum however, changed my mind within a few pages of his novel. I couldn’t put the book down, and now weeks later the characters are still vivid in my mind.
Steven Carlisle is a suburban teenager growing up in Orange County in the 80’s, struggling to understand his identity and sexuality. Hayden Whitfield is a British pop star trying to find himself and acceptance through his music. When Steven wins backstage passes to meet Hayden, both of their lives will change forever.
The novel follows both of these men’s lives over a period of eighteen years, and the growing connection that the two of them have for one another, but don’t quite understand. XOXO Hayden is a touching, well-written story of desire, love and passion. As each chapter ends, the story of these two men become richer and more complex. The characters are so vivid and so real, you feel as if you are a part of their eighteen-year story.
One of the aspects of this book that I found so refreshing is that it’s not your ordinary, coming-of-age story. Without giving away any secrets to the plot or ending, there are many touching, intimate moments between Steven and Hayden but as in real life, not everything goes smoothly and not everything ends the way you expect it or want it to.The process the characters go through are real, the emotions of love, fear and pain are also real.That’s what stands this book out from the others. I felt for the characters and also found pieces of me within their story.
Pick up a copy of XOXO Hayden. It’s a great weekend read.
Reviewed by William Holden
Buy it direct from Bywater Books
I always enjoy first person books. They’re immediate and personal, and you really get to know the POV character in ways other points of view don’t allow you to experience. That character also has to be strong enough to support the book, and Lisa Gitlin has a winner in Joanna Kane, the main character in I Came Out for This?
Joanna is newly-out at the age of 45 and if that wasn’t tough enough, she fell in hard in love and was dumped. But she hasn’t figured that out. In fact, she moves from her Cleveland home all the way to Washington DC in order to be with her ex, Terri, a woman who barely knows she’s alive. But that’s not really true. Joanna is alive enough for Terri to tease and taunt with possibilities, none of which will ever come to pass. Can Joanna move along and find true happiness in her seedy DC apartment populated by sketchy, transient boarders? Can she and Terri peacefully coexist in the DC lesbian dating scene? Will she survive psychotherapy? Will she get out of jail?
I’d rather let Joanna tell you in her own hilarious words. Lisa Gitlin has a wonderfully realized character in Joanna Kane; one with wit and wonder but more importantly, one with whom it’s easy to identify. We’ve all been out on the fringes at one time or another, living lives our families and friends couldn’t understand. Kane’s journey out there and back is one we know well, and she deals with the roadblocks she encounters with sass and verve.
The voice? Well, it’s soft and hard, soothing and haranguing, full of hope and despair—sometimes in the same sentence—but Joanna is never, ever boring. She is occasionally frustrating in her worship of a woman who clearly cares nothing for her, but in time that becomes part of her charm. Just like a good friend, you want to cheer for her when she does something brilliant and slap her when she’s stupid. And Joanna’s insights into the somewhat incestuous lesbian dating world are hysterical and, I believe, totally accurate.
I Came Out For This? is a great summer read. Its intriguing voice draws you back for more like a cool, refreshing dip in the pool, and its warm sense of wonder and discovery will keep you comfortable even after the sun goes down.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler
When I was younger and my eyes were better, I loved long novels. I used to scorn anything less than 500 pages. Now, however, I appreciate the artistry and philosophy of the “less-is-more”school and am truly amazed when a novel less than 100 pages leaves me as sated as those epic journeys used to. Such is the case with Peter Dube’s latest book, Subtle Bodies.
Subtitled A Fantasia on Voice, History and Rene Crevel, this slim volume begins with the suicide of Surrealist poet Rene Crevel and looks back on his involvement with the French Surrealist movement in flashback. Ambitious, yes – but highly readable. This is no dry art school thesis. Dube finds the heart and soul of this historical figure and lays both bare, painting a marvelously detailed portrait of a man intoxicated by ideas and the myth that springs up around their proponents.
Indeed, the subtitle here might also be A Study in Inclusion and Exclusion, because Dube’s Crevel is inordinately preoccupied with both. One of the means Crevel uses to gain entrance into the group of writers and artists who would form the Surrealist movement is faking trances during séances, which were all the rage at the time. Pretending to fall into a state of unconsciousness, he spouts nonsense his audience considers brilliance from beyond. He lies for acceptance—and who has not, at one time or another? Having found inclusion, he is loathe to offend any of the movement’s luminaries for fear of finding himself on the outside of that circle. Dube handles this universal theme with deft shadings of right and wrong.
Dube’s prose is lush but not overwritten, evoking a time when ideas and their expression were more important than life itself. He reels from passionate fever dreams to stark confessional passages with the bold surety of an expert craftsman, hurtling us towards Crevel’s death but never letting go of our hand.
The skin around my eyes felt tight. I felt hot. What if I did not fall into a trance tonight? All of these people were here to hear me utter oracles. I had no idea if I could do so. I might fail. I might shatter this renewed friendship with Andre. I sweat. My breath grew ragged. Friendships evaporating. The chances of publication, of the solace of other writers with whom to linger over cups of coffee and plot the future of our collective dreams dwindled and grew transparent. I saw a great, dark gulf underneath the table we were seated at.
Despite the weight of its ideas, Subtle Bodies is a breathlessly quick read that will linger in your head and resonate in your heart long after its voice has faded. In fact, it just may be the best 90-page book you’ll ever read.
© 2010, Jerry L. Wheeler