Monthly Archives: February 2011

City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and ’70s – Edmund White (Bloomsbury USA)

Buy it now from TLAvideo.com or from our Amazon.com store – City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and ’70s
 
The days of wine and roses/laugh and run away like a child at play
Through a meadow land/toward a closing door
A door marked “nevermore”/that wasn’t there before
“Days of Wine and Roses,” Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer
“If poetry requires endless variations on a very few themes, then no existence could have been more poetic than ours.”
“The Farewell Symphony,” by Edmund White. Random House, 1997.
I have been intrigued with Edmund White—his life, his experiences as a gay writer—or more precisely, a writer who happens to be gay—since I first read his “breakthrough” novel A Boy’s Own Story, (Plume, 1982). The quote from The Farewell Symphony above reveals much about this man, Edmund White, who, in City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and ’70s, provides “…endless variations on a very few themes…” that have consumed much of his storytelling for so many decades. 
City Boy… is essentially a recapitulation of White’s travails to become famous within the coterie of the cultured aristocracy in New York, Rome, and Paris during those heady years of the ’60s and ’70s. He examines the advent of “gay liberation” in New York, while, at the same time, admitting “…we routinely referred to ourselves as ‘sick,’ which was only half a joke.” He notes that prior to Stonewall, “There was no ‘gay pride’ back then—there was only gay fear and gay isolation and gay distrust and gay self-hatred.” (I believe most of us who approached majority during that era could and do surely disagree with White’s conclusions. Some of us, of course, do not. )
Ah, I could go on with a treatise of this book. But I am tasked with a review. I hear the admonition from the kindly gents who allow me to write these things: “Shorten it, George. Shorten it.”
Okay. For me part of the intrigue of this book is in the anecdotes, the exposition of the surely known icons with whom White had the inescapable good fortune to interact with during his youth in New York. 
In a New York coffee shop, the “Hip Bagel,” White would “…sometimes drink espresso with an oversize girl who swore she was going to be a famous pop singer someday. …I nodded politely, though I was impressed to hear that she’d already appeared in The Music Man. A few years later she emerged as Mama Cass in the Mamas and the Papas…”
“In the late 1970s I became friends with Michel Foucalt, and he and I disagreed about gay identity as well. I never quite understood his position, which struck me as ambiguous.”
“That first evening over dinner Burroughs [William Burroughs—author of Naked Lunch and so much more] spoke little except to say that he was able to manipulate his mood as a writer through obvious techniques.’For instance,’ he said, ‘if I want write about sex, I don’t jerk off for several days, then I’m sure to be horny and ready to describe it in lots of detail and a state of excitation.’ We were all fascinated by every word the sphinx pronounced.”
Robert Mapplethorpe [photographer of black/white homoerotic images] who White befriended, and would later observed that he’d “…never understood Mapplethorpe’s sexuality. He would explain it to me and keep correcting with a little smile the wrong conclusion I’d jumped to.”
Truman Capote met White for an interview, “….at the elevator in bare feet and with a palmetto fan in hand. All through the interview Capote kept dashing out of the room to sniff more cocaine.”
White befriended Ted Morgan, Somerset Maugham’s biographer, who recounted that toward the end of his life, Maugham had “…lost his mind to Alzheimer’s though he was pumped full of youth-enhancing monkey glands. Virile and hyperactive but incapable of thinking, the once witty and ironic author would greet guests at the gates of his Riviera compound by presenting them with a welcoming handful of his own shit.”
Virgil Thompson, contemporary of Gertrude Stein who “…was part of history since he’d studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, had first befriended Aaron Copland in the 1920s, and had taught orchestration to Ned Rorem…” Thompson read White’s first chapter of A Boy’s Own Story, prior to publication, and concluded, “As we say back in Missouri, baby, ‘a lot of wash and not much hang-out’.” White would conclude that, “In Virgil’s case, I think his only idea of ‘gay literature’ was pornography, and he was disappointed that my book was low on the peter meter.”
Yes, there were others: Christopher Isherwood and his lover Don Bachardy; Vladimir Nabokov; Coleman Dowell; Fran Lebowitz; Larry Kramer; a brief encounter with Jorge Borges; Peggy Guggenheim; Jasper Johns, and on and on. 
 
All right. I understand. I’ve got to tie this up.
City Boy…, as I’ve explained is, for me, a recapitulation of themes White has explored over and over again during his impressive career as a writer. He has a knack for providing scintillating insights into the bare bones personas of so many of his mentors, contemporaries, and benefactors. Additionally, City Boy delves into the social milieu of New York City during those dark and dangerous times when the bogey man—AIDS—first settled in with a vengeance that affected the lives of so many young, beautiful men…so many of whom White knew. (White, who has been HIV positive since the ’80s, was the first president of the Gay Mens Health Crisis, GMHC established in 1981.) 
Finally, White is a particular enigma for me. Here is a kid from the Midwest, who received a degree in Chinese—of all things!—who trekked to New York instead of accepting matriculation at Harvard, and who managed to ingratiate himself to the literary and cultural icons of the period. In doing so, he was able to establish himself as the literary figure and academic he has become.  This history surely begs, for me, the question: What did he know that I don’t? Or was it just luck? Or was it just circumstance? Or indeed, was it just simply that the literary scene in those bygone days was a little easier to crack, a little easier to nudge oneself into…with good looks, youth, and a scintilla of talent that evolved, grew, fed on the opportunities extant at the time. 
A final thought.  It was not all wine and roses for White. He struggled with his writing. “I had so little confidence or stamina,” he notes, “that a single paragraph could send me into a paroxysm of self-doubt.” Indeed, he notes that he “…finished and revised Forgetting Elena [his first published novel] after three years’ work; it was published in 1973—seven years from start to finish for a book of two hundred pages.” Sound familiar to my fellow writers? It should, for most of us. And in making that observation, let me end with a conclusion: This is a book for writers, something savored as an exposition of one gay writer’s journey through those long, long nights of reaching for that elusive goal, that meaning to our toil that we, as writers, so wish, so hope to achieve.  We may not be able to achieve it in the manner White did. But in our own way, we will get there. We may even manage to crack open that door marked “nevermore” that was so accessible to White. Believe it! 
City Boy…is good stuff, y’all, even for readers as well as writers.  
Reviewed by George Seaton       

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Parallel Lies – Stella Duffy (Bywater Books)

Buy it direct from ByWater Books or from our Amazon.com store – Parallel Lies
 

Hollywood bearding is nothing new, despite Tom Cruise and
Katie Holmes. Back in the forties, Barbara Stanwyck did it for Robert Taylor
and the next decade brought us Rock Hudson and Phyllis Gates. The premise, then,
for Stella Duffy’s Parallel Lies is not unique—but its frank, knowing
voice is.

Yana Ivanova is the biggest star in Hollywood, with a
beautiful mansion, a wonderful career and a boyfriend named Jimmy McNeish. Yana
even has a British personal assistant named Penny—who is really the one
Yana sleeps with. Jimmy doesn’t mind, however. He has his own life in his own
part of the house, and thanks to his proximity to Yana, his own career is
booming. This cozy arrangement is fine and dandy until the blackmail letters
start arriving. And then someone gets killed.

Narrated by Yana’s PA, Penny, Parallel Lies is a
witty, knowledgable look inside not only Hollywood, but inside celebrity
itself. Duffy paints a fascinating portrait of the intricate relationship between
Yana, Penny and Jimmy, as well as their manager, Felix. Even more interesting
is what happens when things start to unravel and everyone scrambles to pick up
the pieces.

Two neatly done twists near the end—one I saw coming and one
I didn’t—keep the reader guessing until the last page is turned. Who is sending
the blackmail letters becomes far less important than how everyone reacts to
them and the dangers they present, but the star of the show is Penny. Her
manipulation and machinations truly drive all the relationships here, and her
voice is magnificent. By turns cynical and hopeful, Duffy does a fantastic job
of conveying a woman who is in love with celebrity but hates it at the same
time.

What I kept re-reading, however, was the confrontation between
Jimmy and Yana, who suspects him of sending the blackmail letters. Duffy
captures this relationship truth dead on:

            “They
had both gone farther than each expected and were now

            standing
in a totally new place. That accidental leap from middle-

            of-relationship
via a huge fight to suddenly all-over. It happens

            every
day, every hour. Another couple bites the dust by letting the

            argument
go on just that five minutes too long, those three hundred

            seconds
that allow the withheld acid to spill out and corrode the

            shaky
ground on which they stand.”

Beautifully written. If you’ve ever been in a relationship,
you know this moment and Duffy gets every second of it right. Parallel Lies is
a wickedly enjoyable read, full of fat, juicy truths that anyone will
appreciate.

Except, possibly, Tom and Katie. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Kiss of Noir – Clara Nipper (Bold Strokes Books)

Buy it direct from Bold Strokes Books or from our Amazon.com store – Kiss of Noir
 

Sequels are always a tricky proposition. You have to play a
different song while hitting the same notes. Clara Nipper’s tough-babe
basketball coach Nora Delaney strikes similar chords in Kiss of Noir as
she did in 2009’s Femme Noir, but there are some substantial differences
that, perhaps, make this an even stronger work.

Ever the hotheaded powderkeg, Delaney loses her college
coaching position after she coldcocks a fellow coach during a nationally
televised game. Smarting from the resulting media frenzy, she lays low in
N’awlins with her cousin, wealthy pawn-shop owner Ellis, and his no-nonsense,
rule-bound wife Sayan. Well, she lays as low as Nora Delaney can anyway—getting
involved with dangerous white women, graveyard sex and, yes, a murder.

Coming in three-quarters of the way through the book, the
murder is not as central to the story here as it was in Femme Noir. The
forceful anti-white diatribe has also been toned down, narrowing and focusing
Delaney’s voice, which is both a boon and a blessing. As written by Nipper,
Nora Delaney is whipsmart and colorful, as are all the characters
here—including the fierce yet tender and motherly Sayan. Nipper’s NOLA setting
also works well, especially in the pawn shop scenes between Delaney, store
manager Cleo and hanger-on Drew. Together, they play dominoes, discuss life and
wait on the occasional customer.

In terms of plot, not much really happens other than the
aforementioned murder, which is very chilling. Delaney finds out how her cousin
has made his fortune, but that’s no big revelation. Delaney escapes to New
Orleans for a rest, and that’s pretty much what she gets. Rather than being a
holding pattern book, though, Nipper uses this sequel to enrich and deepen
Delaney. And you don’t have to read the first book to enjoy this one. It’s
definitely a stand-alone.

Kiss of Noir is an interesting, gritty read
with lots of character and will have you looking forward to the next Delaney
adventure. 


Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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A Pornography of Grief – Philip Huang (Signal 8 Press)

Pre-order this title at Amazon.com

As I said by way of introduction to another book recently,
it’s all about the title for me. A good one has me instantly hooked, and Philip
Huang’s A Pornography of Grief is wonderful. Regardless of what it
actually means, it makes me think of a collective noun—you know, like a murder
of crows—which is perfect for this stunning collection of short stories.

Being the survivor, the one left behind, is not an easy
role. Your entire way of life dies with your loved one, and you mourn for both.
Your grief is not only for the dead, but for yourself as well. Huang pictures
this brilliantly. All of these stories feature disconnected survivors
desperately searching in the unknown dark for a solid piece of something on
which they can rebuild.

If you’re looking for linear storytelling, however, there’s
little of that here. Most of the pieces are impressionistic, with short smears
of just enough context for you to understand how these individuals are
mourning. But far from being bothersome, this is actually a relief. The pool of
grief is deep, and it’s dangerous to drink too much. The sips Huang holds to
our lips are more than enough.

Take, for example, the opener “Pineola Inn,” or the chilling
dead baby story “Okra,” or the intense relationship between a man’s mother and
his lover in “The Widow Season.” If we were to get more than glimpses of the
heartbreaking sadness of these stories, it would be far too much to bear. We
would need to distance ourselves, like the female protagonist in “American
Widow,” who writes her sorrow and continually regrets it.

But all is not sadness in Huang’s world. The hilarious
“Colin Farrell’s Penis” and the oddly haunting “The Chair” about a strange
museum piece and a race of mutant boys who have tongues in their anuses provide
oases of relief as do the disconnected TV viewers in “House Party.”

Really, though, anywhere you choose to dip into A
Pornography of Grief
, you will find something thought-provoking and
worthwhile. Huang’s prose is close to poetry and I’ve read very few writers who
can create three-dimensional characters with soft, subtle brush strokes and the
telling detail. This is truly iceberg writing, nine-tenths of it being below
the surface.

This is the initial offering from Marshall Moore’s new
publishing venture, Signal 8 Press, and he’s found a winner in Philip Huang.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of a long and happy collaboration. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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The Road Home – Michael Thomas Ford (Kensington Press)

Buy it now at TLAgay.com or from our Amazon.com store –The Road Home
 

Seven years ago I read Michael Thomas Ford’s first book, Last
Summer
. Hated it. This year, Kensington Press sent me three
hardcover copies of The Road Home—enough to send out as Christmas gifts.
Feeling guilty that Kensington spent $72.00 (list price, not including postage)
on this insignificant, pissant book critic, I figured I might at least crack
one of them open. As sometimes happens, The Road Home turned out to be a
delightful surprise.

Photographer Burke Crenshaw is involved in a car accident
that leaves him needing full time care after he gets out of the hospital.
Unable to tolerate his friends—who feel the same way about him—he ends up
staying with his father and his new wife in his childhood bedroom. He meets
Will Janks, the closeted son of his former best friend Mars, beginning a
relationship of sorts with the young man. But he also finds himself involved
with a Civil War mystery, Radical Faeries and patching up his relationship with
his father.

If, after reading the synopsis, you think you know the
ending, you’d probably be right. Crenshaw does, at least, come to accept his
father and his home for what they both are. I mean, it’s not called The Road
Home
for nothing. But who he ends up with romantically is a surprise, as is
the solution to the Civil War mystery—which ties the Radical Faeries in neatly
at the end. Since Last Summer, Ford has culled most of the bland,
predictable stereotypes from his repertoire, replacing them with neatly detailed
characters picking their way through a plot that has some interesting twists
and turns. 

Ford’s settings have also improved. His Vermont small town
is credible and well-crafted, as chilly and no-nonsense as the people who
inhabit it. The dialogue pops, without ever sounding contrived or unnatural,
and his prose is nice and clean—scrubbed of the relentless head-hopping found
in so many books today. I also liked the way Ford handled the Radical Faeries,
gently joshing them but retaining a sense of reverence for their mission and
philosophy. I wish the Civil War mystery had a bit more to do with the main
plot, but that complaint is minor at best. 

The Road Home proved to be an entertaining,
winning read whose intriguing plot and interesting characters were as
satisfying as sweet Vermont maple syrup over hotcakes on a cold morning.

And if anyone wants a copy, I have two left. 

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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Normal Miguel – Erik Orrantia (Cheyenne Publishing)

Buy it now direct from Cheyenne 

Some books trap you in reality and others charm you with
their wit, but I love those that take me places. Setting is just as important
as plot and character and becomes even more crucial for some stories. Erik
Orrantia’s Normal Miguel is one of those tales.

Miguel Hernandez, a fresh-faced first year teacher just out
of school goes to complete a one-year internship in the rural town of Puebla.
He finds a stern yet understanding Directora, a randy baker and a rag-tag
assortment of poverty-stricken students, but he also finds candymaker Ruben,
who awakens Miguel’s love and compassion. They face a year’s worth of trials
and tribulations, learning about themselves and their own families in this
gracefully romantic book.

Much of the magic for me comes with the portraits of rural
Mexico Orrantia presents to us. Framed in dusty shades of brown, gold and
chocolate, his landscapes involve and engulf the reader, supplying an engaging
backdrop for the drama that takes place in them.  And the story of Miguel finding, rejecting
and finally accepting love is just as dramatic as they come.

Life inside the walls of the school reminds me of the town
of Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Orrantia
hasn’t developed that sweep or scope or mastery of magical realism, but there
are enough similarities to convince me he will in time. My one small quibble is
that Miguel and Ruben’s relationship is accepted by the school and the town too
easily and too widely to be entirely convincing but perhaps Orrantia means that
to be one more wrinkle in the veil of fantasy that shades this book.

Miguel’s students are also important in the story, and
nowhere do they make more of an impact than in my favorite scene in the book.
Miguel has given them so much of himself that they want to give him something
of equal importance, leading to a funny, touching scenario that involves an
abandoned warehouse and a shoeless bride wearing a stolen wedding dress. It’s
marvelous. Erik Orrantia’s Normal Miguel is a deep, rich, warm and
rewarding tale that will take the chill off the coldest winter’s night.

No matter where you are.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler 

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I like to Watch: Gay Erotic Stories, edited by Christopher Pierce – Cleis Press

Buy it now direct from Cleis Press or from our Amazon.com store – I Like to Watch
 

You’ve heard it here many times before that it’s hard to
have every story in an anthology work, and Pierce’s, I Like to Watch may have
broken that old saying. Now I’m not saying that all seventeen stories worked
for me. There were a few that I felt were a bit tired and weak in their
originality. What this collection does have that many anthologies today don’t
is a great line up of seasoned talented authors and even a few hot, sexy tales
from names you may not be so familiar.

I’m not going to review each individual story in the
collection, I’ll let you be the judge of what works and what doesn’t. What I
will share with you are my top picks in no particular order.

 

Shafted by Harley Jackson

How do you like your sailors? Harley obviously likes them
hot and Harley delivers them steaming onto the page. The story is set in San
Francisco in a temporary housing complex for sailors. Nice thing about this
complex is that it has a very active outdoor air shaft where everyone can watch
the action. The next time I’m in San Francisco I’m going to have to find myself
some temporary housing. What a great way to get to know your neighbors. Shafted
was brilliantly told and incredibly hot. 

Eclipse by Dale Chase

Dale as always delivers an incredibly original story that is
sultry, hot, and sexy from beginning to end. Two men agree to meet on the roof
top of a four story city building to watch what else, the lunar eclipse, but they
get more than they bargained for when a man across the way decides to have sex
with not one but several hot guys during the eclipse. There are plenty of full
moons in Dale story and they have nothing to do with the planets. Dale let’s
her characters explode across the page with vivid descriptions and scorching
hot sex.

Good Boy by Jeff Mann

Jeff Mann has a way with words with everything he writes,
and Good Boy isn’t any different. It’s a beautifully told S/M story between a
married man and his secret lover set in the back room of a store on a cold
snowy night. The story is touching, heartfelt but it still delivers an amazing
erotic punch. If these two characters don’t pull at your heartstrings, than you
need to check your pulse.

Hot, Buttered Boner – Rob Rosen

Rob Rosen does it again with an original and creative story
that will definitely melt your butter. The story is set in an empty movie
theater. As the action heats up, the two men quickly move into the bathroom where
a very nosey usher is about to interrupt them. Now I know why people always set
their popcorn between their legs.

Tinted Windows – Shane Allison

What does carry out fried chicken, a horny man and a parking
lot have to do with each other? Not much unless you’re Shane Allison, and then
the three have everything in common. Once again Shane delivers a quick and hot
release for anyone to enjoy. Hmmm, chicken grease, never thought of that one!

The Boy in the Chair – Christopher Pierce

You don’t find too many editors these days that will submit
something for their own anthology, but Christopher Pierce does and does it well
in his hot little piece as one man decides to give his watcher a night to
remember.

No matter how many voyeur/exhibition anthologies come out,
everyone likes to watch, or to be watched. Come on you know you do. So which
are you a voyeur or an exhibitionist? If you don’t know, perhaps this collection
can help you figure it all out. There’s something in here for everyone. It’s
okay, we won’t tell take a peek!

Reviewed by William Holden

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