Monthly Archives: April 2012

Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey – Jack Scott (Summertime Publishing)

To buy the book visit the author’s website.

In the 1961 Broadway production of Noël
Coward’s musical, Sail Away, Elaine Stritch, cast in the role of
world-weary cruise director Mimi Paragon, sang the eleven o’clock number in
which she asked the titular question, “Why do the wrong people travel . . .
when the right people stay back home?” 
If Jack Scott’s Perking the Pansies is ever made into a movie,
Stritch’s song could easily play over the credits.  The song captures the mood of Scott’s memoir
quite well.   

Perking the Pansies tells the story of Jack and Liam (author
and author’s husband), who quit their jobs in London—because working for a
living is simply sucking the life from them—sell their house, and move to
Turkey where they had honeymooned and vacationed over the past several
years.  As they try to set up a life,
however, they discover that the expat community is simply the wrong kind of
people, whose only goal in life seems to be the frustration and annoyance of
our stalwart protagonists.  The song
would also fit the high-camp, arch-gay sensibility Scott performs as an author
(despite his frequent protests that he will not be stereotyped by the awful,
homophobic expats).  And it’s not so
far-fetched that the book could find its way to a movie deal:  according to the author’s biography, the
memoir started as an “irreverent blog” and became a book only because “a
growing worldwide audience clamoured for” it. 
Who knows, they might clamour for a movie next.

It feels a bit odd to review a
memoir.  After all, given the book’s
disclaimer that it is based on actual persons and events, and given the fact
that the author and the narrator share the same name, to discuss characters in
the book is to discuss actual people in the world.  And, I must confess, as I read the book, I
found myself asking if Jack (the narrator, not the author) is one of the kind
of people who should travel or who should stay back home.  Although he is quite insistent that the
expats in Turkey are simply awful, he seems less aware that he shares many of
their traits.  For example, Jack’s
arch-enemies in the book are a former retail clerk, Chrissy, and her brash,
wealthy husband, Bernard.  Jack and Liam
hate Chrissy and Bernard because of the latter’s negativity and their sense of
national superiority.  With absolutely no
trace of irony, Jack—in both dialogue and through narration—says awful things
about these two characters, and virtually everyone else he and his husband
encounter, and never let an opportunity pass to point out that when it comes to
cleanliness, modern conveniences, ritual observances, gender politics and
respect for sexual variance, Britain is simply so much better on every front
than Turkey—even while recognizing the natives tend to be nicer to Jack and
Liam than the expats do.

Even the most striking point of drama in
the novel—Alan and Charlotte’s attempt to adopt a girl from a local woman—is
not spared an imperialist obliviousness. 
Although Jack seems suspicious of the adoption at the beginning of the
memoir, he and Liam fall in love with the little girl as events unfold, and
when local authorities begin to question the legitimacy of the adoption, they
are characterized as monstrous interlopers. 
Given recent queer critiques of transnational adoption, as well as the
very genuine risks of illegitimate child trafficking, the unapologetic “how
dare they?” tone of this narrative thread seemed incredibly problematic.   Similarly, near the beginning of the memoir,
when friends caution them about the dangers of living as openly gay men in a
Muslim country, Jack and Liam dismiss their friends as narrow-minded bigots,
but when the limitations and dangers of Turkey come to the fore, Jack and Liam
seek to impose their London/Soho gay identity on the local culture—because, of
course, urban European performances of gay identity are the only way to be gay,
and Jack and Liam have every right to transport every detail of their former
life to their new home.  After all, what
else is money—and a favorable exchange rate—good for?  On this front, I couldn’t help but think of
the long history of European travel narratives (think Forster, Lawrence, Gide,
Barthes), where “exotic” locales are places of sexual awakening and
adventure.  The memoir shows hints of
being aware of this tradition, but with no sense of having learned the lessons
of post-colonial critiques of it. 

In the latter third of the novel, there is
a slight shift as Jack and Liam move from the expat community to a more
“authentic” Turkish locale.  Here, they
make friends with some locals and their life improves.  Of course, the “improvement” of their life
comes because they find people who share their values, who have “modern”
sensibilities, and who offer them generous hospitality (so they can more
effectively stretch their meager savings). 
In this latter portion, the quality of the writing also improves.  I found the last two chapters, for example,
incredibly moving, funny and touching—and stylistically more engaging..  I wish that this Jack (as narrator and
author) had been more in control from the beginning.

I wonder, though, if I’m not a
sufficiently astute reader.  Given the
high-camp moments sprinkled throughout the memoir, is it fair to say that it
has no touch of irony?  Does Scott mean
to satirize himself by showing just how similar he and Liam are to Chrissy and
Bernard?  Should the subtle references to
the European travel/coming-of-age novel, given the narrator’s superficial
positivity regarding Turkey, nudge the reader toward a critique of the memoir’s
neocolonialist sensibility?  Is the
entire memoir offered as an ironic self-critique of an urban,
upper-middle-class, first world, modernist, colonialist gay male sensibility
and its failure to sympathetically engage difference, a kind of performative
self-indictment of the reader and the narrator for the ways in which they turn
their nose up at a culture with a different set of values, practices and
orientations?  Perhaps.

Reviewed by Kent Brintnall

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Poetry Roundup, Part Two

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Sonics in Warholia – Megan Volpert (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Closer – Christopher Soden (Queer Mojo Press)

Hello Kitty Chainsaw/Secular Exorcisms – Evan Peterson
(Temple Laboratories)

This Way to the Acorns – Raymond Luczak (Handtype Press)

Part two of our National Poetry Month roundup takes us even
stranger places than the last installment—from Andy Warhol to Udo Kier to black
plum balloons to charming scenic small town Michigan. No wonder they call
poetry transportative.

And there is no better place to start than Megan Volpert’s
wonderful prose-poetic paean to Andy Warhol, Sonics in Warholia. Surreal
free-form conversations with and about Warhol and his ghost reveal startling
synchronicities in Warhol’s life and art, from his silk-screened Marilyn
Monroes to The Velvet Underground, as reflected here:

 

Lou with his electric shock and heroin, with his deep
layers, his

lovely
unmanageable appetites that you wish to peel slowly and

see. I wonder
about what you two were trading, and if it was fair

or if it should
have been fair. Ready to explode, you patched

his noise with
Nico, a piece of German plastic. The Exploding

Plastic
Inevitable kept you in transit together. Did you nurse him

through
hepatitis in 1966, or leave him smoldering at the hotel

like a pet dog?

Lou Reed and Nico aren’t the only celebrities name-checked
here, but rather than a factual account, this is a fractured delight where
motorcycles, mixtapes, Truman Capote’s cremains, Leyden jars, electroshock
therapy, dead people’s cell phones, blow jobs, Typhoid Mary and Kubler-Ross’s
five stages of grief all collide with the grand, rambling
now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t order of an espresso and dexadrine fueled all
night conversation. But Volpert isn’t just spinning off without a shred of
sense. Her logic, her sequencing and the over-arching architecture of the piece
is flawless. This blend of  anthemic
amphetamine is heady and highly recommended.

Christopher Soden’s Closer is somewhat more
traditional free-verse but no less striking for its versatility as well as its
veracity. Some poets play on one theme or image for longer than necessary,
overplaying their hands. Soden’s work is wide-ranging, covering a variety of
subjects both universal and personal. Plus, Soden’s take on nearly everything
is just a bit different. Most poets, for example, concentrate on the brooding
rebellious James Dean, but Soden takes a look at the icon in his last picture, Giant,
as his character, Jett Rink, waits for his oil well to come in (“Gusher”):

 

    Eventually,
something roiling beneath

layers of rock and fossil, clay and loam

reaches the shaft of his derrick and he

climbs, hoisting himself up and up

till he reaches the crest of that miraculous

conduit, black syrup dense and pitchy

as liquid night. Dean welcomes this

infernal downpour of bliss, stretching

his arms to receive a baptism of careless,

criminal love.

Soden also possesses a fine sense of the bizarre, as
witnessed by “Angry Skeletons Attack Family”, which sees a suburban family set upon
by skeleton neighbors, and the “Spontaneous Combustion” of his aunt. If Soden
has a recurring motif, it’s his relationship with his father and his attendant
grief at his death, as played out in the surreal yet touching “Black Plum
Balloon,” the plainspoken “Eulogy,” and the chilling “Ghost Father.” However,
he doesn’t ignore queer issues or erotica, especially in the frank “The Hand I
Was Dealt” or one of my favorite pieces here, “Jockstrap.” At 140 pages, it’s a
bit long, but it’s a wonderful read.

On the other end of the spectrum are two short but
absolutely marvelous chapbooks by Evan Peterson, Hello Kitty Chainsaw
and Secular Exorcisms. Hello Kitty Chainsaw has a subtitle
indicating the poems are for performance, but they lose nothing on the page,
ranging from ironic (“Baby Batter”) to outright killer funny (“Even the Title
is a Safeword”) to defiant, as in “Everything in Our Arsenal.”

 

To win, we will use our wits

posture and eyebrows

         subtle teeth and crafty fingers…         

We will use telepathy and ESP

prayer and pyrokinesis

hair and nail trimmings submerged

In jars of honey, jars of dirt.

we will use your gods,

our gods, anyone’s.   

 

Secular Exorcisms is where Peterson’s Frankenstein
fixation comes to the fore, being stitched shut. The reader has to pull out the
stitches to get to the meat inside, a terrifically fun gimmick that is as
satisfying as it is pointed. Inside, the meal is sumptuous (“All Your Gorgeous
Garbage”), thematic (“The Dead Still Hear and Feel”) and surreal (“Goodnight,
Potato Head”). Peterson’s shrewd sense of the macabre informs his work but
never overpowers it. He’s always able to bring the grotesque imagery back to a
safe spot to make his point—a valuable talent indeed. For more information on
ordering these chapbooks, contact him at visceralpoetry@hotmail.com.

But as breathtaking as the above works are in terms of
pushing envelopes and taking chances, the tenth anniversary edition of Raymond
Luczak’s This Way to the Acorns takes me back to my childhood,
delivering memories with beauty, grace, and an unsentimental nostalgia that
left me smiling. Seen from an acorn’s point of view, this is a year-long trek
through a childhood in the Michigan wilderness split into four sections
reflecting seasonal changes. Luczak’s work here is a powerful reminder that
poetry should be able to soothe as well as inflame. The book works so well as a
whole that finding a portion to extract for review purposes was difficult, so I
just picked a passage from one of my favorites, “A June Weeding”:

 

                                    I
felt for its thickest part,

                                    pushing
my fingers into the earth.

                                    Its
stem was clean with crime.

                                    I
tugged slowly and out it came,

 

                                    white
roots gangly with clumps.

                                    It shivered in my hand as

                                    the
earth opened an eyelid at me,

                                    surprised.
The sun was still cool.

This is obviously nature poetry (“The Puddle,” “Slush,”
“Sunflower Seeds,” “The Ant”) and work extolling the wonder of childhood (“At
Grandma’s House,” “Rink at Norrie School,” “Mrs. Kichak’s Plum Tree”) but its
beautiful language and focused, striking imagery is certain to delight anyone
who remembers the delight and sheer magnificence of a boy (or girl) hood spent
in the dappled woods. I smiled all the way to the end.

And there you have Out in Print’s poetry roundup for
National Poetry Month. Pick and choose from these or, better still, attend a
reading or two in your area and hear the voices around you—because what goes in
your ears sinks straight to your soul. 

Reviews by Jerry Wheeler

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Poetry Roundup, Part One:

He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices – Stephen S. Mills
(Sibling Rivalry Press)

The Horizontal Poet – Jan Steckel (Zeitgeist Press)

Takaaki: A Romance – Eric Norris (Square Circle Press)

Life Through Broken Pens – Walter Beck (Writing Knights
Press)

As April is National Poetry Month, I couldn’t think of any
more fitting time to catch up on some marvelous volumes and chapbooks of poetry
that have been stacking up on my shelves. My regular readers know how much I
love and envy poets and their work, and the four in this first of two Poetry
Roundups are no exception.

First up, we have Stephen S. Mills with his latest Sibling
Rivalry release, “He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices.” This stunning
collection of sharp imagery and dangerous conceptualizations is separated into
three parts. The first has no theme as discernable as the second and third, but
is representative of Mills in that they juxtapose personal milestones and
newsworthy events, such as “Fisting You for the First Time on the Day ‘Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell’ is Repealed.” The only place DADT is specifically mentioned is
the title, but references to the soldier’s life are obvious when talking about
fists, and Mills’ description of the act itself is nothing short of moving. The
second part is a song cycle that reconciles American poet Reginald Shepherd and
American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and the third is a series of poems about
porn star turned hired killer Edmon Vardanyan. Mills’ talent lies in his
ability to distill the horror of gossip, current events and bad news and focus
it into a reflection of the community which produces it. It’s simultaneously
reductive and illuminating, but be warned that this is serious stuff. Sometimes
he leavens the mix with (very dark) humor, but the work is edgy, nervous, and
skitteringly brilliant, as in “Iranian Boys Hanged for Sodomy, July 2005” in
which the narrator keeps the article and photograph of that execution: 

                        “We
let the picture drift around/the apartment like an omen/

                        that
will one day make perfect/sense. Some mornings I stick it/

                        on
the bathroom mirror before/you shave, the next you have it/

                        on
the fridge or tucked inside/my
O’Hara Collected. Some nights/

                        I
slip it in a shoebox marked/’private’ and forget we ever cut it/

                        out,
but by the following evening/it’s under our mattress as

                        we
make love.”

 This story also shows up in “Against Our Better Judgment We
Plan a Trip to Iran,” which sees the narrator again making a personal
connection to a newsworthy event—to consume it, swallow it whole and repeat it,
fully digested in a different voice. Here’s hoping Mills never loses any of his
voices. 

In the Lambda Literary Award nominated “The Horizontal
Poet”, Jan Steckel’s approach may be more conventional but is no less interesting.
A retired pediatrician and a bisexual and disabled person’s rights activist,
Steckel’s art is, in part, formed from the medical field with all its messy
bodily functions and its peculiar gallows humor (“Swallowing Flies,” “Cancer
and the Man,” “Charity After the Hurricane,” and “The White Hospital” among
others). Steckel is no one trick pony, but the frankness and pragmatism of
medical practitioners pervades even those poems not strictly about the
profession. Water, both cleansing and menacing, also appears frequently in her
work—again, no surprise from a doctor—but Steckel refuses to be categorized.
She takes on a variety of subjects, from an out of control party (“East Oakland
New Year’s”) to topless bars (“The Naked and the Dread”) to social networking
(“MyDeathSpace.com”), all with ease of expression and keen observation. But
nowhere is she more contrary and activist than the short but powerful title
piece, “The Horizontal Poet.”

                        “You
can’t put your mat there,” said the nice lady.

                        “That’s
for handicapped people.”

                        But
I’d been promised I could lie down

                        When
I agreed to read.

                        “How
about there?” I asked.

                        “Oh
no,” she gasped, “not there.

                        “We’re
filming. You’d be in the picture.”

                        “God
forbid,” I muttered, grinning evilly,

                        “that
a disabled person should appear

                        in
any of the pictures.”

Steckel is a force with which to be reckoned, and this is a
collection which definitely deserves your attention.

Also worthy of your attention is Eric Norris’ “Takaaki: A
Romance,” 66 sonnets of pure wordplaying skill depicting the relationship
between Eric and his Japanese boyfriend Takaaki. It’s different in that it’s
not free verse. Written in a modified Pushkin rhyme scheme and covering
everything from clipping toenails on the toilet to The Kobayashi Maru (Google
it if you have no geek creds), this illustration of the differences between
East and West is remarkable for not only its sense of humor but its sense of
the banal. In Norris’ hands, Dunkin’ Donuts and wilty chrysanthemums become
devotional offerings to his Takaaki, and Scrabble becomes a battleground.

 

            “Have bath sounds
good. But Scrabble, I will pass.

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            You always win, you creep. You
clearly cheat,”

            I said, “It’s obvious. You won the
last

            nine times. You’re not going to
defeat

            me for time number ten tonight.” I
put

            my foot down firmly…

            “You lost because you play without
strategy.

            There is no need for me to cheat,”
he sighed,

            as if I were an insect on his thigh

            too insignificant to crush—a flea.

“You
waste time making interesting word—not the word that wins.”

Norris develops this relationship before our eyes, picking
and choosing his details with a connoisseur’s eye and a poet’s heart. His joy
in being with the man that he loves is evident, poured over these lines like
dark, sweet syrup—and, what’s even more important, he seems to be having a
wonderful time writing about it. That mood infects the reader as well, making
this an absolutely enthralling experience leading up to the startling
revelation that ends this piece. I wouldn’t spoil it, but it’s a little bit of
synchronicity that clarifies as it stings.

Stinging is exactly Walter Beck’s intention in his chapbook,
“Life Through Broken Pens,” as nearly every piece is an indictment of some
segment of American society—and deservedly so. He tears through these poems
with icy fire, demanding your respect and your attention. This is incendiary
poetry, full of revolution and angry hope, reminding me very much of Manny
Xavier. I haven’t seen Beck perform it, but I’d be willing to bet he puts
everything he’s got into his time at the mic. In “Hopes of a Young American
Poet,” “Revolution Summer,” “No More Martyrs Blues,” “American Dream” and “I Am
More Than a Cocksucker,” Beck’s ambition and fervency rule and score the page,
leaving you breathless. But even revolutionaries must take time out for love,
as Beck does in “Cold Romance”:

                                    I
love you/because you make me forget/

                                    That
I haven’t spoken to my mother/

                                    In
two months…

                                    I
love you/because you make me forget/

                                    that
I can’t even speak my mind anymore;

                                    You
make me forget/That in 21st Century America/

                                    It’s
fine to have any opinion you like,

                                    as
long as you don’t tell anyone else.

                                    I
love you/because you make me forget/

                                    how
stuck I feel;

                                    Strapped
to the seat/With no chance of getting out

                                    and
rolling the dice.

Beck is still young, and his voice is not yet fully formed.
He’s still learning his craft, but this is powerful, muscular stuff. It
stimulates and challenges, and I’m sure Beck would take that as a compliment.
Because it is.

Part two of the Poetry Roundup will feature Chrisopher
Soden’s “Closer,” two Evan Peterson chapbooks, two Raymond Luczak reissues and
some other surprises. Stay tuned. 

Reviews by Jerry Wheeler

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Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits – Jerry L. Wheeler (Lethe Press)

Buy it direct from Lethe Press

I’ve relished Jerry Wheeler’s stories in various anthologies—Bears in the Wild, Wings, and I Like It Like That—over the last few years, and I encounter him annually at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, where he and his cohorts William Holden and Dale Chase often speak on panels about erotic writing, so I was very pleased to hear that Lethe Press was publishing Wheeler’s first volume of short stories.  It proved to be an enviably varied collection.  I will be the first to admit that my erotic writing possesses more depth than breadth (“big, butch, hairy guys tied up” just about summarizes my sense of Eros), but Wheeler ranges far more widely.  Strawberries contains not only erotica but also speculative fiction and even a few pieces that read like memoir.  I enjoyed every story in the book, so I’d like to comment briefly on all of them.

Wheeler tends to write smart introductions to the books of erotica he’s edited—Tented and Riding the Rails come to mind—and he does the same for this collection.  I’m always curious as to a fellow writer’s influences, and Wheeler’s discussion of his lifelong enthusiasm for Edgar Allan Poe helped me put his stories in perspective.  The supernatural elements that often crop up in Wheeler’s work certainly remind me of my fellow Virginian’s tales of the mysterious and the macabre.

Of course, what Wheeler’s stories possess that Poe’s stories don’t is a deep and delicious sense of the erotic.  The first story, “Strawberries,” got my attention fast:  a farm boy—what I would call an otter (though Wheeler doesn’t use the term) with a “scraggly blond beard” and a “thick treasure trail” revealed by a half-lifted t-shirt is eating a strawberry, much to the horny narrator’s fascination.  Having picked too many damned strawberries to count in my country youth and having quietly salivated over many a farm boy here in my native region of Appalachia, I was very much in my element, joining that narrator in his lusty gaze, in his congested desire praying for an outlet.  Wheeler’s very good at depicting the slow build-up of lust, the way that the small details of a desired man’s body can entrance one.  He’s also very good at avoiding predictability: the plot takes a turn I never would have imagined.  I’ll think twice the next time I see a scarecrow.

If you ever get a chance to hear Wheeler read one of his stories out loud, take it.  I’d heard him read part of the next story, “Spider Strands,” at Saints and Sinners, and he gave a great performance.  So many of the sexy boys in his stories are scruffy, eminently fuckable street kids—often hairy in all the right spots and addicted to the word “dude”—and Kurt, the narrator’s object of desire—is no exception.  In fact, one of the hottest sex scenes I’ve ever read appears in this tale.  (Just wait for the dumpster.)  The story’s premise—a tattoo artist and his magic ink—is wonderfully original, and the ending is creepily Gothic.

“Waafrneeaasuu!!” which first appeared in Bears in the Wild, is another story I’ve heard Wheeler read at Saints and Sinners, and his oral rendition of it was downright priceless.  A top is disturbed—well, deeply turned off—by his delectable bottom’s use of the absurd word “mangina” during sex.  Then said Top encounters a shabby gypsy at a Renaissance Faire who sells him a magic word…and certain amazing transformations take place.  This tale is as much comedy as it is erotica and could be turned into a hysterical stage play with little effort.

“The Fireside Bright” is one of the stories in Strawberries that reads like memoir.

The narrator, only thirteen, develops a raging fascination for his thirty-six-year-old neighbor, a burly, hairy married man.  A piece I could painfully relate to (as can the majority of gay men, I’d imagine).  Beautifully written, vastly poignant.

“Snapshots” is a bleak analysis of abuse, hatred, and lingering psychological scars.  The stark and disturbing tone here reminds me of the impressive breadth of Wheeler’s fiction.  He had me laughing out loud in “Waafrneeaasuu!!” then shaking my head in pity and contempt in this piece.  Something about the sad fates of these characters reminds me of the grim twist at the end of Edith Wharton’s great novel, Ethan Frome.

Originally included in Shane Allison’s anthology In Plain View:  Hot Public Gay Erotica, “Changing Planes” begins with an accidental meeting in an airport’s men’s room, introduces us to Kenny, another tasty young “dude” with an eager ass, and ends with a glorious escape from a life pent up and circumscribed into freedom, adventure, and a second chance.  Of Wheeler’s penchant for giving us the fine pairing of yearning daddies and more-than-willing boys, I can only say “Yum!”  When Kenny groans, “Yeah, your boy needs to be fucked,” I can only praise the written word for its ability to spice up and intensify the daily mundane (especially in regions like mine, where such willing boys are far from common).

“Love, Sex & Death on the Daily Commute” is the first story of Wheeler’s I ever read, in the anthology Law of Desire, and I enjoyed it just as much this time around.  The lonely narrator’s increasing obsession with a sexy redneck in a pickup truck, whom he glimpses on the freeway every morning on the way to work, is entirely believable, as are the violent climax and dénouement.

“The Telephone Line” was previously published in I Like It Like That:  True Stories of Gay Male Desire, which inclines me to read it as creative nonfiction.  Well, anyone who can make publishable erotica out of memoir must have lived his life right!  Here, a stubble-faced telephone serviceman appears at the narrator’s door, and good things commence with the help of some pot.  This is another tale that most gay men will resonate strongly to.  As Wheeler puts it, “The repairman/phone guy/delivery man scenario, of course, has been a staple of gay (and straight) fantasies from the earliest days of eight-millimeter film loops and probably way before then.  Burly men in jeans and uniform shirts, half-sweaty from their labors, rumpled, wrinkled and ready for action they’re not getting from their wives or girlfriends—what’s not to jerk off over?”  Testify, brother!  (I can only envy Wheeler his boldness and his good luck.  I’m far too shy and Southern-polite ever to have initiated such musky frolic with the slew of local workers I’ve pantingly desired as they’ve replaced the roof or the storm windows, painted the living room or checked the heat pump.  “The Telephone Line” allows the timid vicarious satisfaction.)

Erotica, comedy, the supernatural, memoir, and next, pure romance. “Templeton’s In Love,” which was included in Best Gay Romance 2010, is a sweet tale of former lovers who, after ten years apart, encounter each other again at one of their old stomping grounds.  Nostalgia, aging, change, regret, the dream of recovering what you’ve lost:  these elements blend to make a very moving story.

Like Homer Simpson, I could devour donuts at least once a day, so the next story, “Little Danny’s Donuts,” got me hankering, not only for those glazed pastries but also for the sex-maddened cops that rigorously ravish the fortunate title character.  “Spider Strands” might have had magic ink, but Danny’s got aphrodisiac donuts.  This story has some of the humor found in “Waafrneeaasuu!!” and the unexpected ending displayed in “Strawberries.”

Wheeler’s characterization in “Cumsmoke” reminds me of how Henry James so often and so adeptly gives us a narrator we initially sympathize with but slowly learn to despise.  What begins in titillating realism ends in demonic mystery and justly unpleasant desserts.

“You Know You Want To,” which appeared last autumn in Wings:  Subversive Angel Erotica, depicts a hapless angel who’s trying to protect Nick, the man he loved in life, from a predatory and deceitful new partner, Roger.  The latter character, with “his visible tattoos, longish dark hair and scruffy beard,” I must confess I found as hot as he was contemptible, especially when he answers a Craigslist ad saying “Rape Me!” and obliges a stranger’s yearning for mock forced sex.  What complicates this narrative is the angel’s ambivalence (which matches the reader’s)—he detests Roger but is perversely excited by the man’s many surreptitious sexual exploits.

Another piece of what appears to be creative nonfiction is “Yuri:  A Pride Memoir.”  Wheeler’s portrayal of a wide-eyed young innocent from a repressive foreign country who marvels over the colorful openness of a Denver Pride parade and festival reminds me powerfully of my own youth.  How excited and amazed I was, having grown up in a small town in very heteronormative southern West Virginia, when I got a chance to attend queer political marches in DC in the late seventies.  Now, jaded at age fifty-two, I can’t imagine enjoying such a crowded and noisy event.  As Wheeler puts it,

Yuri’s life will become bland.  If he stays in the gay community,

no matter where he is, leather dykes on motorcycles and green

sequined drag queens will become as commonplace as putting

on his shoes or brushing his teeth…he’ll find that freedom

breeds complacency, even though it shouldn’t.  And when that

happens, I hope he finds a way to fill his eyes with wonder once

again. We should all be so lucky.

The last story in the collection is the longest and the most complex.  “A Thirst for Talent” concerns vampires, but of a different sort than the usual bloodsuckers.  These creatures gravitate to the talented and drink energy from them.  The protagonist, Warner, cares for the young artists he feeds from, nurturing their careers, while the antagonist, Seth, who for centuries has competed with Warner for victims, hurriedly and ruthlessly drains them.  In a seedy New Orleans bar, they meet their latest prey, another of Wheeler’s delicious stable of fuzzy-assed scruff-boys.  This one’s Wade, a gifted guitarist who, soon after he performs blues in that bar, is depicted, much to my pleasure, on a French quarter balcony, “barefoot and shirtless,” scratching “the patch of thick blond hair between his navel and the top of his jeans.”  With Warner’s help, Wade’s recording career soon takes off, but Seth, shapeshifting into female form, is determined to wrest the rising star from Warner.  I found the long-postponed love scene well worth the wait and entirely gratifying.  (Inevitably!  A handsome and hairy young musician moaning “Fuck your boy” has, I must admit, long been one of this Daddybear’s fantasies.)  The ending, on the other hand, was a shock, a complete surprise.  Don’t read ahead on this one.

Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruits was an exciting, entertaining, and moving experience from beginning to end.  Thanks to Jerry Wheeler for the reading pleasure and to Steve Berman’s Lethe Press for publishing the book.  Here’s hoping Mr. Wheeler is at work on a second volume.

 

Reviewed by Jeff Mann

Jeff Mann’s books include three collections of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, and Ash: Poems from Norse Mythology; two books of personal essays, Edge: Travels of an Appalachian Leather Bear and Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South; two novellas, Devoured, included in Masters of Midnight: Erotic Tales of the Vampire and Camp Allegheny, included in History’s Passion:  Stories of Sex Before Stonewall; two novels, Fog:  A Novel of Desire and Reprisal and Purgatory:  A Novel of the Civil War; a collection of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; and a volume of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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Lily – Xavier Axelson (Silver Publishing)

Buy the e-book direct from Silver Publishing

I have been following Xavier’s writing since his first short story, “Christmas Eve at the Powers that be Café.” When I saw that he had another book out, I knew I had to read it. Lily is Xavier’s first paranormal romance, and is by far his most interesting work to date. From the moment you read the opening lines you know that this short 98 page book is going to capture you. Xavier doesn’t let his readers down.

 “I am Lily’s father, my name is Pryor. It was a year

ago last Father’s Day when she was taken from me. I still

believe being Lily’s father is the most important thing in

this world.

Unfortunately, my daughter dwells in another

world.”

Lily is a bright beautiful little girl, the apple of her father’s eye. When Lily is suddenly taken from their backyard his life comes to a screeching halt. The people in town believe it was a coyote that dragged her off into the woods, but Pryor believes otherwise – his daughter was taken by a werewolf. As he sits and mourns the loss of his daughter, he begins to see shadow’s at the edge of the woods and becomes convinced that it his is daughter in her new form.

When Pryor meets a silversmith named Ned things begin to look brighter for him. Ned becomes an important part of Pryor’s new life, yet Father’s Day is coming up, the day Pryor believes his daughter will return. They devise a plan to keep her from turning, but what Pryor doesn’t realize is that having his daughter back may be more devastating than loosing her in the first place.

Xavier does an amazing job of capturing the reader’s attention from the first few pages. Though it is short it reads like a novel. The writing is tight, the characters are well developed, and the story itself is powerful and intense. This is one story that will dwell in the minds of the reader, long after they read the last line.

If you want a quick emotional read, buy this book, and if you’ve not read anything by Xavier before, this one will make you a true fan.

Reviewed by William Holden

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For the Ferryman – Charles Silverstein (Chelsea Station Editions)

Buy it now visit Chelsea Station Editions

When it comes to pioneer moments, the removal of
homosexuality as a mental illness in the diagnostic manual of the American
Psychiatric Association is among the most important, and Dr. Charles
Silverstein was primary in this battle. His most recent book, For the
Ferryman
, deals with this fight, but takes on much more.

Subtitled “A Personal History,” For the Ferryman
addresses more than that historical reclassification, being an account of
Silverstein’s grandly tumultuous twenty-year relationship with his late
partner, William Bory, as well as a snapshot of the AIDS epidemic in New York
City. Detailed, unflinching, and unrepentantly honest, this memoir is both
personal in scope and universal in relevance.

It would, perhaps, have been easier on the author to write
this as a more detached and distanced history, but Silverstein doesn’t appear
to be the kind of man to take the easy way out. He chooses, instead, the path
of most resistance—as witnessed by the uphill battle he has with his fellow
psychologists or the difficulties of publishing a book titled The Joy of Gay
Sex
or, indeed, his relationship with the difficult, mercurial Bory.

That relationship is the emotional heart of For the Ferryman,
and Silverstein relates it all—from the glorious to the gruesome—with brutal
frankness. The glorious, to me at least, is represented by the “buzz” shared
between them:

                        “William
and I would extend the forefinger of a hand and

                        lightly
touch the tip of the other’s forefinger. The tips of

                        our
fingers were joined for only a second, representing our

                        union,
our feelings of love and intimacy, our sharing the

                        moment—a
reaffirmation of everything we meant to one

                        another.
“Buzz” we said at the moment of contact, the verbal

                        representation
of the voltage we shared between us.”

Bory was obviously such a unique, creative and winning
individual (albeit with his quirks and faults) that it’s difficult to read
about his AIDS-fueled decline into depression, despair and drug addiction.
Silverstein is unsparing of the details of Bory’s degredation, citing the
tricks, pawning of personal items and hosting of drug parties—all the more
damning for his non-judgmental retelling. However, it is not for those failings
I shall remember Bory. I will recall his loathing of technology, encyclopedic
knowledge of the arts and his fondness for Blue Willow dinnerware.

Silverstein’s prose is passionate and compelling, and he
effortlessly blends anecdotes with exposition. For the Ferryman is on a
par with the marvelous Jeanne Cordova memoir, When We Were Outlaws in
terms of importance, readability, and sheer sense of place and time. They could
be different sides of the same coin, in fact. So, extend your own forefinger, click
the “buy” button and dive in when this is delivered to your door.

You just may get a “buzz” of your own.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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My Movie – David Pratt (Chelsea Station Editions)

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I was one of Bob The Book’s biggest fans, and I was beyond honored to get a mention in David Pratt’s acceptance speech when he won the Lammy for it last year, so I was really looking forward to his latest, a collection of short stories called My Movie. After reading it, I can honestly say I’m more impressed with his work than ever.

Pratt’s greatest talent lies in creating totally insular, separate worlds that exist inside our own, then blurring their boundaries just enough so that we can peek inside, see what awaits us, then scurry back to our own safe spaces. Those worlds are dark, unrelentingly truthful places that we can only stay in long enough to find the answers we seek before we return to reality and try to apply what we’ve learned.

In Pratt’s hands, a New York City apartment bedroom in “Please Talk to Me, Please” becomes an arena for the dissolution of a relationship due to Brian’s inability to communicate his feelings and Greg’s inability to stop communicating his feelings. Pratt places no blame on either party but speaks the truth that relationships are interconnected episodes that sometimes require communication and other times demand silence.

An entirely different world awaits us in “Calvin Gets Sucked In,” a delightfully funny yet pointed piece in which Calvin literally gets consumed by a porn video—inhabiting the world of hot pizza delivery boys, hot pool boys and hot handymen all on interminably sunny days, where “being cool” is essential for existence. In “The Island,” the world is Jim and Roy’s temporary reprieve from Jim’s illness—except that it isn’t, really. It’s more of a reminder. One of the book’s blurbs calls this story a “depiction of exile,” but I have to disagree. I believe exile to be a part of it, but to me it’s more about moving beyond the death of a partner, as witnessed by the final paragraph after Jim’s death.

                        “Then you say so long, for now. You have a date Friday. And

                        it’s not bad. At home, later, you tell him about it. You hold your

                        pillow tight, but there will be another date. And nothing is

                        wiped away. Not completely. Life grows dimensions. And the

                        roar of the engine falls silent, the wash of waves dissipates,

                        and the million tiny pockets of air sent underneath by the

                        propellor’s churn rise to the surface and join the thin layer

between life and the question.” 

Pratt is also familiar with the world of tricks, and there are two marvelous hookup stories here—“One Bedroom” and “The Addict”—but the hookup part is the only commonality. “One Bedroom” is a dark, disturbing piece that may be fantasy and may not. It may involve a murder and it may not. But it does feature defecation. And Scrabble. “The Addict” involves (naturally) a crack-addicted trick. Is it mutual attraction that brings these two men together? Or mutual self-loathing?

Although everything in this collection bears your attention, “Ulmus americana” and “The Snow Queen” also stood out to me. “Ulmus americana” is most like Bob the Book in that it anthropormorphizes trees rather than books. However, this story depicts a tree-couple (Ulmus and Urtic) in the twilight of their relationship as Ulmus becomes enamored of a young man who runs past them daily in the park, sending a crow to spy on him and bring back details of his life. When his illusions about the young man are shattered, Urtic is left to pick up the pieces. Knowing and wise, this is a hopeful gem.

“The Snow Queen,” which ends the book, is Pratt at his finest as he presents a tale of a young queer boy named Steven and the relationship he strikes up with rumored lesbian Jo Osbourne. Through cooking and cleaning and opera and all the rest they do together, Steven finds the courage to admit his difference to himself. But as he finds, being different comes with a price. Jo has paid hers. Is he willing to do the same?

David Pratt is an amazing writer, and this is a showcase of his varied talents—artistic but never pretentious, disturbing but never gratuitous, sentimental but never maudlin. Highly, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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