Monthly Archives: July 2013

OUT IN PRINT HAS MOVED

THAT’S RIGHT. OUT IN PRINT HAS A NEW HOME AND A NEW LOOK. 
WE’RE NOW RESIDING AT

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Dust Devil on a Quiet Street – Richard Bowes (Lethe Press)

Buy it direct from Lethe Press

Fact? Fiction? Memoir? Ghost story? Well, Richard Bowes’s
latest release Dust Devil on a Quiet Street is some of all of these.
Rather than the mess that has the potential to be, Bowes pulls the hybrid off
effortlessly, coming up with a moving, elegiac melange that’s as much a love
letter to Manhattan as it is an excursion through dusty diaries.

Using the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse on
9/11 as his starting point, Bowes uses the hole in the ground left by the
tragedy to dredge up his old ghosts. Runaways, snitches, minor celebrities,
relatives, and lovers all coalesce and move through his life in a non-linear
path that always circles back to the clearing in the present.

Bowes’s best friends Mags and Geoff figure prominently in
parts of this book. Geoff, who committed suicide earlier is solidly in the
ghost column, but Mags may or may not be an apparition the first time we see
her. Part of the fun with this narrative is not knowing whether or not the
person he’s interacting with is real or ghostly.

The threads of many stories are started and interwoven with
each other, but Bowes’s characters are so distinctive and his ability to place
them so precise that you never lose track of the individual stitches and can
even see the whole cloth they form. His story of runaways Judy Finch and Ray
Light and BD, the undercover operative hired to track them as well as other
fugitive teens is one of the longest and most intricate in the book, sinking
and resurfacing a couple of times before it’s finally completed.

My other favorite story lines here—and though most of them
have appeared as short stories, they have been woven into an inviolable
whole—concern the death of Bowes’s brother, Gerry, an incident regarding two
student suicides at the university library Bowes works for, and the
circumstances surround his retirement from that job. The chapters in which he
discusses various celebrities he knows are less successful for me, but even
those are well-written.

Bowes writes clean prose that’s descriptive without being
showy and carries just enough emotion to propel the reader forward but doesn’t
bog down or wallow. His ear for dialogue is good, but he doesn’t dramatize as
much as he narrates. This gives some needed distance to some rather sentimental
material.

But be warned, this is not a book of short stories you can
simply plop down anywhere in and find yourself entertained. Dust Devil on a
Quiet Street
should be read front to back—no, not read. Savored. Its
accumulation of detail and narrative momentum is both compelling and
entertaining. And even if you’ve never met the seedy New York City before its
Disneyfication, you’ll be old friends with it by the end.

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Beyond the Pale – Elana Dykewomon (Open Road)

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Buy it now from Amazon.com

I didn’t mean for this to be the week for historical
fiction, but the coincidence—and the news—is happy indeed. Elana Dykewomon’s
1998 Lambda Literary Award winner Beyond the Pale is finally back in
print and available for the first time in a number of years. How wonderful it
is to have this powerful, moving chronicle of Jewish life in Imperialist Russia
and America once again accessible.

Gutke Gurvich is a midwife in the Pale of Settlement in
Russia, delivering one Chava Mayer. Both find their way to America, Gurvich
along with her wife Dovid (always attired in men’s clothing) and Mayer after
her mother is raped and killed during a pogrom. Their paths cross again,
Gurvich and her wife mentoring Mayer in her coming out process in New York
City’s Lower East Side against the backdrop of women’s suffrage and labor union
movements, culminating in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire.

This book, however, is so much more than its plot.
Dykewomon’s characters are amazing; mothers, daughters, friends, lovers, and
enemies all intertwine to become part of one fascinating world whether here or
in Russia. One doesn’t get much of a sense of place from either the scenes in
Russia or in Manhattan, but I think that’s purposeful and serves to put the
emphasis on life’s events rather than where they take place, drawing attention
to their universality.

And these rich, textured, layered, finely nuanced characters
speak some marvelous truths about being lesbian, being women, being Jewish or
just being, as in the following passage:

 

                        “When
we consider our youth, we see only ourselves and the

                         way the world unfolds in front of us. We are
full figures walking

                         among cutouts of buildings and people, never
knowing exactly

                         what’s behind them—and we don’t care. But
gradually we grow

                         smaller and smaller, until we are part of the
landscape in which

                         we move, and then we find others all around
us, moving, becoming

                         part of time.”

However, she doesn’t leave the more mundane aspects of life
unobserved:

 

                        “Men
must have a factory where they make disagreements.

                         Ordinary onces sold for a couple of kopecks,
big ones for a

                         ruble. My family kept this factory in
business, the men

                         especially men. Women worked so men could
argue.”

 

Dykewomon’s prose is magnificent and her choices impeccable,
but what really makes this work is her uncanny ear for dialogue and her
readiness to expose the reader to love. Yes, her characters love themselves and
others, but above that, they love life. They have passion, they have
commitment, and they have a realistic sense of their places and priorities in
the world.

But the real experience of this book must be in the reading.
It’s warm, thought-provoking, emotional, resonating, and it crackles with the
kind of vitality that comes with eternal and honest truths. If you haven’t read
it before, you need to. If you have, you need to re-experience it. 

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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A Slender Tether – Jess Wells (Fireship Press)

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Buy it now from Amazon.com

I love the immersion necessary for historical and
speculative fiction. Nothing quite allows me to sink into the narrative as
deeply as these two fields because they offer me worlds that are not,
distractingly, just outside my window. And Jess Wells (The Mandrake Broom)
has mastered the art of the immersive historical, exemplified by her latest
release from Fireship Press, A Slender Tether.

A Slender Tether consists of three linked (some by a
rather slender tether) novellas, all of which take place in France during the
reign of the mad king, Charles VI. The first and longest, “The Raptor Among
Bluebirds,” details the struggles of Christine de Pizan, the first female
author in France, as she begins her career against many odds. De Pizan, a real
historical figure, is a powerful character, as aimless at first as she is
driven. Despite the attitudes and prejudices of both her family and society,
she reads and writes. At first, she helps out her husband, Etienne, by scribing
for him on the sly ,but her ambition soon leads her to original projects.

When Etienne dies, Christine finds herself the sole support
of her family, including her previously wary mother-in-law Tessa. The conflict
between these two is brilliant, and Wells wrings every bit of drama as well as
pathos from their arguments and the sad situation they ultimately find
themselves in. Wells’s command of detail and nuance is so expert, and the world
she creates so wholly credible that the reader easily shares Christine’s sense
of frustration as well as her elation at her ultimate success.

“The Gong Farmer’s Tale” is the shortest of the lot and
concerns a failed physician who punishes himself for his hubris by becoming a
collector and farmer of human excrement for fertilizer. Parable-like in tone,
this story has a twisty ending that forbids much exposition about it. He has a
brief encounter with the de Pizan family, providing the slender tether
connecting it to the previous story.

“The Vat-Man’s Promise” also features a strong female
character, Monique, who chafes against the usual options available to women of
that era—marriage or the cloister. Monique, however, doesn’t see the clear path
to that freedom that Christine does. Hers is accidental as she attempts to buy
paper from a mill whose owner has suddenly gone blind. Due to a contractual
oversight, the mill falls to her and she becomes an apprentice in her own
business. The slender tether here is that this mill makes the paper used by
Etienne de Pizan and his father-in-law Tomasso in Charles’ court library.

As in the first story, all are brilliantly conceived and
perfectly executed. Is this a queer book? No, not specifically. However, these
strong women POV characters as well as their outsider status drive the very
queer themes of rejection by family and society for a desire to live one’s life
the way one sees fit. These women are rebels, fighting against an oppressively
patriarchal system and succeeding just fine, thank you very much.

A Slender Tether is an engaging, rewarding read.
Highly recommended. 

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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Death by Silver – Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold (Lethe Press)

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Buy it direct from Lethe Press

If you ever found Sherlock Holmes stories engaging, you’ll love Death by
Silver
. It’s wonderfully written, fresh, intelligent and highly
entertaining.

In a Victorian London where magic (metaphysics, to use the professional
term) is seamlessly integrated into society, quirky story possibilities are
legion. Scott and Griswold create a fascinating world and a rich setting for
magic and murder, where the stylistic characteristics of metaphysicians trained
at Oxford are distinct from those of a Cambridge man. (And yes, women are
capable of metaphysics, but the serious professional training is reserved for
men, just as in banking or law.)

Ned Mathey is a young metaphysician just up from Oxford and labors to
establish his practice. His old schoolmate Julian Lynes has become a private
investigator of sorts. Together they form a duo more complex and nuanced than
the famous Baker Street men.

Lynes is the more Saturnine of the two, and in a lovely echo of Holmes’
fondness for the needle he is inclined to use enchantments as recreational
drugs as often as not. Mathey is far from just a Watsonian, more physical,
foil. He’s a smart, skilled, multi-dimensioinal principal in his own right.

These two originally forged their friendship at Saints Thomas, a venerable
public school with elaborate traditions of humiliation and cruelty for new
boys. The flashbacks to those soul-crushing horrors were entirely plausible to
this reader, and horrifying.

Mathey is hired by Edgar Nevett—whose son Victor was Mathey’s special
tormentor during his years at Sts Thomas—to remove curses from the family
silver. Days later, Edgar Nevett is killed by a heavy candlestick enchanted to
fall on his head as soon as he sat at his desk.

Mathey and Lynes team up to investigate and in the process renew their
awkward sexual relationship from school days. Given all that they’d already
been through, the angst surrounding their “wants me/wants me not” wore a bit
thin for me, but in the context of Victorian mores it was perfectly
understandable. Social ruin and worse awaited any who caused a scandal—the love
that dare not speak its name was tolerated as long as the name remained
unspoken and its presence remained veiled in decorum.

It appears someone in the Nevett family committed the crime, but when
Victor Nevett confesses it’s a shock. As reluctant as he is to admit it, Mathey
concludes his boyhood torturer is innocent of this crime, and with his
companion’s help sets out to find the real killer. Who is Nevett protecting
with his false confession?

The investigation on which Mathey and Lynes embark is dangerous and
intricate—people connected to the case die or disappear, rapport with Scotland
Yard blossoms and erodes.

As they proceed, the hard realities of class in Victorian life become part
of the story: hopeless children are brought to a mission to be trained as
domestics, then placed in privileged homes as servants, the best life they
could imagine. What servant in that situation would dare contradict a statement
or instruction from one of the household?

The story’s pace is that uniquely delicious mix of haste and slow time that
a Victorian setting provides: a break-neck cab ride, messages by return post
and telegrams interspersed with messenger boys fetching ale and pies, dinners
at gentlemen’s clubs and appointments set for Tuesday next.

This is a beautifully crafted story, full of wit, style, and originality.
There are spells with temporal components and conditional triggers, such as spells
with delayed release of poison. There’s Urtica Mordax, a big-personality
carnivorous vine that Lynes keeps in his chambers and nourishes with tidbits of
ham. There are mechanical automata depicting alarming impropriety, from Zeus
taking Ganymede to a male clerk fitting a lady’s shoe and seeing far too much
leg. This story is a smorgasbord of invention.

When you are ready to treat yourself to an intelligent, engaging mystery
set in a fascinating alternate-but-familiar reality, read this book. You’ll be
glad you did.

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©, 2013, Lloyd A. Meeker

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Where Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Buy it direct from Lethe Press

Queering Edgar Allan Poe is such a wonderful idea I can’t
believe no one’s thought of it before, but at least Steve Berman is on the
ball. And, as wonderful as the idea itself is, the product is even better. Where
Thy Dark Eye Glances
is one of the most consistent and consistently
imaginative anthologies I’ve read in quite a while.

Before we get to the good stuff, however, comment needs to
be made about the entire package. Niki Smith’s cover is stunning, capturing not
only the essence of Poe, but a hint of queerness along with themes of
masquerade and “otherness” that pervade the stories and poems inside. Even the
typeface and the layout are all of a piece with its themes, and for that, kudos
must go out to the inimitable Alex Jeffers.

Inside? Oh, what wonders you will find inside. The first
section is “Poe the Man,” which has stories and poems featuring Poe himself,
including Seth Cadin’s atmospherically erotic “The City and the Stranger” about
Poe’s brief yet meaningful stay in New York City after he left West Point,
Daniel Nathan Terry’s poem, “Matthew Brady, the Gallery of Illustrious
Americans,” about Brady’s daguerreotype of Poe, and Steve Berman’s own pastiche
of Poe’s works, “Poetaster.”

The second section, “Poe’s Writings,” comprises the meat of
the book and contains some quite marvelous re-imaginings of Poe’s work as well
as some straight-ahead queering where the storyline is the same but some
genders are changed. One of my favorites in the latter category, Satyrus Phil
Bucato’s “The Lord’s Great Jest” recasts Trippetta in perhaps my favorite Poe
tale of all time, “Hop-Frog,” to stunning effect. However, it’s difficult to
resist Peter Dubé’s surreal (or hyper-real) “Corvidae,” Ray Cluley’s
magnificently rendered “The Man Who Was,” Clare London’s marvelous “Telltale,”
or Christopher Barzak’s take on William Wilson’s other half, “For the Applause
of Shadows.” Shorter, but no less powerful, are Tansy Rayner Roberts’s “The
Raven and Her Victory,” which sees a poet nicknamed the Raven enshrining her
one lost love over and over in her work, and L.A. Fields’s “The House of the
Resonate Heart,” which puts an even creepier layer over the already creepy “The
Fall of the House of Usher.”

“Reading Poe,” the last of the three parts, contains stories
and poems about Poe’s audience, with pieces both personal (Collin Kelley’s
heartfelt “The Demon and the Dove” and “fellow Virginian” Jeff Mann’s poem “The
Death of Beautiful Men”). The standouts for me here are Richard Bowes’s “Seven
Days of Poe,” which finds a young queer boy working in a library, coming to
terms with his sexuality as he reads Eddy, Alex Jeffers’s “A Portrait in India
Ink by Harry Clark,” about two boys, an illustrator, a migraine, and a first
sexual encounter, and John Mantooth’s outstanding “The Chicken Farmer and His
Boy,” a fascinating between-worlds glimpse of a boy’s coming out to his father.

But these are only my highlights of a volume I’m sure you
will enjoy if you have the slightest interest in Poe. Where Thy Dark Eye
Glances
is a delicious book to be savored and ruminated over, much like the
master himself.

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

 

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A Wind of Knives – Ed Kurtz (Snubnose Press)

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Buy it from Amazon.com

I really love Old West historicals. Dale Chase has gotten me
into them with her terrific Western erotica, but other than that I haven’t read
too many other entries in the genre. Enter Ed Kurtz, better known for his
hardboiled noir stuff, who gives this neat tale of revenge a gender twist and
comes up with a gritty winner.

Failing ranch owner Daniel Hays has more to worry about than
his meager harvest. His only ranch hand, Steven Houpe, has just been whipped, lynched
and mutilated by persons unknown. His crime? Being a sodomite in Civil War-era
Texas. Moreover, he was also Hays’s lover, prompting Hays to set off across
Texas for vengeance. He finds friends in unexpected places, but can he find the
satisfaction he seeks?

Kurtz answers this question with the deliciously laconic,
terse dialogue that I always envision cowboys having. In fact, there’s a lot
that’s terse here, but Kurtz packs a helluva lot into this novella. It’s 20,000
well-chosen words that, oddly enough, don’t leave you wanting more. The story
spirals out and pulls back as neatly and tidily as you could possibly want.

Kurtz displays many talents, including one for
characterization. Even minor characters like Mercy, the plains widow who nurses
Hays back to health after a mishap, are presented with such choice detail that
they lodge themselves in your imagination. Kurtz carves these characters out of
the Texas dirt, stands them up against a lawless landscape made even more
perilous as conscription has sucked the male population away, and breathes some
damn fiery life into them.

He doesn’t skimp on plot, either. He drags Hays across the
state and back again, mixing it up with the aforementioned Mercy as well as the
local lawman and his brother, and a gang of Texas Rangers. Kurtz hits the
ground running with Houpe’s hanging and only pauses the pace long enough to let
you breathe before dragging you behind the horses again. But perhaps the most
interesting metaphor here is the ghost coyote Hays encounters along the way, as
elusive and ephemeral as the revenge Hays seeks.

In short, A Wind of Knives is a whirlwind of a read
with great characters, breathelss action, and a substance as gritty and
blood-soaked as the puddle beneath a hanged man. Scoop some up and enjoy.

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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