Monthly Archives: March 2017

Wallaconia – David Pratt (Beautiful Dreamers Press)

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Please look at the cover to the left and note the cedilla, which WordPress cannot accommodate, in the title. The somewhat exotic pronunciation of the pictured Massachusetts salt marsh makes the location sound like an independent and separate country populated by its namesake, one Jim Wallace, the protagonist of David Pratt’s (Bob the Book, Looking After Joey) latest novel.

On the verge of turning eighteen, Jim Wallace is looking forward to losing his virginity to longtime girlfriend Liz, hoping this will somehow “fix” him. Before those repairs can be completed, however, Jim finds himself helping neighbor Pat Baxter out in Baxter’s bookstore. In addition to finding an unexpected friend and ally in out and proud Baxter, Wallace also encounters a fellow student he bullied years ago, who had left the area and returned to visit, helping Pat in the bookstore as well. Jim faces the choice between living his truth or not.

I suppose because of the age of its protagonist, this needs to be labeled and marketed as a “young adult” book. Not, as Jerry Seinfeld points out, that there’s anything wrong with that. The realities of the marketplace are what they are, but I hope that won’t prevent other audiences from picking this up because it has lessons and observations germane to other age groups. A coming out story? Well, that’s part of it–but the book runs deeper than that.

The relationship between Pat and Jim is interesting, even idyllic–an essential component of the imagined country in which Jim lives. Not every gay man finds a mentor so willing or generous with his time and insights. Equally as serendipitous is the outcome of his meeting up with Nate Flederbaum, the boy Jim had previously bullied for being gay. I can’t say more without being a spoiler, but lessons are learned all around and all is forgiven. Even Jim’s parents take the news with little heartbreak. The one exception to this is Jim’s girlfriend, Liz.

Having given her virginity to Jim, she has more than a small stake in their burgeoning relationship. She endures his confession with more restraint than may seem reasonable to some, but she’s clearly devastated. And while they gamely try to remain friends, both know it’s useless. Her reactions are emotional but not as histrionic as I’d imagine. Less than idyllic, maybe, but still an easier row to hoe than not. Which leads me to wonder if this version of Jim’s coming out may be part of Wallaconia itself, an imagined outcome masking a not-so-perfect emergence.

Okay, okay–way meta, right?

I’m reading far too much into it, and I’ve got no time to go back and re-read for something that may or may not be there, but the more I think about the book, I wonder if the cracks between Wallaconia and a harsher reality might not be a bit more apparent the second time around. Something to consider as you read. Because you should read this book. I’ve enjoyed Pratt’s work ever since I came across Bob the Book, and I’ve never been disappointed once in his characters or his well-turned prose. And I wouldn’t put it past him to sneak some sort of meta-metaphor in a “young adult” coming out story.

That’s just the kind of author he is.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Eros and Dust: Stories – Trebor Healey (Lethe Press)

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I picture three Trebor Healeys.

The dense forest hides many more, but three in particular creep out from the between the trees most often: one poetic, one crazed with lust, and one shaggy with heat and dust. A fourth one, regretful and elegiac, can also be relied upon for regular appearances. When all of them work in concert as they did in 2012 for A Horse Named Sorrow or Faun, their combined power is formidable. But the shorter pieces such as those found in his recent Lethe release, Eros and Dust: Stories, reveal the strength of those beasts on a more individual level.

That boy-crazed one may be the most prevalent, reigning supreme in “Los Angeles,” about a Chaturbate addict and a plan gone horribly wrong, the psuedo-pedophiliac “Lolito,” and the definitely pedophiliac “The Pancake Circus.” The latter is particularly disturbing, not for how off-track the narrator’s dick drives him, but for the way his Clown Daddy normalizes an abhorrent act. The metaphor is strong any time but becomes nearly prescient when seen in light of the current political situation.

Actually, this musk pervades all Healey’s stories as flawed characters use faulty reasoning to make bad choices. We’ve all been there, right? One of the differences between Healey’s longer fiction and his short stories is that very often the protagonists of the latter don’t get a chance at the redemption the heroes of his novels do–an odd omission due to the Catholicism exuded by these tales. It’s not that redemption isn’t possible (and I’m thinking for the narrators of “Los Angeles” and “Lolito” in particular); it’s just not presented as an option.

The horny Healey is usually flanked by the shaggy one, the hot grit he exudes providing a dusty, transient backdrop that serves the author well. Whether the setting is parched Los Angeles, the Oaxacan desert, or a PV resort, the Santa Ana winds blow hot on the heels of his characters. Going to the heat, getting out of the heat, dealing with the heat–all motivations that make these characters as restless as their lust.

The poetic one pokes his delicate nose in all stories as well, but makes memorable appearances in the character sketch “El Santo” and the transient restlessness of “Pilgrim Soul,” but again, this one’s influence is everywhere–especially on the too-short “Puppets”:

I started seeing his puppets all over the place…he made puppets who took pills and were cathetered; he made demon and angel puppets; puppets of crack whores and drag queens, muscle boys and campesinos; puppets in gabardine suits and puppets in silk kimonos. He made puppets of political personalities–Jesse Helms, Reagan and Bush, the Pope–and he made monstrous puppets named HIV and PCP, KS and CMV–big ogreish things with arms to their ankles and enormous malformed dicks. With big sad eyes. They looked back at me hungrily out of lit-up windows in darkened, empty shops on Guerrero or Valencia Street long after midnight, the fog sifting down, enveloping everything–all the streetlights like dandelion seeds.

And there’s that pesky, elegiac Healey, bringing forth his solemn reflections in the middle of the bawdiest episode to remind you that life reveals its most serious sides in quirky ways. Thus, the aforementioned “The Pancake Circus” becomes more an elegy to lost innocence than what its surface indicates. That’s the way the fourth dude works. Sometimes you don’t notice his effects until a couple of stories pass or until the whole thing plays out (“Imp”) and then his part in the liturgy becomes apparent.

Each voice is as distinctive in solo as it is an essential component of the blend. Truly a marvelous trick to pull off, and Trebor Healey does so. Highly recommended.

JW

© 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler

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‘Nathan’s Audio Corner: Trigger – Jessica Webb (Bold Strokes Books/Audible – narrated by Ruby Rivers)

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I’ve been a fan of audiobooks since I was first transferred to a bookstore that was over an hour’s commute by bus from where I was living. At first, I tried reading anyway, but in no time I was reminded of a childhood problem: reading while a bus is in motion makes me feel ill, fast. With a commute that was about to become sometimes as much as three hours out of my day, I bought myself a small Walkman, and started ordering bestselling books on cassette.

Let’s pause a moment to pay respects to any illusions you may have had of my youth.

As the years have passed, the audiobook has shifted in both availability and price. Digital distribution has made shorter novels accessible for the market despite costs, and with apps like Audible, my phone is all I need to carry dozens of audiobooks at the same time. Truly, the audiobook future is here, and I am happy to live in it.

Even better? Queer books are available now. At Audible, asking for the LGBT books in the Fiction category gives you over two thousand hits, and nearly a thousand also show up under the LGBT subcategory of Romance. So, with three thousand audiobooks to choose from, where do you start?

I hope to help out with that. Over the years, I’ve listened to some great audiobooks, and Out in Print has been kind enough to let me drop by now and then with reviews in the past, and I’ll be popping in a bit more often—with queer audiobook reviews.

Let’s talk Trigger.

Jessica Webb’s debut novel Trigger takes the medical thriller narrative and gives it an ever-so-slight sci-fi twist. We meet our heroine, Dr. Kate Morrison, in a Vancouver ER, where fate puts her in the right place at the wrong time: a man stumbles in off the street and collapses, and while Kate tries to save him, police arrive and demand she not touch him at all. When she does—and when nothing bad happens and she manages to save the man’s life—instead of praise, Kate finds herself in the harsh criticism of RCMP officer Sergeant Andy Wyles, the woman who ordered Kate to keep her hands off the patient.

Confused, and despite Sergeant Wyles’s desire to keep Kate out of it, the doctor is soon caught up in something far darker than she could have imagined. Someone has turned human beings into bombs. Triggered by touch, people like this man have been exploding, and Kate is the first human being who seems somehow immune to triggering the effect. Suddenly very important to both the investigators who want to uncover who is behind this potential act of terrorism and also a danger to those who have created these human weapons, Sergeant Wyles has little choice but to draw Kate further into the investigation, working with her joint task force that crosses the Canadian-American border.

Kate’s initial mistrust of the RCMP officer, and Wyles’s frustration with the doctor who never seems to take her orders make for a great initial friction. That the two develop stronger feelings for each other born from this sense of protectiveness and desire to help plays out organically and is in fact one of the central strengths of this book. While there’s an instant spark, it’s just that: a spark, and it takes Kate—who has never had a relationship or strong feelings for a woman before—a great deal of the book to come to grips with what she is feeling. It’s rare I’ve seen bisexuality handled in a romantic sub-plot anywhere near as well as this, and I should point out that I’ve also listened to the second book in the series, Pathogen, and the further exploration of Kate’s awareness of just what it means to be in a relationship with a woman never loses this clear and sharp portrayal. Kate’s internal journey of her heart and mind is just as engrossing as the greater narratives of the books.

As Kate tries to work out just how these people have been turned into explosive weapons and more importantly why she is immune as a trigger, as well as whether or not there is a way to disarm them, Webb jacks up the tension notch by notch, throwing twists at the listener that genuinely stymied my ability to guess what was next.

Action mixes with medical intrigue, well-written emotional tension, and a romantic simmer that builds to a boil without forsaking the main narrative. The end result is a story that will please fans of thrillers, romances, and contemporary sci-fi alike.

The audiobook is performed by Ruby Rivers, who was a new-to-me performer, but who I’ll be adding to my list of performers to watch out for. She affects solid voices for Kate and Andy, immediately identifiable and filled with characterization, and while she doesn’t quite have as equal a range for the supporting cast of characters—most of the men in the book sound the same, with the exception of Andy’s tech-focused partner Jack—it’s not a distraction. With Webb’s writing being clean and clear, I was never lost for this lack of nuance in the performer. Rivers has the right level of emotion and pacing, and in a thriller that can really make or break the experience.

In fact, the moment I finished Trigger, I went back to Audible and picked up Pathogen, the second Dr. Kate Morrison Mystery. I was listening to it the following morning, and happy to be back with Andy and Kate.

I should mention that while it doesn’t come up in Trigger, there is one small foible of the performer that does come into play in the sequel, Pathogen: Ruby Rivers’s lack of Canadian French. Where Trigger takes place mostly in the US, Pathogen stays in British Columbia, and a few Canadian French words take a bit of a beating in Rivers’s mouth. Levesque is read as “Luh-vess-cue,” and Calliope as “cally-ope.” I imagine that wouldn’t pull non-French speaking listeners out of the narrative, but for those of you who do have an ear for la belle langue it might be a bit jarring.

That one small caveat notwithstanding, I’ll be heading back to Audible now and refreshing the page and waiting for Troop 18—the third book—to show up as available.

Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine

© 2017, ‘Nathan Burgoine

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