Monthly Archives: January 2023

A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes From A Deaf Gay Life – Raymond Luczak (Galludet University Press)

A Quiet Foghorn:  More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life collects twenty-seven essays written by the prolific Raymond Luczak, who has written numerous novels, plays, poems, and nonfiction. While obviously a continuation of Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life, Luczak’s writings here explore new ground rather than being purely autobiographical. Which is not to say that there isn’t plenty of Luczak in these writings: while he continues to examine life through the prism of being a Deaf Gay man, he ventures deeper into both the deaf and queer communities with thoughts on ageism, disability, and the different strata and intersections of each community.

The collection is divided into two parts of roughly equal length. The thirteen essays of the first section (ironically titled “Of Blood, Born”) are connected by ideas of community and are foreshadowed by the question asked on the back cover: How Does One Find a True Family? Clearly as the only Deaf and Gay member of his birth family (he has eight siblings), he is an outsider twice over among his immediate family; a fact intensified by his living with a foster family two hours away while attending elementary and middle school for nine years. That Luczak found his true family among books (“The World Is Full of Orphans”) both queer and otherwise, will not surprise Gay readers; ditto when he writes about joining the LGBTQ+ community for UP (for Upper Peninsula of Michigan) Pride (“A Sort of Homecoming”).  A similar homecoming occurred when he attended Gallaudet University and met other signers. While he can speak, he emphasizes that ASL is his true language, and how his hands contain “the truest home of my voice” (“My Truest Home”)–as eloquently depicted in his retelling of a date with another ASL signer (“Hands, Romancing”).  Oftentimes the homecoming is a slowly dawning realization, as when he writes, “I had long been a radical faerie before I joined the tribe” (“Chants of Silence”).

The fourteen essays in the second section (“Of Hands, Tendered”) continue to be heavily autobiographical, but examine the audist attitudes of hearing people, especially in media. Several essays are reviews. These essays are among the longest in the book and contain the most valuable insights for a non-Deaf reader. “A is for AmericanA Book Review” examines the intersection of language and nationalism in Jill Lepore’s A is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States. Lepore examines the lives of seven individuals who attempted to use language to unify the fledgling United States during the nineteenth century, either through standardized spelling (Noah Webster), a “universal alphabet” (William Thornton) or a universal sign language (Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet). Luczak is quick to point out that there is no such thing as a universal sign language, and in fact argues against any universal language (“…we need indigenous tongues–and hands”) in another essay, rightly noting that diversity of languages is essential to our own diversity as a species, and indeed for the diversity of the flora and fauna of our planet (“Against a Universal Language”).

He also reviews two movies that prominently depict Deaf characters  Children of a Lesser God (“Impositions: On Children of a Lesser God“) and The Tribe (“No More Savagery, Please: On The Tribe“). Admittedly I have not seen either movie (I have seen Children of a Lesser God performed on the stage, albeit thirty-five years ago), so most of Luczak’s analysis on specific scenes went over my head, but his larger points about conventions from the hearing world being out of place in media portraying Deaf people remain pertinent. For example, a dimly-lit room signals romance to the hearing, but to the Deaf it inhibits communication; moreover, the Deaf use their faces (indeed, their entire bodies) while signing to convey emotion, just as speakers use vocal inflection to convey additional information while speaking–to the hearing, this is “overacting.”

Overall, many of the writings in this slim volume are short in length, but this is one instance where I urge you not to judge by size alone (I know it’s difficult, especially for Gay men).  All of these essays are packed with astute observation and keen insight, and deserve the widest readership possible.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Watch Me – Owen Keehnen (Rattling Good Yarns Press)

Described by the author as a book about the gay men of porn, given the “Jacqueline Susann treatment,” Watch Me is a story with big drama, big glitz, and lots of big you-know-whats. It requires a generous helping of suspension of disbelief, but fans of gay pulp and the aforementioned Susann should be happy to take it for what it is and enjoy the fantasy of gorgeous men in titillating sexcapades, vying for exposure, fortune, and the all-important claim to be the best in the biz.

Vincent is an ambitious stud in his early twenties. His rapid transformation from an aimless Chicago waiter to a porn star poster boy is the story’s central motif. When a photographer friend, and sometimes lover, sends Vincent’s photos to a top-name porn studio, Vincent gets a call to fly out to Los Angeles for an audition. Vincent is in the perfect mindset for the news. He just caught his boyfriend cheating, so he’s happy to take a pause from serious relationships. Vincent also longs for stardom and the intoxicating thrill of being watched and desired. His audition at Xclusiv Studios goes great, and Vincent’s new sex god persona Vinnie Lux is born.

While there are hints that not everything is as perfect as it seems, Vinnie laps up his newfound sex-fueled, partying lifestyle in L.A.. The studio puts him up in a WeHo apartment with four Xclusiv models, and he’s quickly cast in films with his idols from the industry and building a respectable social media following. This is pulp, so everyone is beautiful, spectacularly endowed, and open to screwing on and off the set. The studio execs are hot daddies who ooze power and Alpha Dog energy. Vinnie is particularly drawn to Woody, the sexy, rich president of the company who has a big house in the Hollywood Hills. He’s certain that once he learns how to navigate the personalities of his bosses and his co-stars, he’s going to be the biggest thing to ever hit the adult entertainment world.

One could stop there with the summary as Watch Me is not the sort of novel with things to say about life choices or lessons learned from career disillusionment. Some layers peel away for Vinnie as he gets snubbed at times and witnesses his colleagues self-destruct, but he’s all-in to make a name for himself from start to finish. There’s no sweet revelation that a simple life settling down with a boyfriend in Chicago is what he needed all along (and arguably, from the perspective of innovation, the book is better for it).

What you have instead is a soapish live-fast-die-young fantasy as promised, with foul play mixed in to provide an air of danger for young Vinnie. His roommate A.J. drowns under suspicious circumstances, and the incident may be related to the recent death of another Xclusiv star. Clues suggesting a bad guy inside the studio fall into Vinnie’s lap, and he must figure out what to do with them while protecting his skyrocketing career.

Keehnen paces the mystery subplot nicely and creates an enjoyable cast of characters who are each plausibly underhanded. Woody has a tendency to eat up and spit out young, rising stars and punish anyone who’s disloyal to the studio. Bad boy Reed Connors will do anything for top billing, including ruining the careers of his competitors. Many of the porn studs are doing escort work with A-list closeted celebrities who have a lot to lose if their secrets are revealed. There are excesses galore, from drugs to orgies in Palm Springs, and personal betrayals aplenty. It’s a perfect world for the dark scandal theme.Watch Me may disappoint readers expecting a noirish tale about the realities of the porn industry. It even feels a tad out-of-step with the current state of porn consumption (i.e., when’s the last time you paid for a full-length film versus took a quick perusal of the latest amateur videos on Only Fans and PornHub?). But on the other hand, for readers who have been waiting for a splashy 80s-style melodrama like Dynasty and Scruples with an all gay cast, Keehnen has hit on something brilliant.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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Confessions – Sean Eads (Hex Publishers)

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Hex Publishers

Sean Eads is a terrific writer whose genre chops have been established with such great entries as The Survivors and his most recent, The Feast of Panthers. With Confessions, however, he turns his cybernetic eye on so-called literary fiction with an examination of how three lives in the small Kentucky town of Wentz Hollow intertwine. Predictably, his work in this area of queer literature is just as well-imagined and satisfying as his alien invasions or time traveling in Victorian England.

Nathan Ashcroft, Wentz Hollow’s funeral director, is tasked with the cremation of a stillborn baby, but said infant is the offspring of Ashcroft’s old high school crush, Steve Malone, whom Nathan hasn’t seen in thirty years. The child causes some problems not only between Steve and his wife, Meghan, also a high school friend of Nathan’s, but also for the newly arrived in town dentist, Tim Sawyer, a long-out and proud gay man who has fallen into his first ever heterosexual relationship. The third component of the story is Sarah Lawrence, a retired high school biology teacher who has some history with not only Nathan but Steven and Meghan as well. Her suicide and subsequent arrival at Nathan’s mortuary brings along some unwanted memories.

The most impressive thing about Confessions is the differentiation between the characters’ voices. So many times these days, I read stories told from multiple points of view which all sound the same. It’s not author intrusion, exactly, but you can tell the voices are all coming from the same head because they use the same phrasing, sentence patterns, and crutch words. I sometimes find myself having to go back to the beginning of the chapter to see who’s talking, provided the author has labeled them with character names. Although Eads has posted these signs clearly, they’re unnecessary. Nathan’s voice is careful and cautious, taking the feelings of others into consideration over his own welfare. Tim’s is far looser and given to hyperbole, befitting his actions. And Sarah’s voice carries the stern, matter-of-fact precision you’d expect from a retired biology teacher.

What does Eads do with these people? He puts them through their paces, trying to piece their lives together after they’ve destroyed themselves. Bad decisions equal worse consequences, and all of them are attempting to live with or reconcile themselves to the results of their choices. The result is a twisted mass of small town intrigue that defies description without spoilers. Does it have a happy ending? Well, it has a satisfying ending–which is by no means the same thing.

I’m always surprised by the plot and writing choices Eads makes, and this first foray into something other than genre fiction is no exception. Tightly woven and well told, Confessions is a story that will stick with you whether you like it or not. Highly, highly recommended.


© 2023 Jerry L. Wheeler

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All I Should Not Tell – Brian Leung (C&R Press)

I have sometimes begged books for explanations. Clues. Just a hint of what’s really going on beneath the surface. Other times, the tension, the frisson of the moment is what lures me in and keeps me turning pages despite not knowing exactly what happened that fateful night. Or afternoon. Or morning. And when the solution provided comes from totally unexpected quarters, it’s an unforseen bonus that gives me a sigh of satisfaction. Such is the case with Brian Leung’s All I Should Not Tell.

Conner Grayson is a fourteen-year-old boy living in rural Kentucky with his mother and his younger brother, Sammy. Their father committed suicide a few years earlier, and their mother remarries a man named Cudge, who sexually abuses Conner and indicates Sammy is next. Conner decides to kill him the weekend his mother is away visiting relatives. He and Sammy are supposed to be at Conner’s best friend (and lover) Mark’s, but he slips out to kill Cudge only to find him already dead in the bathtub. Even stranger, when he returns home, Mom is there but the body is not. He’s simply disappeared. Skip forward twenty years, and Cudge’s disappearance is still unresolved. When Cudge’s father shows up, determined to find out what happened to his son, he stirs up more than just memories.

Leung conjures a compelling voice for Conner, both at fourteen and at thirty-four. Having left for college, he has returned to his small town and is living in the house in which he grew up. Mark is long gone, Mom is dead, and Sammy has gone the route of his father and killed himself, but those losses are offset by Conner’s pregnant wife, Lamb, as well as his boyfriend, James. As the blurb says, “it’s complicated.” But boy or man, his voice remains the same–considering every action from all angles and putting his loved ones above his own feelings. This, however, does not extend to Skee, Cudge’s father, whom he treats with contempt at the best of times as he was so deeply scarred by Cudge.

Lamb and James are not as well-defined as Conner or even Skee, but they are bit players in Conner’s drama and not onstage long enough for this to make a difference. I would liked to have seen more of how those relationships worked, but it’s not their story. That belongs to Conner and Cudge, and Leung takes full advantage of the menace in that relationship in the beginning of the book and the memory of it later. The explanation for Cudge’s disappearance, when it comes, is somewhat abrupt. However, that doesn’t detract from its impact. Besides, giving more clues earlier would have undercut the air of genuine perplexity that pervades the book.

Brian Leung’s All I Should Not Tell is a stylish and unique mystery/coming of age story with plenty of dread, a refreshing, unique voice, and a satisfying ending that was a perfect beginning to my year of reading.


© 2023 Jerry L. Wheeler

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