Tag Archives: Felice Picano

‘Nathan’s Audio Corner: An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede – Felice Picano (Lethe Press/Audible – performed by Jason Frazier)

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 When you listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, as a listener you start to find performers you love. Before you know it, when you’re looking at the lists of audiobooks, you’re searching the listings not by title or author, but by who performs the audiobook, and then reading the blurbs of the books they’ve done. Finding a new and awesome performer is like finding a new author, and in fact absolutely leads to just that: finding new authors through the performer.

I have a trio of performers like that. Barbara Rosenblatt, Jane Entwhistle, and Jason Frazier. Every time I go looking for a new audiobook, I quickly search the three out to see if they’ve got anything new, and when they do, it jumps to the top of the list for consideration.

So, you can imagine my joy at finding a new Jason Frazier. In and of itself, that was a fine, fine thing. He doesn’t narrate, he acts. His voice acting is so great I’ve twice now purchased audiobooks for which I have already read the books physically, and listened to them as a second read-through. To be clear: I nearly never re-read. But Jason Frazier doing Steve Berman’s Vintage? And Gavin Atlas’s The Full Ride?  There was no resisting, and it was a joy to revisit.

Now, add to that the realization that this new book narrated by one of my favorites is a novella from Felice Picano, and all hesitation was gone. I’d clicked before I’d even read the description. I had it queued up for the next dog walk, and in the space of two days I was done.

An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede is a very small class of narratives: mythology retold with a clever and consistent voice. Quite a few times while I was listening to the story, I caught myself thinking of Mark Merlis’s An Arrow’s Flight, but where Merlis crafted a unique contemporary hybrid of the myth and a modern world, Picano instead does stick to the time period in question as Ganymede tells his story, but it is told now, by the immortal in the present day, with all the colloquialisms and long-view wisdom the eternal and immortal young man has gathered since.

That conversational voice, written so cleverly by Picano and given such charm and insouciance through Frazier’s performance, is magic in a bottle. Or, well, an earbud.

As Ganymede sets us straight on what really went down from the time he was born, receiving a troublesome destiny, this breezy tone delights with amusing asides and clarifications of many a mistake in the retelling of the modern myth: most centrally, Ganymede insists, the notion he was somehow some innocent doe-eyed youth with no idea of the powers at play around him. Picano’s Ganymede is nobody’s fool, and indeed knows that when one has a destiny writ large, the best way to play it is to try to turn large into huge.

It’s also telling that in Picano’s prose, and with Frazier’s voice, this story puts Ganymede on an even playing field with the gods who would tempt and curry favor of him. Yes, he’s a youth, but he’s no fool. And these are, after all, the Greek gods who are by no means infallible themselves. As everyone around Ganymede starts to see perfection in the beauty of his form, Ganymede refuses to give up trying to keep what control he might have. This is a Ganymede in search of as grand a destiny as he can cram into one vague prophecy. He’s smart, and wily, and willing to go toe to toe with multiple gods as he entertains offers, and then risks and gambles for the next—hopefully better—thing to come along. Matching wits with multiple gods, the story of how Ganymede came to be the chosen of Zeus is told with a delightful twist or three along the way.

An Asian Minor: The True Story of Ganymede isn’t a long audiobook, but the energy and talent packed into the piece grabs attention. The recollections of his smart and sexy immortal had me laughing multiple times, and in Frazier’s capable hands the words simply sprang to life.

If you’re looking for a short, engrossing, and not-just-a-little-bit sexy audiobook about the foundation of the ultimate Sugar Daddy relationship, look no further. Ganymede awaits.

Reviewed by ‘Nathan Burgoine

© 2017, ‘Nathan Burgoine

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Equality: What Do You Think About When You Think of Equality? – Paul Alan Fahey, ed. (Vine Leaves Press)

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Paul Alan Fahey’s collection of essays about equality tasks twenty-four other writers with this question. Given the topic of this collection, I wondered how the contributors reflected this concept.  The anthology has roughly an equal number of female and male writers (twelve and thirteen, respectively, since Fahey includes an essay of his own), and a majority of the contributors fall on the LGBT spectrum, but not all aspects of the LGBT rainbow are equally represented.   Most of the authors appear to be American, with one Canadian and two British; and with a couple of exceptions, they also appear to be overwhelmingly of European descent.

All this is to say that equality is an ideal, and thus elusive and rarely encountered (it also is not the same thing as diversity).  It is therefore not at all surprising that most of the contributors do not dwell on what equality is, so much as what it is not.  Few people have experienced equality, but everyone has certainly experienced inequality, whether it is a result of one’s actual (or perceived) race, gender, age, and/or sexual orientation.  Most of the contributors reflect on when they first encountered inequality (usually when directed at themselves, but also when they first noticed it directed at others; and some, even from the height of privilege, realized that there were not as “equal” as they thought, since others were higher than they).  As a result, most of the essays in this volume are deeply personal in nature, and focus on inequality as a result of race (“Lani Silver: A Voice for Equality” by David Congalton), gender (“Give Us Our Birthright: Why the Equal Rights Amendment Needs to Be Revived—and Ratified” by Susan Reynolds), or age (“The Last Acceptable Prejudice” by Barbara Abercrombie; “Inequality” by Felice Picano).  And several essays examine inequality as a result of sexual orientation, especially as it relates to marriage equality (“Limit” by `Nathan Burgoine; “Have You Met My Husband?” by Larry Duplechan; “Ambiguously Ever After” by Jeffrey Ricker; “Two Mountain Weddings” by Jeff Mann), or how it intersects with other inequalities (e.g., “Equality in High Def” by Jewelle Gomez, which examines inequality both via race and sexual orientation).

Although the contributors are all equally adept writers, several essays stand out in this collection.  Christopher Bram’s contribution, “The Magic Words,” a meditation on the beginning of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”), examines the paradoxes inherent in these words (i.e., that the “men” named in this famous quote were strictly defined as only literal men, and moreover white, land-owning men) and how this narrow notion of “equality” gradually grew more encompassing, a point expounded upon by other essays in this collection.

Two thought-provoking essays examine equality through the prism of the Golden Rule.  Barbara Jacksha’s contribution,”Everyday Equality,” examines her own thoughts and attitudes to determine whether she treats people equally; no surprise, she doesn’t.  But then she turns her experiment on herself and then learns that she doesn’t treat herself as equal to others, either.  Similarly, Catherine Ryan Hyde tries to “Imagine a world in which we all applied our beliefs to our own lives and left everybody else the hell alone” in “When I Think of Equality.”  Doing so is especially difficult when it means letting another person make a choice that appears entirely and egregiously wrong.

Despite the fact that equality remains elusive, and the long road to achieving it has no obvious end, this collection chooses to be hopeful, stressing the strides already made along that road.  Released on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2017, before the inauguration of the 45th American president, this collection is especially timely.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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For My Brothers – Mark Abramson (Wilde City Press)/San Francisco’s Native “Sissy” Son – Ron Williams (Blurb Books)

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Whatever the losses recently felt by publishers, bookstores, and established authors as a result of the internet revolution in book making and book selling (a.k.a “the crash”), one thing is certain: it has also opened wide the gates for many who seldom if ever thought of themselves as writers to produce books and get them out there.

One result is that LGBT books, especially memoirs and autobiographies, have now proliferated as never before. They were distinctly minor also-rans in more heady and established times. Among these new authors and their books, unquestionably the most intriguing have been by people who were not writers but instead grocery store owners, venture fund capitalists, appellate court judges, sailors, mobsters, ballerinas, and social workers.

Mark Abramson and Ron Williams are typical of this new kind of author. Williams spent most of his life as a printer, often for gay magazines and newspapers in San Francisco. He has since become a talented photographer and has turned writer for this, his first book. As his title tells us, he was born in the city, and he spent his earliest years, his youth, his gay coming out years and most of his gay life there. Abramson arrived in his early twenties from rural Minnesota and rapidly found work in Guerneville, S.F.’s gay resort area. After some time, he returned to San Francisco and spent most of his time either working in gay bars or putting on various fundraisers, parties, shows, and street fairs all arising from his bartending work. In the past few years, he has put out seven novels, so he too is a newish author.

The two men are about a decade apart, so we get almost a half century picture of gay life in San Francisco beginning in the late fifties when Williams first began haunting what the teenager figured out were gay venues, parks, bars, alleyways, streets, etc. Abramson’s book overlaps in the 70’s and 80’s and goes right up to 1996.

Their backgrounds are also quite different and could almost be said to represent two basic ways of growing up gay in the second half of the twentieth century. Williams, as this title also tells us, was a “sissy.” He came from an Anglo-Saxon/Irish family which had lived several generations in the West, and he visited relatives including his mother’s gay uncle in Montana. His parents and especially his mother were deeply homophobic, but besides that, they were physically, mentally, and verbally abusive to the boy. Like many of us, Williams sought and found an easier, more loving and tolerant gay family away from home. He never really looked back, until now, for the book.

Abramson grew up on a farm and had a solid, well knit, apparently loving family who supported his coming out despite how early it was. They seem to have been helpful and loving toward him throughout his many ups and, when they eventually arrived, through his downs too. Both men are good looking, intelligent and sociable. Life being exactly what it is, that means that the two men have had rich, full, and, for the most part, pretty good gay lives.

This is an important point to be made, because while mainstream publishers love books about LGBT people with insuperable problems and almost insurmountable difficulties because they supposedly make for great reading, younger people who pick up these two books will learn how wonderful life can be for rather ordinary people, people like themselves. So Abramson gets it just right in his book title: For My Brothers. He’s not only addressing his many past and mostly lost gay “brothers,” but also his current and future brothers.

Also keep in mind that neither Ron Williams or Mark Abramson were ever particularly rich, famous, beautiful, or celebrated. Their faces were never on magazine covers, and they made no appearances on television shows. Contrarily, neither were they ever infamous criminals or notorious douchebags. However, for gay history, they are better than academicians because they lived the life and now they have written about it.

Because he was there when gay was just really getting going in San Francisco and because of his trade, Ron Williams came to know, work with, love, hate and otherwise interact with some of the city’s and, indeed, the country’s earliest successful gay movers and shakers. For the most part, these were entrepreneurs who early on identified and sought to fulfill needs in LGBT life in print, porn, bars, restaurants, and clubs.

Because of his “secondary” work of putting on “Men Behind Bars” and other money-raising parties and shows two decades later, Abramson also came into contact with many such entrepreneurs as well as various celebrities. He even became friends with some of them, but they are of the Sylvester and Edie the Egg Lady variety, not the Donald Trump, Angelina Jolie kind. This is refreshing and fun to read about and besides consolidating identity, it provides an undeniable stamp of authenticity on these books that money can’t buy.

4511809-c5735dc47ccf339868415f995552f91a-fp-1363921307Williams’s book is structured as two halves. The first is the autobiographical one from the time he is a child throughout his middle teen years. It moves from some early forays into neighborhood parks like S.F.‘s Golden Gate, where he had his first glimpse of two men masturbating, on through his years as a not-quite runaway working as a waiter among gay men and living with two older guys and checking out the gay scene around the old Embarcadero. His visits to his middle-aged gay relative at his ranch in the west also has its moments–just before familial religion and homophobia destructively enter into the equation. One of the great ironies of Williams’s life as a “sissy” is that he refused to “check the box” declaring his homosexuality when he was drafted into the Armed Forces. He wanted to prove to himself and everyone else that he wasn’t a sissy. But from Basic Training on to his assignment in Germany, he was surrounded by gay guys, and he and his army buddies indulged in German and Dutch gay life with every weekend pass they got. And then, when Williams returned to the States and had to find some task to do for the few months to the end of his enlistment, he found work for the U.S.O. theatre–putting on musicals. The Army de-sissyfied him all right.

The second half of San Francisco’s Native “Sissy” Son consists of essays about people and places in early gay life: the early years and the homophobic reactions to gays at Russian River, for example, or the intricate and sometimes hilarious cops versus cruising guys games at Land’s End Park, or his brief stint as a porn model and much longer guise as a printer for the Bob Mizer model mags and then for the B.A.R. and S.F. Sentinel. Probably my favorite moment is when he and his hippie boyfriend decide to publish a little newsletter titled, The Organic Morning Glory Seed Message: A magazine for natural living. That goes so well, it then becomes a sort of precursor to the Whole Earth Catalogue. It is fascinating reading and the fun, love, and good times he had as a young man almost compensates for his rough, unloving, earlier life.

Abramson’s book is more or less chronological and twice as long. The author covers a wide span of some of the best gay years that I recall visiting San Francisco, when it seemed the party would never end. A modest man with few apparent ambitions, Mark’s looks, smarts, and charm got him involved in co-producing some of the coolest, funniest, and biggest parties and shows of the time–Men Behind Bars, to begin with, Mr. San Francisco Leather, the Folsom Street Fair, and it also connected him up to Leather Daddies, the Imperial Court, etc.

He details the people he worked for and worked with, the singers and comedians, his boyfriends and lovers, his sometimes fleeting connections to the nascent gay media– all in colorful anecdotes and moments. Everyone he knew was important to him, and he seldom has bad things to say about anyone, although he doesn’t mince words when he does. If some, like Jane Dornacker and Al Parker get more space, it’s because he was closer to them. Toward the end of the book, he questions why he is a survivor. But his book is the answer. A good gay life is its own, and now our, reward.

Abramson concludes with a long list of people he knew who died between 1982 and 1995. It takes up thirty-one pages. I knew many of those same people, but somehow it wasn’t at all depressing to read their names: Bob McQueen, Crawford Barton, Robert Pruzan, Mike Muletta, etc. It feels like the mixed emotion of the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. or an Honor Roll.

If you were around then and in S.F. even on visits, these books are required reading. If you are younger and want to know what it was really like, forget the novels because again these historical memoirs are required reading.

© 2014 Felice Picano

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Halstead Plays Himself – William E. Jones (Semiotext(e)/MIT Press)

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Before we get on with Felice Picano’s guest review, I need to take a moment to celebrate Out in Print’s 500th post. When William Holden and I started this blog (suggested by Steve Berman at Lethe Press), we had no idea it would run this long. It’s a remarkable coincidence that our 500th post falls on Labor Day, because this has been a labor of love. I cannot express to you how much I’ve enjoyed sharing wonderful books with you–poetry, drama, gay fiction of all stripes and flavors, interviews, essays, and even the occasional music or video review. It’s been a marvelous ride, and it’s not over. It can’t be. There’s still so much to read, so much to share, and so much to say. Thanks to all of you out there for clicking and bookmarking and buying and being involved. As Duke Ellington used to say at the end of his concerts, we love you madly. And we intend to keep on being all you need to read about all you need to read. Okay, Felice–take it away.

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When the Queer Theorists finally stop screwing around discussing who in the nineteenth century might have been signaling in their second-rate short stories that they were playing “hide the salami” and other such foolishness, academia may actually begin doing some serious exploration of LGBT culture. Until that mythical time to come, we are beginning to see some other popular outlets for the dissemination and discussion of the first decade of open homosexuality in America.

The immediate post-Stonewall era let loose many different breeds from their many different kennels, and nowhere was that more evident than in film. Under review is a book and several films about two of the two best known gay male cineastes of the 1970’s, Wakefield Poole and Fred Halsted, who in some ways might be seen as the alpha and omega of their time. Pretty much any film savvy and with-it queer over the age of forty is expected to know, and hopefully to have seen, The Boys in the Sand, Bijou, L.A. Plays Itself, and Sextool. Throw in Joe Gage’s El Paso Wrecking Company, and you have a gay porno pentateuch.

If that early biographer and arch-gossip, Plutarch, were alive in 2014 and writing an updated version of his Lives, he’d do far worse than include in his gallery of contemporaries the singer, dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, and entrepreneur, Wakefield Poole. At least, according to Jim Tuskhinksi’s sweeping new documentary movie, I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole that premiered at Los Angeles’s Outfest film festival recently. Poole’s films in 1971 and 1972 helped to alter everyone’s view of what a gay man was and could be–most famously, Boys in the Sand. Poole is to gay film and especially gay porn what D.W. Griffith is to the film medium in America: the originator and first master. And unlike Griffith, Poole’s movies can be watched without MV5BMTExMjI4MzgzMzVeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDA0MzU1MzAx._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_flinching some forty odd years later. To my mind, Bijou is a classic.

I was at the Poole documentary’s L.A. premiere because I’m in the film, one of the “talking heads” who contextualize what we see on screen. Also, because Wakefield Poole touched my life through his art, almost through a career choice–which I’ll share later–but mostly through the unique and beautiful men on the scene we knew, now gone–among them, the famous Casey Donovan. It’s been several years since I was shot for the movie, and while I’d not exactly forgotten the session, it had been one morning’s labor superseded by similar work in three films since, so my stake in it was tiny. Luckily, Tushinski caught me on a particularly articulate day and used the footage wisely, so I end up saying nothing stupid. That’s always a relief.

From the opening of the Poole documentary, you are immersed in the life of a child for whom talent is abundant. The four-year-old from Florida singing along to the big console radio became the star of the church choir and school, and when his voice changed at puberty, two thoughtful women got him into dance–first tap, and later classical–and they supported his talent. As a high school graduate, he was able to leave home and fly to New York to join the Ballets Russes. When young Walter Poole Jr. (Wakefield is his middle name) realized he didn’t want the touring and rigors of classical dance, he switched to popular dance and was soon hoofing it along with major stars on Broadway.

This led to a stint as a choreographer where he worked with people like Richard Rogers, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, and Michael Bennett. He also had the hard luck to work with brilliant if troubled theatre folk like John Dexter and Joe Layton which nearly ended his career. His early marriage to another dancer did end, and they divorced. Poole’s involvement in small commercial films decided him–he would become “an experimental filmmaker.” By then he was involved with a brilliant man–Wakefield has nothing but great things to say about all of his personal relationships. He would fall in love quickly and remained hitched for long periods of time. Somehow everything seemed to come together and for a total of $4800, Poole filmed a two hour 16 millimeter film with a good-looking blonde and a bunch of guys he makes love with at a house, pool, deck and upon the sands of Fire Island Pines.VS-041_webIronically, Boys in the Sand opened in a little theatre a few doors down the same block as The New York City Ballet where Poole might have been onstage but for his earlier decision. Boys was a smash hit from the first day. Fortified with cash and a new star, Bill Harrison, Poole then made a second feature film, Bijou. It was urban, gritty, and far less sunny than the first, and that too struck gold–which is where I come in. While I was being filmed for this documentary Wakefield said, “I know you. You took your clothes off for me.” He vanished into an office and emerged with a semi-nude photo he’d taken of me from when I auditioned for Bijou. That came about because I knew Casey and he sent me to Poole. Alas, in the 1970’s one did not become an author and porn star at the same time. So I turned down the part and a porno career and found a low-paying bookstore job.

As the documentary shows, Poole definitely had major career ups and downs, he moved across country then back again and ended up near where he grew up. He was a San Francisco co-owner of American Hot Flash Emporium which opened just as the Castro was taking off. He made and lost fortunes. He’s totally open about how and why (drugs, sex, men) and unlike a lot of Boomer hypocrites, Poole is completely unapologetic about what he did. He tells us that he had a great time and enjoyed himself immensely. Bravo for him.

Add it up and his is a storied life; and the story via the film is worth viewing. As are the new prints of those two films as well the 1986 Boys in the Sand II. In a separate video is Poole’s later, polymorphous perverse film, The BibleIf Poole was all sunshine and positive imagery that any healthy gay suburban lad could use to come out with, Fred Halsted provided a shadowy vision that many of us living in those 1960’s/1970’s grimy urban neighborhoods where gay life actually happened were quite familiar with.

Blessed with regular handsome features and a hairless, good physique that he continued to build up in the years long before muscles were in, Halsted was himself a suburban lad who grew up in San Jose, California. But the dark side was already in place. In later years, he attested to being raped by his stepfather while still young. This in turn led to his discovery and then his whole-hearted acceptance of the world of sadomasochism, which Halsted would go on to explore in both his private life with his partner in business and personal life, Joey Yale, and in his films. Naturally, Halsted took the top.

Like Poole, Halsted was never educated beyond high school and, like Poole, he worked intuitively in the medium of his choice, which he also called “experimental film.” But he was intellectual enough to form some kind of artistic vision that informed and strengthened his work. He counted it as his greatest triumph that several of his films were officially part of the New York City Museum of Modern Art’s film collection. Unlike Poole, Halsted wanted to break out of what he saw as a flat and boring “acceptable” landscape of homosexual behavior and art, and he did so in spades in his first feature length film L.A. Plays Itself, which ends with the first on-screen display of fist fucking.

As William E. Jones points out in his excellent and well put together biography of Halsted, the first gay leaders and tastemakers in Manhattan to see the film were completely scandalized. As I myself found out several years later when my novel, The Lure, was published dealing with other dark parts of gay life, this kind of display in any media was deemed treachery and siding with the enemy, i.e Hetero America. “We’ve got enough haters, so why air this dirty laundry in public?” both Halsted and I were told. Well, in my case and I’m assuming in Halsted’s too, there existed an underlying belief that if you’re doing art as well as entertainment, that the truth is required.

Halsted’s life was short—he committed suicide in 1989—and he apparently wavered wildly between judging it a success and a failure. He did peak early and, in a way, his life went out of his control as he continued using drugs and alcohol. Clearly, he lacked that one essential ingredient for any kind of artistic reputation in the U.S.–dogged perseverance. He was certainly one of the most outspoken advocates of what he was showing and living. Besides his films, he did numerous interviews for some surprising mainstream media, he started one magazine, Package, and was instrumental in the growth of another, Drummer. In addition to that, others closely followed in his path, including Joey Yale who also became film producer/director. And so, unlike Poole, Halsted left both an immediate and also a future legacy.

That Halsted’s own life ended up being tragic, is something Jones touches on again and again in his book without going into it too much. In a way, he may be leaving that intriguing question to someone else. What might be needed is a fiction-maker with a similar tragic vision. What becomes clear when we hear Halsted’s voice is that he is, as many of us were doing at the time, busily constructing some sub-section of an entirely new lifestyle which had distant predecessors, but no real rules or criteria. And he did it without any way of knowing whether or not any of it would survive. That Halsted and his persona are today instantly recognizable is a sign that he did a great job.

Again, unlike Poole, Halsted’s personal relationships were few and tormented in all senses of the word. In one interview, Joey Yale begins to interrupt Halsted and is flatly told to shut up. But when Yale was dying of an HIV opportunistic disease, Yale turned the tables in true bottom-style, constantly blaming and baiting guilt-ridden Halsted, who seemingly never got over Yale’s or other deaths around himself.

Meanwhile we have this handsome hardcover book, typical of Semiotexte’s best publications. It is over-sized, filled with photos and stills from many movies and copies of crucial documents, with on-set pictures not seen before and room for a lot of s/m artwork of the period, including advertisements of the time: a real visual treasure-trove. Halsted’s life was neither long, nor very complex, so Jones tells his story and also includes invaluable full reviews of the films, lengthy interviews with the star/director, and even examples of his writings.

Want to know gay history? Forget the Queer Theorists blowing smoke up each others asses and check out this book and these films.

© 2014 Felice Picano

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Little Reef and Other Stories – Michael Carroll (Terrace Books/University of Wisconsin Press)

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By Guest Reviewer Felice Picano

It used to be, way back in the twentieth century, that a literary author would make a name by first publishing a small collection of short stories, most of them appearing in those tiny circulation quarterlies that dotted the landscape, attached to every Liberal Arts College in the Land. Sometimes, a slender volume of verse would appear first. Some fifty people would review the first book, maybe thirty of them having read it, and unless it was bad, the author was on the way up. That was before the current Age of Over-Information that we (so ambiguously) enjoy. Nowadays a confessional memoir or slam-bang novel is almost de rigeur for that path: something big, bad, and, as Jean Cocteau said, something to astonish us.

So it’s kinda cute that author Michael Carroll starts off his own literary career with a collection of stories, and that a handful of them, from the first half of the book actually, were printed in some of those quarterlies either still generously endowed or barely holding on by their fingernails. This collection is in two parts: “After Dallas,” and “After Memphis,” and these tales are not divided by place or time as much as they are by ambition, scope, style and yes, even by content.

The early six stories are almost what any self respecting Brooklyn, New York authoress might write and savor. They’re a little autobiographical, a little earnest, a little sly and funny, and filled with the required shrug-of-the-shoulders attitude and put-on jaded and/or over-medicated aura that today passes for contemporary fiction. But they’re also well-written, easy to take, sharply observed, and most of the characters–including the narrators–get little sympathy and even take a few well rendered beatings on several levels simultaneously. To our pleasure, I have to admit. Especially the two young male/female couples in “The Biographers” and the crusty old gent, widower of the dead writer they’re nattering on about. The one piece that breaks the mold and ends up being quite moving is “Werewolf,” about a straight childhood friend, and the gay male narrator’s relationship with him over the years. It’s a carefully composed piece, with not a comma out of place and, therefore, an utterly credible and creditable narration.

Then we arrive at Part Two, and it’s altogether something different. Knowing Michael a little and his partner a great deal better (or at least longer) this reviewer couldn’t help but think the aging author being cared for by the callow narrator of the five later, longer  pieces are strongly based on them; and so a kind of queasiness or giddiness set in, making  this a post Robert Gluck meta-fiction in which who knows what to believe, really. Yet these are by far the more interesting set of fictions: first, because of the easy going, almost rambling style which fingers the reader as surely as did Coleridge telling about that crazed sailor, and second,because you probably think you know who those major and minor characters –the latter mostly sketched in– are or can shrewdly guess who they might be, narrowing it down to one or two. And third because it seems so intimate and confiding, just like well, Pip or Holden or Nick Carraway, that you’re seduced pretty thoroughly.

Seduced but not lobotomized. Is this a memoir in the making? A fake memoir? A novel in several pieces–it takes up three-quarters f the entire volume? Or what exactly? And what story is being told here? That’s often as uncertain as the location of Schrodinger’s cat. Take “Avenging Angel“ as an example. The story begins in one of those standard-as-possible writers’ work/vacation New England towns (he even references Stephen King!) in great, novelistic detail, and suddenly without any transition I’m aware of, switches to Faith Fox, a long time friend of the narrator’s. From there on it moves back and forth between his current life and her life which he sees in enormous, if momentary, chunks of gory detail whenever she reappears. Anyone who’s lived a few decades will recognize this woman–trendoid to the max–she comes in different shapes, sizes and flavors, and to my mind personifies what we mean when we speak of a zombie. But then we’re knocked back into the story with the older writer, who has had a debilitating stroke and who is increasingly presented as a Baron de Charlus type: “The old libertine can barely move” he calls out, not able to get out of the car by himself. “That’s hilarious,” I muttered, though how I cared for him. “Here, grab my hand.”

Is that irony? Is that affection twisted somehow? What gives? His and the narrator’s story takes place alongside that of Faith as though they were meant to play off each other, or make each other resonate, but that didn’t happen for this reviewer. One area is simply more interesting than the other, and because any emotion possible is held over the fire so long, it’s unclear what we are supposed to feel and for whom exactly.

But … having written that, any story or stories that make me actually think about them  that much are certainly worth my time. And all of these stories are. I think Carroll has opened out a space if not yet a landscape for himself, and he has done so with believable dialogue, intriguing characters, and situations that feel free to promise future benefits if not exactly future revelations. Give it a try.

© 2014 Felice Picano

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Sensual Travels – Michael Luongo, ed. (Bruno Gmunder)

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For me, one of the most basic enjoyments of the travel experience is the sampling of the sexual landscape. It ranks right up there with food, architecture, and natural wonders. At times, it’s all three rolled into one. And like good sex (or sex of any kind, really), travel is ephemeral. It’s only alive for the moment you’re there. Once you’re gone, it’s gone; the pictures and journals can only bring back an echo of the experience. But thankfully, Michael Luongo has brought together some of the finest gay and bi writers to echo their journeys for you in Sensual Travels.

As Luongo states in his introduction, the sex in this book is almost “Clintonian,” not as much about the old in and out as it is ancillary acts–nuance and possibility–which is only fitting given the sexually repressive atmospheres some of these stories take place in. But no matter the quotient of sexual heat, these tales manage to convey the excitement and sense of discovery that accompanies playing away from home.

That quotient is high in Lawrence Schimel’s “Water Taxi,” which sees a voyeuristic Spanish encounter taking place on the a dock in front of a gaggle of men gathered for Gay Pride and also pretty hot in Jeff Mann’s “Bondage Tape in Budapest,” which has appeared in another collection of Mann’s essays. These two stories are also related by the fact that the protagonists’ partners are also along for the ride. Schimel’s experience is more positive, but Mann’s carries a hint of problem, thereby increasing the danger and, perhaps, the allure of his interlude with Tibor. Simon Sheppard’s Ecuadorian romp, “The Last Bus to Riobamba” also features his long term partner, but this sex is all fantasy and no reality. Still, Sheppard both educates and titillates while retaining that air of mystery.

The aforementioned danger is not far behind in many other entries here. Trebor Healey’s brilliant “The Cervantino Baby,” featuring an affair with a Mexican boy that gets Healey tossed out of the household he’s staying at to improve his Spanish. His frankness about desire, reprisal, and consequence is personal and universal, and his musings are wholly in line with the expectations raised by Healey’s other work. This was one of my favorite pieces here, as was Felice Picano’s “A Gaijin in Gay Japan,” where Picano and his traveling companion, Dr. Charles Silverstein, undertake a publicity tour of Japan. Insightful in terms of Japanese culture as well as its sexual mores, this is Picano at his finest.

Any sex travel book worth its salt has to feature a trip to Thailand, and Alan Hahn does the honors here in “The Sodom and Gomorrah Show: How Not to be a Sex Tourist in Bangkok,” which is not only witty and engaging, but also deals–however tangentially–with the aftermath of vacation and facing one’s daily routine. Asian culture is also central to David C. Muller’s “You Want, I Come,” which contains a missing ATM card and a very willing guide to the city.

But no matter if it’s the Croatian men in Dominic Ambrose’s “Croatian Heat,” the Aussie beach escapade of Dallas Angguish’s “Sleep,” or Jim Nawrocki’s Parisian escapade in “The City of a Thousand Steeples,” you’ll find something in this collection that will send you scurrying to Travelocity.com to plan your next vacation. Or rescheduling the one currently on the horizon.

Happy traveling!

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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