Tag Archives: gay lit

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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Light – ‘Nathan Burgoine (Bold Strokes Books)

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Wheeler’s Law of Reasonable Expectations dictates that if an author is well-known for his bittersweet romantic stories, his novels will follow along the same lines. ‘Nathan Burgoine’s Light, however, obliterates that law. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, there is little, if anything, bad about this stunning debut, which makes my job as a reviewer both easier and more difficult at the same time.

Kieran Quinn is a gay massage therapist, but that’s where the stereotype ends. He also has telekinetic powers, which is good for our side. Bad for our side is that the enemy, embodied by Stigmatic Jack (leader of the Church of the Testifying Prophet) also has a telekinetic it can use for its nefarious purposes. During one eventful Pride week, Kieran and Jack square off for some monumental battles. Who wins? And what of Kieran’s lust for a hot leatherman named Sebastien? How about Kieran’s brother’s lust for Karen, his boss at the spa? And who is the Miracle Woman?

Burgoine answers these questions and more in a stylistic tour de force that is as much superhero story as it is a light romance (which, at its core, Light is–complete with HEA). What’s stunning about this debut is its assurance. In terms of character, plot, voice, and narrative skill, Burgoine knocks it out of the park as if this was his tenth book instead of his first. He, along with Tom Cardamone, has the considerable gift of being able to ground the extraordinary in the ordinary so that it becomes just an extension of everyday life.  Kieran Quinn is, indeed, a superhero (despite the fact that he hates the names the public gives him–Rainbow Man, Light, Disco?), but he’s a superhero who loves his cat, who blithers in the presence of handsome men, and who goes on failed blind dates.

Knowing Burgoine’s short fiction as well as I do, I was floored to discover his facility with action sequences. There are four encounters with the villain, each increasing in complexity and scope to the climactic final one, and all four were totally engaging and had me on the edge of my figurative seat. I was more confident in predicting the romance, which is written in a clever, light ‘n’ breezy manner with an undercurrent of danger. Burgoine’s dialogue , especially between Kieran and Sebastien, shines. It’s banter-ish without sounding forced–the kind of dialogue I always imagined happened in Jean Kerr’s house. Or maybe even Erma Bombeck’s. And Kieran’s voice is totally entertaining–that of a genuinely nice guy with just enough smart ass to give his observations some punch.

Burgoine’s prose is clean and focused, his characters are sharply defined, and his plot runs a fairly straight line–with one neat little twist–to its conclusion, which is immensely satisfying. What more could you ask from a debut? This is the difficult part of my job, where I’m supposed to come up with a negative or two to counter all the strokes. And I really can’t think of anything worth mentioning. Perhaps four or five books in, when he starts taking chances that don’t work , there’ll be something to point at…wait, maybe I found one: He could have written it so that it was easier to put down.

As far as negatives, that’ll have to do.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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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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