Tag Archives: queer literature

‘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

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Down in Cuba – Vincent Meis (Fallen Bros Press)

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When Down in Cuba begins, it’s been three years since Martin and Leo have seen each other. We know right away it’s over between them. Leo’s little girl Anabela remembers tío Martin from the photos that Leo has kept. She’s wearing clothes that Martin has sent as a present.

When the chronological story begins, Martin Vandenberg is a 46-year-old tenured professor at a small school in southern California. His academic specialty is Martí, Cuban intellectual, poet and hero of the Cuban War of Independence. Vandenberg has been married for over twenty years. He has a daughter he adores. Apparently he’s never questioned his relationship with his wife or his sexuality. In fact, he’s been running pretty much on autopilot for a long time.

When he receives a year’s sabbatical to write a book on Martí, he goes to Cuba to begin his research. On one of his first nights in Havana, he meets Leo, a handsome Cuban half his age. Leo blows the doors off the closet that Martin Vandenberg didn’t know he lived in.

In a declaration of passionate denial that many of us who married women will recognize, he declares, “You hear people talk about, you know, being in a closet. What does that mean? I never felt like I was in a closet. Leo is an attractive guy. I was drunk. I swear to God, this is not going to change my life.”

But it does. As it must.

Told in Martin’s nervous POV, Down in Cuba is a romantic tragedy in which flawed characters fail to get what they believe they want. Martin and Leo struggle within their cultural imperatives and mores, each wanting somehow to bridge the gulf between them. The silver lining to the tragedy is that they both find a truer life than they had when they met.

The book is structured in time-blocks arranged out of sequence, opening almost at the end. The intervening time-blocks are not flashbacks, but current-time episodes that will eventually give meaning to the beginning as well as the end.

While I’m not a fan of stories with reshuffled timelines, I appreciate that Meis chose this technique in support of the story. It creates a diffused ebb and flow in the relationship between Martin and Leo, keeping its fate ambiguous until all ambiguity is dispelled.

Martin is concerned that Leo is interested in him only for money or to escape Cuba. Ultimately, Leo proves the stronger, more honest and self-aware of the two. As capricious and self-centered as Martin believes Leo to be, Leo forces Martin into authenticity that he couldn’t have achieved without him. He forces Martin to come out—a gift far greater than anything Martin gives Leo.

Through Leo, Martin learns what week-to-week survival in Cuba requires: selling soap on the black market or raising roosters for fighting, befriending foreigners, easing frustration with rum and cigarettes.

Leo may be a good-hearted opportunist, but he is also an artist whose dark paintings reveal a haunted place in his soul. He is uncompromising and honest in his self-interest. He is scarred and tattooed. He is a wild being, full of passion.

One day in Old Havana, Martin and Leo make love standing at a window while a political rally fills the streets below them:

“Tell me what you hear, coño.” He sounded angry. I laughed. “Come on. You’re making me crazy. Stand up by the window. Look out. Look at the people. Look at the funny people on the street.” […]

“Look at the people. Look at my country,” he whispered, his mouth on my ear, the hot wisps of air tickling deep nerves. “All right,” he said. “Now. Do you feel it? Do you feel it? Look at the people. Can you see them? Come on. Look. Look. Look.”

Like a catalyst in a chemical reaction, Leo forces Martin to break open, but remains unchanged himself. He wields a frightening kind of integrity.

Down in Cuba is a gripping, thought-provoking, emotionally satisfying book. The characters are strong and fresh. The writing is immediate and unadorned, yet it creates a subtle, mercurial, even elusive, Cuba. It draws the reader into a collision of cultures that sheds a stern light on unexamined expectations of fairness, and attitudes that Americans like Martin might carry, such as presumption of a moral high ground that may not be warranted.

I urge you to read this book.

Reviewed by Lloyd A. Meeker

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Silencing Orpheus – J. Warren (Rebel Satori Press)

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Although J. Warren’s Silencing Orpheus makes thematic and literary references to Classical literature, such as naming a chapter “Dawn’s Rose-colored Fingers,” this story is about as far away as you can get from the time when the sound-bite “rosy-fingered dawn” was used to fill out a line of dactylic hexameter, when heroic men of battle spoke to each other with wingéd words. There’s nothing of Gluck’s “che farò senza Eurydice?” or the following “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” in this book, either.

This is a sequel to Stealing Ganymede, which leads me to wonder whether Silencing Orpheus is actually a stand-alone work. I suspect it’s a more meaningful read when coupled with the first volume.

As it stands, this is the story of Orpheus as doomed immortal marooned among the living—angry, paralyzed, haunted, isolated—refusing the comforts of music as well as the company of women. It’s a fascinating premise but for this reviewer, unsatisfying in its execution.

Told in first person present tense, the story is immediate, hard and lonely. The writing is focused and lean, which supports the characterization of the protagonist in his emotional straightjacket. Nothing moves easily, nothing is given away, emotion creates risks he can’t afford, kindness leads to obligation that might tie him down. He has room in his heart only for his own torment. Sometimes his fingers ache so intensely to make music that he has to cut himself to keep saying no to his urge. It’s powerful stuff.

Silencing Orpheus doesn’t show enough character development of the protagonist to be a conventional novel. In fact, the spine of this story is its relentlessly unchanging portrait of a rigid character trapped in a barren existence, someone who has given up everything except drifting and staying ahead of his doom, until he doesn’t.

The Eumenides (Erinyes)—the Furies of Classical mythology—pursue him. According to the author’s premise, Orpheus has violated the natural order of things and has thus earned their vengeance. The Eumenides sprang from drops of Uranus’ blood when he was castrated and killed by his son Kronos. In addition to punishing certain other crimes, their main duty was to punish those who had spilled the blood of their own kin.

So the engine that drives this story forward is that the furies pursue Orpheus. Why? Because he has slept with young men. This constitutes his violation of the natural order of things. I’m not sure the author intended the story to make this moral condemnation of homosexuality, but the logical implication is inescapable.

If sleeping with young men had been cause for vengeance from the Furies in mythic times, a lot more men would have died a gruesome death at their hands. However, to my knowledge there is not one instance of it in the entire body of Classical myth.

This story is compelling, a fiercely atmospheric, brooding piece of fiction with all the unhappiness of a dystopian graphic novel. It relies on its interesting use of mythology, some of it disturbingly unconventional. For those who don’t mind that re-interpretation and enjoy anti-heroes, Silencing Orpheus offers a gloomy but stimulating read.

Reviewed by  Lloyd Meeker

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Anything for a Dollar – Todd Gregory, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

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As Todd Gregory also admits in his introduction to this volume of erotica about men paid for sex, I have been paid for my body as well. These days, however, the only way I could make any substantial money is if I charged by the pound. Still, there was a time when I was younger, cuter, and braver and my rent needed to be paid. I’m not ashamed of it. As I first heard from Modern English, it’s all part of “life’s rich tapestry.” And that tapestry has many threads, as evidenced by the variety of stories in  Anything for a Dollar.

The collection starts off strong with Max Thomas’s atmospheric, “In the Studio,” about a college student who starts off modeling to make a bit of cash (sounds familiar to me) but soon becomes engaged in both the situation and the sex. A longish story, it’s the perfect introduction as it really encapsulates what the book is about. But then we veer off into some rather unexpected territory.

Aaron Travis’s “The Adventure of the Rugged Youth” is a neat piece of Sherlock Holmes fanfic that wouldn’t have been out of place in Lethe Press’s recent A Study in Lavender as Holmes encounters a boy paid to seduce and kill Holmes in his sleep. Yet another reason not to let tricks stay over. Jay Starre takes to South America with his stripper story, “Private Dance in Rio,” one of two Starre entries here. More domestic but far stranger is Jeffrey Ricker’s “The Last Good-Bye,” which features a psychic sexual surrogate helping a man work through his grief for his late partner in a rather startling way.

Jeff Mann enters the fray with his hot tale of  a country boy’s paid lust for a blond businessman named Bjorn in “Penthouse,” which also (true to Mann’s form) contains some irresistable descriptions of several New Orelans feasts. Oh, and people get tied up as well. Davem Verne takes back to the subject of modeling with his story of Eurotrash posers, “Paris Euros Giles,”  but Rob Rosen prevents things from becoming too Eurocentric with “Revenge of the 97-Pound Weakling,” his delightful tale of a gymrat contest judge. Nathan Sims has a more supernatural take on the subject in “Haven’s Rest,” which sees a boy helping rid a backwoods ex-gay ministry of a particularly evil spirit.

Haley Walsh’s “Marked” takes me closer to familiar territory as he focuses in on the carnival life with a story of a tattooed man and an itinerant stud he calls Pink Boy, but as visitors to New York City know, the urban environment has its own charms. One of those is the subway, but Luke Oliver takes that rather prosaic setting and turns it into something…well, super with a capital “S” on its chest in “The Conductor.” William Holden gives us a historical perspective in “Debtors’ Prison,” and the inimitable Dale Chase rouses us once more with a tale of a Western rent boy with “A Few Dollars More.” We’ve all seen ugly hustlers and wondered how they were able to make a buck, and Lawrence Schimel enlightens us with his “Pity Fuck.” And then there’s Todd Gregory’s title story to wrap things up.

A word about availability. This title isn’t out until October 1st. Being a reviewer, I often receive advance copies of books. I try as much as possible to review them close to their release dates, but I was so anxious to dive into this collection that I paid no attention to the date and, thus, am reviewing it a bit early. But either of the above links will allow you to pre-order this terrific compendium of erotica, so feel free to do so.

It’s delayed gratification of the best kind.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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