Arts & Entertainment
By Richard Labonte
Originally printed 04/10/2008 (Issue 1615 - Between The Lines News)
"The End of the World Book," by Alistair McCartney. Terrace Books, 314 pages, $26.95 hardcover.
There's nothing linear about McCartney's debut novel. There's not much narrative to it, either. It's not really a novel by any rational definition, actually. But its giddily unconventional structure delivers a glorious literary experience. From chapter A to chapter Z, this is an irreverent alphabetical guide to the author's many intense obsessions (knives and razors, young men and porn, horror films and hair), quirky cultural observations (macrame as a notable art form?), frequent literary touchstones (Proust and Kafka predominate), and - blurring the boundary between fiction and memoir - loving anecdotes about his Australian family and his American partner, performer Tim Miller. There's a searing satirical edge to many of the entries; some are deliriously absurd. A few are concise gems, such as "Inspiration: Quick, before it evaporates!" and "Homosexual: I think I am mentioned somewhere in the Bible, if I remember correctly." What links the several hundred entries together, aside from their eclectic poetic and philosophical range, is a thread of quizzical yet comic melancholy about the world.
"Gentleman Jigger," by Richard Bruce Nugent. Da Capo Press, 353 pages, $18 paper.
Harlem Renaissance luminary Nugent's wicked roman a clef, written between 1928 and 1933 but not published until now, 20 years after his death, is a work with a split personality. Book One is based, without much apparent fictional embellishment, on the self-anointed Niggerati Manor circle of artists - including Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, and Countee Cullen - who produced just one fiery issue of the scandalous literary journal, "Fire!!." Nugent's alter ego is precociously gay Stuartt, a black man so light-skinned that he can (and does) pass for white. Not much happens in the first half, though lengthy disquisitions on race, identity, and skin hue illuminate the era's black intellectual and artistic ferment. The pace picks up in Book Two, after Stuartt relocates his narcissistic charm and breathtaking beauty from Harlem to Greenwich Village, where he's soon seducing Italian street boys and eventually Mafia crime bosses. Editor Thomas Wirth cobbled the novel together from several partial manuscripts, and the result is far short of seamless. Nevertheless, this is a must-read for anyone intrigued by early gay fiction and black gay history.
"Heartland," by Julie Cannon. Bold Strokes, 242 pages, $15.95 paper.
Drop 10 fun-seeking lesbians onto a working ranch run by a butch mourning the loss of her lover, and you'd expect much randy action to follow. But the focus of this fluid romance is primarily on just two women. One is Shivley McCoy, who was able to create her working-vacation getaway spread with money willed to her by her late mate; the other is Rachel Stanton, a political strategist-for-hire stressed by too many mudslinging campaigns. There's nothing coy about the passion of these unalike dykes - it ignites at first encounter, and never abates. The main impediment to their mutual physical and emotional fulfillment is rooted in Shivley's guilt: turns out she cared deeply for her dying partner, but wasn't really in love with her, and is wary of another romantic entanglement that might peter out. Cannon's well-constructed novel conveys more complexity of character and less overwrought melodrama than most stories in the crowded genre of lesbian-love-against-all-odds - a definite plus.
"Legacies of Love: A Heritage of Queer Bonding," by Winston Wilde. Taylor & Francis, 236 pages, $19.95 paper.
This is a queers-in-history reference book with a difference. It's about couples - and the occasional menage-a-many. And there's a twist. Rather than order his historical vignettes chronologically, Wilde categorizes couples by "patterns." The most extensive is "peer love," involving relationships between persons roughly equal in age, class, and wealth, from Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Greek lovers said to have died at age 16 after plotting to rid Greece of a tyrannic ruler, to Paul Monette and Roger Horwitz - whose AIDS death is chronicled in Monette's memorable memoir, "Borrowed Time." Other categories include the obvious - intergenerational, interclass, and interethnic love. Then there's the "utopian love" of pirates, male dancers, and the founders of Camp Sister Spirit; the "heterogender love" of the likes of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock; and, most intriguingly, "overlapping love" - a category linking three and even four individuals, most notably Sharon Kowalski, paralyzed in an auto accident in 1983, her lover, Karen Thompson, and a third member of their polyamorous relationship, Patricia Bresser. Profiles accompanying the 106 entries are brief but fact-filled; a wealth of photos puts faces to the facts.
Stuartt was silent, enjoying to the full Orini's movements, his voice, and his body, which was becoming more and more visible as he shed first trousers, then shorts, with nonchalance. "Guess they sorta get an idea of this sorta thing when they look at you." Stuartt watched the hollow of Orini's stomach, his raised chest and the muscles of his arms rippling gently under his tannish skin as he asked, "Did you?" and only half heard Orini as he answered, "Naw, not exactly. I didn't know you was a fag just looking at you. That never crossed my mind - but you did make me look another time - and I ain't never looked twice at no man for nothing."
-from "Gentleman Jigger," by Richard Bruce Nugent
LAMBDA LITERARY NEWS: Ann Bannon, Malcolm Boyd, and Mark Thompson will be recipients this year of the Lambda Literary Foundation's Pioneer Awards at the foundation's 20th annual awards ceremony, May 29 in Los Angeles. Bannon is author of the classic Beebo Brinker series of lesbian pulp romances, published between 1957 and 1962. Boyd, who turns 85 in June, is the author of 29 books, including the coming-out classic "Take Off the Masks"; he has been an Episcopal priest for more than 50 years. Thompson - Boyd's partner for more than 20 years - was a long-time arts and cultural editor for the "Advocate," and is author of the acclaimed gay spirituality series, "Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning," "Gay Soul: Finding the Heart of Gay Spirit and Nature," and "Gay Body: A Journey Through Shadow to Self." The Lambda Foundation has announced 107 finalists in 21 categories for this year's queer literary awards, available at www.lambdaliterary.org. Meanwhile, the organization is relocating in May to Los Angeles; executive director Charles Flowers - the only paid employee - is following his partner, who has taken a new job on the West Coast.Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.