Book Marks: Silver Lake, Waiting to Land, Perpetual Care

by Richard Labonte

"Silver Lake," by Peter Gadol. Tyrus Books, 296 pages, $14.95 paper.

After 20 years together, Rob Voight and Carlo Stein - partners in life and business - seem the perfect couple. At home, they're domestically settled and contentedly sexual. At work - a two-man architectural design company - the promise of a major commission has brightened their days. All this changes when feckless drifter Tom Fields appears at their storefront office one Saturday afternoon, worming his quirky way into their day with his charismatic personality and challenging patter, dining with them that night - and then shattering their lives of settled queer companionship with an inexplicable act of violence that could be murder, could be suicide or could be an accident. In his sixth (and gayest) novel since his fantastical 1990 debut, "Coyote," Gadol considers issues of truths withheld, secrets hidden, lives corroded and fidelity betrayed, crafting a riveting rumination on the haunting complexity of love. The novel's name comes from its setting, a Los Angeles neighborhood where gays and Latinos have been a major part of the cultural mix for decades, geography that the author weaves effectively through this luscious literary story.

"Waiting to Land: A (Mostly) Political Memoir, 1985-2008," by Martin Duberman. The New Press, 342 pages, $26.95 hardcover.

Drawn mainly from journal entries penned over almost a quarter century - some unapologetically dogmatic, some deliciously gossipy, some defiantly contrarian, all exhilaratingly candid - this third memoir (after "Cures" and "Midlife Queer") is a vivid reminder that it once meant something to be a liberation queer. Gays in the military? Gay marriage? Humbug. That's mainstream, merely liberal stuff. For decades, Duberman has been on the radical front lines, fighting for economic justice and against illegal wars, determinedly linking LGBT causes with issues of class and race. Many of the entries are concerned with the minutiae of the author's years-long determination to create the pioneering Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, but even that often score-settling prism illuminates the broader reality that conventional wisdoms ought always be open to question. Duberman fleshes out some of the journal excerpts with retrospective reflections on the events that inspired them, adding welcome dimension to the diary. But it's the jottings about day-to-day battles that propel this impassioned memoir, with its many moments from an inspirational activist's life.

"Perpetual Care," by Laura Beth Caldwell. AuthorHouse, 354 pages, $18.95 paper.

In a cultural landscape bleeding vampire stories from movie screens, TV sets and bookshelves queer and otherwise, there's a refreshingly unorthodox mien about Caldwell's atmospheric love story. It opens in 1923, when Savannah tomboy Naomi, whose family has fallen on hard times, becomes enamored with Esther, the well-born debutante daughter of a family several social classes superior. Their families disapprove, and before the two young women can craft a life together, they are murdered - which is when this sensual story becomes inventive. Only Naomi is reborn as a vampire, drifting between the living and the dead, destined over eight decades to yearn for Esther, while learning of her family's struggle against a curse bestowed by the Haitian slaves they once owned, tracking her descendant's lives and eventually reveling in a great-niece's bliss with a female lover. Caldwell's mix of vampire lore, Southern superstition and eternal romantic love is supremely seductive, though nitpickers will find a pleasurable reading experience jarred by instances where infernal automatic spellchecking rather than a copy editor's careful eye result in errors like "vial" for "vile."

""Love is the Higher Law," by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf, 172 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

There are two romances in this young adult novel. One is between college-bound slacker Jasper and high school junior Peter, whose first date in the immediate, numbing aftermath of 9/11 is a fumbled disaster. The other is between the author and New York City, as Levithan sets his adolescent love story against the backdrop of the Twin Towers' fall - Jasper wanders his Brooklyn neighborhood, for example, plucking off the ground documents that have wafted from the fallen World Trade Center. Linking the two lads after their fateful first date is Peter's classmate Claire, who befriends Jasper when they meet at Ground Zero and becomes the bridge by which the two boys reconnect in the year after Sept. 11. Structuring his novels from parallel points of view has become a staple for Levithan, and that approach serves him well here. The trio's separate physical experiences at the moment the hijacked airplanes hit effectively capture the kaleidoscope of New Yorkers' experiences on that day; their shared emotional healing evokes the humble truth that love can indeed heal all.

Featured Excerpt

Of course you have a boyfriend, because right now my deepest wish is that you don't have a boyfriend. Because even though I haven't seen you in almost a year, and even though the last time we were in a room together was one of the most awkward mornings of my life, now that we're talking again, it feels like we should be talking, it feels like this should be part of something, and maybe it's because Claire is always telling me how wonderful you are, and maybe it's because that shirt does something to your eyes, and maybe it's because when you have a boyfriend it releases these strange pheromones that unwittingly attract foolish boys like myself.

-from "Love is the Higher Law," by David Levithan

Footnotes

BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Lethe Press continues to add imprints and reprints to its quickly expanding catalog, most recently a new edition of the SF novel "Shadow Man" by Melissa Scott, first title in the press' Paragons of Queer Speculative Fiction series; in memory of Scott's late partner, Lisa Barnett, proceeds from sales will go to a nonprofit breast cancer organization. Meanwhile, this fall the press is releasing Tom Cardamone's short story collection, "Pumpkin Seed," and Sean Meriwether's collection, "The Silent Hustler"; Jameson Currier's collection, "The Haunted Heart and Other Tales," has just been released. Cardamone and Currier are also assembling an anthology of LGBT-themed ghost stories. In the same vein, but from a nonfiction perspective, the press has also announced "Queer Hauntings: True Tales of Gay and Lesbian Ghosts," edited by Ken Summers, about "eerie locales worldwide with a queer bent"... "LOVE HARD ," A new story collection from D. Travers Scott, author of "Execution, Texas: 198 " and "One of These Things is Not Like the Other," is due in October from Rebel Satori Press... UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN will publish Lucy Jane Bledsoe's novel, "The Big Bang Symphony," in Spring 2010; it's the story of three women's lives during an icebound summer at an Antarctic research station - drawn from the author's three visits to the icy continent. In recent months, Bledsoe has won the Sherman Anderson Foundation Fiction Award of $15,000 and the 2009 Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction ($1,000) for her short story, "Girl with Boat."

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.

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