Arts & Entertainment
Book Marks: A Queer and Pleasant Danger, David Hockney, The Biography, Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War
by Richard Labonte
Originally printed 5/17/2012 (Issue 2020 - Between The Lines News)
"A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She Is Today," by Kate Bornstein. Beacon Press, 258 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
Back before she was Kate, a well-deserved genderqueer celebrity, he was oft-married Al. For more than a decade, through the 1970s, Bornstein - still seen as a handsome man by the world, but struggling with the woman within - was a committed Scientologist, first a crewman aboard founder L. Ron Hubbard's Sea Organization flagship vessel and then a top salesman of the church's cultish offerings. The author's account of her Scientology years is both sobering and chilling, even more so when she reveals that she hasn't been in touch with her daughter - now a high-level Sea Org official - for years, nor has she ever seen two grandchildren, also Scientologists. Post-church, and "first a girl" at 38, Bornstein writes about feminist and lesbian activism and her performance career, about integrating gender desire with real life, about bouts of anorexia and "orgasmic" self-cutting and, with beguiling matter-of-factness, about a passion for S&M. This memoir manages to be both wrenchingly transformative and luminously wondrous, a sumptuous literary combination.
"David Hockney, The Biography, 1937-1975: A Rake's Progress," by Christopher Simon Sykes. Doubleday, 364 pages, $35 hardcover.
Kudos to this first volume about famed British artist Hockney: the biography never shies away from addressing and assessing how central being queer is to both his assuredly flamboyant life and his often-vividly homocentric art. How queer? Hockney's cheeky 1962 work, "Life Painting for a Diploma," featured a beefcake model drawn from the muscle mag "Physique Pictorial." Sykes' breezy take on the artist's life is an engaging blend of chatty artist-as-a-young(ish)-man anecdotes and cogent analysis of several of his career-making paintings, among them 1967's "A Bigger Splash" and 1968's "Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy." The author's overview of the artist's art satisfies a need for critical (but never stuffy) analysis; his account of Hockney's often-unsettled love life - particularly of his first real relationship with artist Peter Schlesinger, 18 when he enrolled in a UCLA class that Hockney, a decade his elder, was teaching - satisfies the standard of candor for a well-wrought biography. Vol. 1 is an expansive, entertaining and illuminating (and lavishly illustrated) half-a-life, heralding what is likely to be an equally authoritative Vol. 2.
"Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War," by Jeff Mann. Lethe Press, 286 pages, $18 paper.
Larry Townsend, Jack Fritscher and John Preston, S&M literary masters (and Masters) of yore, have a worthy heir. First with "Fog" and now with this Civil War-set second novel, Mann - a prolific contributor to erotica anthologies as well as a profoundly sensuous poet and an elegantly personal essayist - merges deliciously erotic and decidedly literary writing with whiplash precision. The premise: young Confederate soldier Ian Campbell, slight but wiry and hiding a hankering for man-love, is tasked by his spiteful squad-commanding uncle with guarding captured Yankee Drew Conrad, a Herculean hunk whose tortured fate - after he's been bound, gagged, whipped, bloodied and near-starved for Rebel soldier amusement - is to die. That the two young soldiers fall in love is a given. But the majesty of Mann's masterful storytelling is that he depicts their transformation - from dominant captor and submissive captive to a couple determined to realize their romantic destiny - with a sublime blend of accomplished research and intense S&M action. Elegant historical fiction meets orgasmic queer prose in this nuanced (if predictably-ending) novel.
"Fugitives of Love," by Lisa Girolami. Bold Strokes Books, 228 pages, $14.94 paper.
When a romance's story arc is preordained - lesbian one and lesbian two, despite impediments, are destined to be together - the reason to read the story stems from twists in its plot and a distinctive setting. Girolami's fifth novel attains both those goals nicely. Lesbian one is art gallery owner Brenna Wright, once-bitten by love and now relationship-shy, committed to her gallery's success to the exclusion of anything like a personal life. Lesbian two is Sinclair Grady, a reclusive creator of sea-polished-glass art eschewing the possibility of love while shielding a horrific past. When Brenna spots one of Sinclair's pieces hanging in a Manhattan window, she's determined to track her down for a show. But when gallerist meets artist, more than art appreciation ensues; both women get past their romantic inhibitions and, for a while, revel in uninhibited sex, until Sinclair's past intrudes. Cue a truth-telling reveal, a loutish stepbrother, and a pushy but effective attorney, and, hey, the impediment to true love is vanquished in this slight but seductive tale.
Ever since he had arrived in LA, Hockney had been planning to pay a visit to the offices of AMG, the Athletic Model Guild, the publisher of "Physique Pictorial." He was intrigued by the fact that though many of the storylines were set indoors, in a bathroom for example, there was often the strong shadow of a palm tree across the bath, suggesting that the pictures were in fact shot outside. He both wanted to see where this happened and to buy some of the photographs, so he took Kasmin to the studios, on downtown 11th Street in a house which the founder of AMG, photographer Bob Mizer, shared with his mother. The city jail, situated close by, provided quite a few of the models...
-from "David Hockney," by Christopher Simon Sykes
FIVE BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Novelist Scott Heim ("Mysterious Skin," "We Disappear," "In Awe"), has met his Kickstarter goal of raising $12,000 for a five-volume e-book project, "The First Time I Heard," to which dozens of musicians (and a few authors, including Dave King, Tara Ison, Elizabeth Searle, Sheri Joseph, Mark Gluth, Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, and James Greer) have contributed essays recalling the first time they heard an iconic band. "For those people who only know me through my novels, the details of this might come as an oddity, but for those who follow my music posts and know my music-nerdiness, this won't be all that surprising," Heim wrote in a blog entry announcing the series. Musicians discussed are David Bowie (Vol. 1), Cocteau Twins (Vol. 2), The Smiths (Vol. 3), Kate Bush (Vol. 4), and Joy Division/New Order (Vol. 5); contributors include members of such bands as Throwing Muses, Mercury Rev, Lamb, Electrelane, Swervedriver, Lush, Shudder To Think, The Wedding Present, Gang Gang Dance, Curve, Stereolab, Babes In Toyland, Laika, Antony & the Johnsons, Catherine Wheel, Clan of Xymox, The Teardrop Explodes, Pylon and Guided By Voices. If the series finds an audience, Heim hopes to continue the series with the likes of The Pixies, Roxy Music, Public Enemy, Abba, Kraftwerk, REM, My Bloody Valentine and Leonard Cohen - and to eventually find a publisher to release the books in print form. Information: facebook.com/TheFirstTimeIHeard.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.