by Richard Labonte
June 18, 2007
“Michael Tolliver Lives,” by Armistead Maupin. HarperCollins, 304 pages, $25.95 hardcover.
In prepublication interviews, the author of the six “Tales of the City” books insists this isn’t a seventh in the series. Piffle. It’s as good as. Almost two decades after 28 Barbary Lane’s residents appeared in “Sure of You,” Maupin has gone back to the well – and the water is delicious. As the title suggests (rather bluntly), this book centers around HIV-positive Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, who at age 55 is one of the “sweet confederacy of survivors,” thanks to AIDS drugs that came along in the mid-’90s, and to the tonic of a new boyfriend 21 years younger. Some series regulars pop up, most wondrously still-mystical Mrs. Madrigal, the transsexual doyenne of Barbary Lane, feisty at 85. There are goodbyes in the piquant story, including Michael’s to his dying fundamentalist mother. But the endearing focus is more on a vibrant present and a promising future. You could read this self-contained novel without having read its legendary predecessors – but who would want to?
“Looking for Heroes,” by Patricia Grossman. The Permanent Press, 246 pages, $18 paper.
Grossman, whose previous novel, “Brian in Three Seasons,” won the gay-fiction Ferro-Grumley Award, sets her sights here on suburban Long Island angst and a sexless marriage in drift. Gerald and Emma are moping through midlife crises, unable to connect sexually or emotionally. Emma, fired from her job as a social worker, is administering her dead artist father’s wealthy estate, while Gerald finds release through trysts with a compassionate call girl. Neither is happy that their 18-year-old son, Aaron, motorcycles into Manhattan to sleep with a male fashion model, after his first boyfriend – a much older man – moved out of their basement. Subplots involving Gerald’s racist septuagenarian father and Emma’s wild-child lesbian sister add spice to the story, most of which is set in 1998. Jump ahead a few years: Emma and Gerald are divorced, but their son, now 24 and with a new lover, is the father of a baby girl born to a surrogate mother – a contemporary coda that brings the queer content of this quiet novel about life’s discontents nicely to the forefront.
“My Side of the Story,” by Will Davis. Bloomsbury, 256 pages, $14.95 paper.
The prose-style tics of this, like, coming-out story may well, like, drive older readers, like, crazy. But the charms of Davis’ hilarious novel – about a rebelliously precocious 16-year-old gay British boy’s tempestuous family life and fumbling sexual entanglements – more than compensate for its obsessive use of “like” (which is, after all, how a lot of teens speak). Jarold – called Jaz by his best friend Al (a straight girl) – is slick enough to slip into gay clubs in his search for romance, or at least sex, even though he’s underage. He finally scores – but the man who picks him up is horrified to learn how young he is. Jaz is equally horrified when he encounters a particularly stern teacher at a gay bar, even more so when it turns out his teacher is dating the male therapist his parents take him to when they decide his sexuality must be controlled. Most young adult coming-of-age novels, no matter how sincere, are pretty rote. This one, the debut of an author still in his 20s, is a wiseass pleasure.
“Writing Desire: Sixty Years of Gay Autobiography,” by Bertram J. Cohler. University of Wisconsin Press, 272 pages, $24.95 paper.
The queer writing genre that’s become almost as ubiquitous as erotica anthologies or lesbian mysteries is the homosexual memoir. No surprise then that there’s now a sometimes stuffy but generally engaging analysis of 10 autobiographies chronicling gay lives across much of the 20th century. Cohler distills the high points of each writers’ experience, then neatly knits their stories together to craft an insightful study of how queer lives – and their place in society – have evolved. For the record (and every one of their books ought to be read in full): Martin Duberman and Alan Helms are the writers assessed who were born in the ’30s; Andrew Tobias and Arnie Kantrowitz, in the ’40s; Tim Miller and Mark Doty, in the ’50s; Marc Adams and Daniel Mendelsohn, in the ’60s; and, representing the ’70s and the ’80s, Kirk Read and a blogger – not the author of a book – who calls himself BrYaN. Through Cohler’s erudite assessment of their lives, the personal really is political.
Featured Excerpt (PG-13):
She leans forward before I’ve even decided how the next part should go and clamps her mouth over mine. It’s big and warm and tastes of lipstick. But I go into shock or something, ‘cos she takes me totally by surprise. I just stay completely still and press my lips together as tightly as I can, though she has this, like, demon tongue, which keeps trying to force them open. Probably she’s been practicing half her life, because we’re talking about real muscle here. After what seems like a millennium she finally gets the message and stops kissing me. Then there’s this long pause while she deals with the rejection.
-from “My Side of the Story,” by Will Davis
New York novelist Robert Westfield was the standout winner at the 19th annual Lambda Literary Awards, presented May 31 in New York, taking both Gay Fiction and Gay Debut Fiction honors for “Suspension,” a haunting novel set in the months after 9/11. The Lesbian Fiction award went to Sarah Waters, for her fourth novel, “The Night Watch,” set in London after the Second World War; the Lesbian Debut award went to Ellis Avery for “The Teahouse Fire,” about the life-long obsessive infatuation of a Japanese woman for her adopted older sister. There was one other double winner: “Gay L.A.” by Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons, in the new category of Arts & Culture and – tied with “Different Daughters” by Marcia M. Gallo – in the LGBT Nonfiction category. The ceremony honored books in 19 other categories, and celebrated the lifetime achievements of novelist Marijane Meaker and historian Martin Duberman. A short video memorialized LGBT literary figures who died in the past 18 months, including Sarah Aldridge, Sybille Bedford, Betty Berzon, Tee Corinne, Hanns Ebensten, Aleta Fenceroy, Barbara Gittings, Sterling Houston, Dr. Fritz Klein, Art “Cassandra” Polansky, and Eric Rofes. For all the winners: http://www.lambdaliterary.org.