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by Richard Labonte
“The Creamsickle,” by Rhiannon Argo. Spinsters Ink, 268 pages, $14.95 paper.
Bois, boards, baby butches and bed hopping: Argo’s angsty fiction debut, centered on the shenanigans of a crew of gender-fluid young women, should perhaps come with an age-appropriate label. Old folks – anyone over 40, more or less – ought to be adolescent at heart, or at least nostalgic for their own adventurous youth, to fully engage with its feisty plot. The effort, however, will be rewarded. The residents of The Creamsickle – a ramshackle San Francisco Mission District Victorian crash pad where art and anarchy reign – are a sexually rambunctious lot. Central to the story is Georgie, a hapless romantic tomboi-turned-stripper with a tough exterior and a yen for self-destructive punk rock girls, and her skater pals Cruzer, a tough Mexican-American girl with a soft heart and a talent for photography, and Soda, who starts the cheerfully unruly story about the queerest of queer families as “her” and ends it as “him.” Argo, who is touring this fall with dyke-spirited Sister Spit, brings the energy of live performance to this affectingly offbeat depiction of queer young lives.
“The 38 Million Dollar Smile,” by Richard Stevenson. MLR Press, 288 pages, $14.99 paper.
For most of the previous nine books in Stevenson’s venerable Donald Strachey, PI novels, Albany, New York and environs has been the prosaic (but nonetheless wryly entertaining and quite queer) setting. This time, and to atmospheric affect, the sleuthing relocates to Thailand, where Strachey and his loving companion sidekick are searching for steel company scion Gary Griswold, who has vanished along with his $38 million inheritance. It’s safe to guess that the author and his real-life partner have spent recent tourist time in Thailand; the story is salted with colorful references to such Bangkokian street delicacies as bird-spit beverage, pig colon and buffalo gums. Yum. And in context, they do sound delicious. Stevenson is as enthralled with the country’s “land of smiles” culture as he is with the cuisine, to the extent that the plot’s perilous twists and menacing treacheries are almost secondary to how the sexual, political and karmic tones of Thailand are captured with an outsider’s wise eye. As much travel memoir as mystery, this tenth in a series spanning three decades is supremely satisfying as both.
“Sprout,” by Dale Peck. Bloomsbury USA, 288 pages, $16.99 hardcover.
Not so many months ago, Peck’s sexually horrific, viscerally terrific “Body Surfing” was released. This young adult novel, the author’s first, is work of a kindler, gentler sort. It’s the charming yet sharp-edged story of 16-year-old, openly gay Daniel “Sprout” Bradford – “sprout” because he has defiantly dyed his hair a lush green – as he navigates the very square halls of his rural Kansas high school with snarky self-assurance and a vocabulary endearingly beyond his years. More an “out, so what” than a classic coming out story, Peck’s invigorating YA effort embraces numerous tropes of the genre – beloved dead mother, emotionally absent and alcoholic father, best girl friend who “gets” him, understanding teacher who detects talent under a smartass surface, sex on the side with a jock hunk, eventual bonding with another boy, unlikely outsider who wins Sprout’s heart. But this word-rich novel imbues these sometime stereotypes with extra dimension, adding complexity to a plucky adolescent’s earnest search for illusive love and settled self-knowledge.
“Moral Panics, Sex Panics: Fear and the Fight Over Sexual Rights,” edited by Gilbert Herdt. NYU Press, 304 pages, $24 paper.
When it comes to such issues as sex education in schools and same-sex marriage, AIDS prevention and private-use pornography, or black sexuality and abortion rights, the response from the political and the Christian right is, unerringly, honed self-righteous hypocrisy and focus-grouped hysterical panic. For cultural and sexual activists, challenging the manufactured panic around these matters is a given. In this six-essay collection, with an astute introduction from editor Herdt, social scientists and scholars of sexuality (more of them women than men) dissect where such loathing for personal freedoms originates, how maniacally it is deployed and whether there is an effective response to the fomented onslaught of anti-woman, anti-gay and anti-sexual moral Puritanism. For lay readers, this study’s prescription for taking the offensive high ground against the fundamentalists’ low-blow denial of rights may well be heavy going. But individuals and activist groups committed to the progressive struggle for cultural and sexual freedoms will find smart analysis and crucial advice in a timely academic call to arms.
Everyone calls our house “The Creamsicle” because it looks like an orange Popsicle that has been dropped in the dirt a few times, since it’s painted a splotchy orange with a white trim that’s splattered with pigeon shit. Cruzer likes to also insist that the house especially deserves the cream part of the name because of its long-standing reputation as a queer bachelor pad. The house had been passed around and handed down like a good dirty joke, revolutionaries trampled its floors for twenty years, a slew of hippy fags and fairies lived there in the late eighties, and the grunge lesbians overran it all through the nineties.
-from “The Creamsickle,” by Rhiannon Argo
E. LYNN HARRIS, the author of 10 “New York Times”-bestselling books – a feat no other gay author has accomplished – died in his sleep July 23 while touring in California to promote his most recent novel, “Basketball Jones,” apparently of heart failure. Harris, who in 1991 peddled his first self-published novel, “Invisible Life,” to Atlanta-area beauty salons from the trunk of his car, has two more novels scheduled: “Blame It on the Sun ,” a July release, and “Mama Dearest,” due in October – though his publisher, Simon & Schuster, has no listed information, and a tentative publication date, about the second book… FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY IS facing two of America’s dwindling number of LGBTQ bookstores: Giovanni’s Room in Philadelphia, the oldest surviving gay bookshop, is turning to customer support to help cover the $50,000 cost of rebuilding a structurally unsound outside wall – though the store will remain open during reconstruction, says owner Ed Hermance. Meanwhile, the owners of Common Ground Bookstore in Ann Arbor recently emailed their customers seeking donations in order to stay open – the shop has been sustained by Keith Orr and Martin Contreras from their personal savings and with profits from another business… SCIENCE FICTION and mystery writer Nicola Griffith and Scott Cranin, editorial and purchasing director at TLA Entertainment Group, are new members of the Lambda Literary Foundation’s board of trustees, joining president Christopher Rice, vice-president Linda Hill, treasurer Teresa de Crescenzo, secretary Judith Markowitz, and members Katherine V. Forrest, Joseph W. Lund and James A. Yokley.