by Richard Labonte
“The Hour Between,” by Sebastian Stuart. Alyson Books, 248 pages, $14.95 paper.
When nascent queer Arthur McDougal skips classes too often for his parents and the posh Manhattan private school that bores him, it’s off to a faintly religious rural Connecticut academy – with loose admission standards – for him. That’s the late ’60s setting for Stuart’s intelligently nuanced take on the standard queer coming out trope, which – despite the characters’ youth – is aimed at not-so-young adults. Young Arthur gravitates to the school’s more louche crowd, most notably emotionally troubled Katrina Felt, daughter of a Hollywood movie star, who knows her new friend is a gay boy before he does, and Sapphire, the era’s quintessential, lusty hetero-hippy chick – with hunky townie Lenny added to the mix to fire up Arthur’s hormones. Stuart’s depiction of their inevitable end-of-adolescence sexual escapades, drug dalliances and cocky rebellion against school authority propels the narrative. But the real power of this stylish solo debut – Stuart has co-written one novel, ghostwritten another – lies in how its characters evolve from boys and girls to men and women, with all the strengths and flaws that process involves.
“This One’s Going to Last Forever,” by Nairne Holtz. Insomniac Press, 232 pages, $15.95 paper.
The title of this stellar collection of seven short stories and one centerpiece novella is a glorious if hopeful lie: the relationships seldom last forever. Yet Holtz’s bravura fictional insights about young life and love are a tonic. So, too, is her embrace of sexual fluidity; her queer characters (most, but not all of them women) pass through periods of lusting for opposite – rather than same-sex bodies – or minds. The opener, “When Gay is the New Straight,” is a deceptively laid-back tale about an Elvis-impersonating gay man who officiates at a drive-through wedding chapel while having an affair with an ostensibly straight man who’s on his way to marrying a woman. And though dykes across the Kinsey spectrum inhabit the rest of the collection, Holtz weaves a good number of other boys, questioning and otherwise, throughout – she’s a lesbian writer with delicious cross-gender appeal. None of the stories pall, but the standout is the longest, “Are You Committed?,” which dwells on the political and sexual angst of college students with spot-on resonance.
“Pop Salvation,” by Lance Reynald. HarperCollins, 272 pages, $13.99 paper.
It’s Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to the rescue in this ’80s-set novel-lite. Caleb Watson is a queeny queer boy, bullied by his Washington, D.C. private school peers, who finds solace – and a sense of self – by re-imagining his harsh high-school world as Warhol’s Factory. He replicates on a teen scale the platinum-wigged artist’s refuge for sexual and artistic outsiders, and casts himself quite consciously as a “pint-sized” Andy, fierce leader of his fellow outcasts. These include ethereally beautiful Aaron, an athletic but shy lad with inner passion; street kid Brit, a young boy who can pass any time for Marilyn; and child-of-socialites Sonia, whose rebellion against her upper-class breeding involves cultivating a yen for fey boys. Reynald’s debut is more a series of vignettes infused with the glam culture of its era – including a soundtrack of references to New Wave and BritPop – than it is a traditional novel. But its portrayal of courageous adolescence, particularly the sweetly subsumed romance between Caleb and Aaron, is wholly satisfying.
“Life As We Show It: Writing on Film,” edited by Brian Pera and Masha Tupitsyn. City Lights Books, 304 pages, $18.95 paper.
Dodie Bellamy immerses herself in thoughts of “E.T.” while coping with her mother’s dying. Wayne Koestenbaum riffs on the gender “puzzle” that is Elizabeth Taylor. Bard Cole considers both the veiled porn implicit in mainstream movies featuring young men, and the life of erotica icon Joey Stefano. Richard Grayson exhumes the film screens of his Florida youth. Abdellah Taia, sitting with his dozing mother in a darkened Moroccan room, recalls finding sexual self-realization watching a queer French movie on TV. Rebecca Brown overlays her own life with imagery from classic Westerns. In these smart essays, few short stories, a poem and a screenplay, 25 entries in all, contributors – obviously smitten by cinema both contemporary and classic – cast a personal eye on a universal medium. They aren’t reviewing films, though. Instead, these writers muse on how film and life are intertwined, how they find themselves on screen and those screens in turn reflect them. Settle in with a box of Twizzlers and revel in the provocative thinking contained this fresh take on popular culture.
Aaron possessed the looks and charisma that would have him labeled a pretty boy. Beauty that implied tenderness. There was a darkness to all his features. Hair and eyes of the deepest browns were matched to olive skin that appeared permanently tanned. The beauty contrasted with a rugged physical quality that I imagined made him good at any sport. His bushy eyebrows peeked out from behind a wavy mane of black hair that was as thick as the eyelashes that gave the appearance of black eyeliner. In spite of his striking looks, he was very shy, in the same way that I was. He was the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen. And he became the first friend I ever had.
-from “Pop Salvation,” by Lance Reynald
QUEER-INTEREST AUTHORS Colm Toibin (“Brooklyn”), Sarah Waters (“The Little Stranger”) and William Trevor (“Love and Summer”) are among 13 novelists nominated this year for Britain’s top literary award, the $85,000 Man Booker Prize… TOIBIN IS ALSO one of three international judges for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize; the 24 nominated novels, all from Asian-Pacific authors, include “Leche,” R. Zamora Linmark’s sequel to “Rolling the R’s,” about young life, gay and otherwise, in Hawaii… TOM ROB SMITH’S Stalin-era Russian thriller, “Child 44,” a novel with a substantial queer subplot, won Best First Novel earlier this year from the International Thriller Writers. Meanwhile, the Horror Writers of America selected “Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet,” edited by Vince A. Liaguno and Chad Helder, as winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology… BOOKS INTO FILM: Brent Hartinger’s young adult novel, “The Geography Club,” and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Middlesex,” have been optioned for film… GERMAN PHOTO-ART publisher Bruno Gmunder is coming out in October with “Ultimate Falcon,” a 400-page collection of pin-up photography featuring the porn studio’s almost-40 year roster of hunky performers; the $99 book showcases erotica legends Casey Donovan and Al Parker, contemporary bodybuilder Matthew Rush, and newcomer Brent Corrigan on the cover.