By Richard Labonte
“The Others,” by Seba Al-Herz. Seven Stories Press, 328 pages, $17.95 paper.
Queer readers are likely to be drawn first to this novel’s Sapphic content, as a young Shi’a woman attending a girl’s college in Saudi Arabia becomes physically and emotionally entangled with other women. The nameless character’s flirtations alternate between exhilarating and ambivalent, explosive and shameful – reactions not at all at odds with the process of same-sex sexual initiation in the Western world. Self-discovery is self-discovery, after all. But in this revolutionary novel, said to be an Arabic-language first, there’s a culturally fascinating contextual twist: Seba Al-Herz (the pseudonym for a 26-year-old Saudi writer) couches her character’s hesitant nascent liberation in the real world of Saudi Arabian religious sectarianism. The narrator is a member of the minority Shi’I, subjected to economic and political marginalization by the dominant Sunni of Saudi Arabia, according to a trenchant historical afterword by the translator, also not identified by name. In that sense, she’s a double outsider – twice “the other,” distanced from her family by her sexual adventures and from her country by her minority status.
“The Vampire Maker,” by Michael Schiefelbein. St. Martin’s Press, 272 pages, $24.99 hardcover.
Before “Twilight,” “True Blood” and “The Vampire Diaries” brought new blood to a venerable genre, there was Schiefelbein’s literarily sexy reinvention of the world of men who feed on men. Victor Decimus returns in a stylish series, which opened in 2001 with “Vampire Vow,” followed by “Vampire Thrall” and “Vampire Transgression” (and it helps, though it’s not vital, to have read the previous books to fully engage with this one). He’s now in New Orleans, suitably atmospheric for a denizen of darkness, accompanied by Kyle, his young thrall – a lad who is supposed to live only to serve his master – and he’s continuing his dangerous rebellion against the Dark Kingdom, defying rules about how a vampire ought to conduct himself. Meanwhile, Decimus’ real-world adversary, the studly Father Boisvert, is determined to squash his own queerness, but is subverted by his attraction to pretty Kyle. Blood is sucked, blasphemy shocks. the natural world battles the supernatural – all the norm for a vampire novel, Schiefelbein, however, invests his with uncommonly fine writing, its fiery plot powered by inventive philosophical underpinnings.
“Fifty Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read,” edited by Richard Canning. Alyson Books, 342 pages, $16.95.
“Must read,” demands the title. “This book is “not” a canon!” insists the editor. Quite so, on both counts. There are 50 more books that literary queers ought to read. And 50 more after that. And so on. But as a primer for the uninitiated, these insightful essays, scholarly and smart, are a marvelous starting point. And queers who already know their Melville or their Rimbaud will find a fresh perspective in the pieces by, respectively, Vestal McIntyre and Kevin Killian. The collection, sensibly, is assembled chronologically, the first entry Aaron Hamburger’s sly take on 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel – the love between David and Jonathon. The last is J.D. Glass’ assessment of Susan Smith’s 2006 “Burning Dreams” – certainly not a classic, but the novel’s trannies, queers, witches, drag kings, lovers and friends suggest a fascinating future for our literature. Two highlights: Blair Mastbaum champions Matthew Stadler’s minimalist 1999 masterpiece, “Allan Stein”; Lisa Cohen draws British writer Ivy Compton-Burnett’s cheeky 1933 novel, “More Women Than Men,” back into the queer canon – the one this collection is not.
“The Manly Art of Seduction: How to Meet, Talk to, and Become Intimate with Anyone,” by Perry Brass. Belhue Press, 220 pages, $16.95 paper.
Manly. Seduction. Terms sadly at odds with each other in our mature years, says Brass, a situation he rectifies with wide-ranging inclusiveness in his second self-help title, after “How to Survive Your Own Gay Life: An Adult Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships.” Think of this as that book’s prequel. The emphasis isn’t on sex, love or marriage as much as it is on how to achieve the kind of man-on-man intimacy that might lead to just one date, to a sexual connection, or simply to an enduring friendship. With 46 short chapters, Brass’ how-to advice comes with “work for you” tips (practice touching your own body, perform a grooming assessment) and space for a worksheet – the reader’s homework assignment, as it were. The book’s first section covers such topics as shyness, kissing and dealing with rejection – standard stuff, expressed with clear-headed commonsense. Later chapters touch smartly on too-often-avoided subclasses of seduction – disability, weight, race, class, cock size, sexual dysfunction, “straight” men and threesomes – making this a first-class primer for every taste.
Again, I can only urge you not to measure the value of this book by what isn’t here, but by what is. I too have a list of omissions (which might be somewhat addressed by a second volume, who knows?). Perhaps it overlaps with yours, perhaps not. I can’t stop myself from starting to type: Hall, Gide, Stein, Genet, Behn, Shakespeare, Townsend Warner, Forster … yes, they’s “all” not here – and nobody means anything by that.
-from “Fifty Gay and Lesbian Books Everybody Must Read,” edited by Richard Canning
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Authors James Earl Hardy, Terence Dean and Stanley Bennett Clay have written a trio of stories for “Visible Lives: A Tribute to E. Lynn Harris,” due from Kensington Publishing in May. The title pays homage to “Invisible Lives,” the explicit self-published 1991 novel about the emotional struggles of closeted African-American men that launched Harris’s career, cut short last July at age 54 by a heart attack. The foreword is by Victoria Christopher Murray, most recently the author of “The Divine Divas” series of Christian fiction for teens; like Harris, she self-published her first novel, “Temptation,” republished in 2000 by Time Warner … ALSO COMING FROM Kensington: Monica Nolan’s comic novel, “Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher,” a follow-up to “Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary” (May); Michael Thomas Ford’s family novel, “The Road Home”; and playwright Michael Salvatore’s debut novel, “Between Boyfriends,” about a dumped man’s determination to find true love… CHRISTOPHER RICE’S thriller “The Moonlit Earth” – about a woman trying to redeem her brother’s reputation after he’s accused of a terrorist act – is coming from Scribner in April, with crossover blurbs from the likes of mainstream thriller novelists Robert Crais and Tami Hoag… NPR CORRESPONDENT Frank Browning, author of the 1994 gay bestseller “The Culture of Desire,” recounts his spiritual dialogues and sexual encounters with a Dominican monk in “Spirits of Desire: Conversations With My Priest,” coming from Alyson Books this fall.