by Richard Labonte
“The Metropolis Case,” by Matthew Gallaway. Crown Publishers, 382 pages, $25 hardcover.
First-time novelist Gallaway strikes beguiling chords in this inventive blend of mystery, romance, music and, skillfully, the supernatural. The novel is set in 19th century Europe and 20th and 21st centuries America, times and places linked by the majestic opera “Tristan and Isolde” and through the artfully entwined lives of four central characters: Lucien, the musical-genius and time-transcending gay son of a Parisian scientist researching eternal life in the 1860s; Anna, a low-key diva whose singing career skyrockets in New York in the 1960s when she steps in to replace a faltering soprano; Martin, an HIV-infected lawyer with a passion for punk in his past who turns to opera in the wake of 9/11; and Maria, Anna’s operatic protege, who shares a mysteriously embryonic kinship with Martin. Gallaway’s passion for opera suffuses the story, which among its many charms includes a deft depiction of composer Richard Wagner. But readers who have evaded opera’s opulent seduction ought not be deterred – at its core, this cunning novel embraces the universal themes of searching for love and the meaning of life.
“I’m from Driftwood: True Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Stories from All Over the World,” edited by Nathan Manske. IFD, 168 pages, $15 paper.
There is profound eloquence in this first-person collection of childhood stories – first crushes, loves realized, family reactions and more – gathered by editor Manske both in the course of a 50-state tour across America and through e-mails sent to imfromdriftwood.com. Hundreds of coming-out and living-gay narratives have been winnowed down to 51 queerly compelling mini-autobiographies, some of them heart-wrenching, some of them heartwarming, all of them proclaiming a truth for LGBT youth – that they are not alone. For the most part, though New York, San Francisco and Seattle are represented, these are primarily loud and proud voices from cities and towns not rich in queer resources: Clarksville in Tennessee and Mechanicsville in Virginia, Glasgow in Kentucky and Colby in Kansas, Hollis in New Hampshire and Driftwood in Texas – where 30-year-old Manske grew up, wishing on boyhood birthdays for a 1963 copy of “Uncanny X-Men #1” – and for a boyfriend. “You saved my life, literally!” one teen writes about a YouTube channel affiliated with the tour – a sentiment just as appropriate for this book.
“The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol,” by John Wilcock, edited by Christopher Trela. Trela Media LLC, 264 pages, $45 hardcover.
Forty years ago, Wilcock – a near-constant presence at Andy Warhol’s fabled Factory hangout – self-published a bare-bones book of 25 revealing interviews with a pantheon of the artist’s erstwhile companions and colleagues. The book is back, handsomely tarted up by editor/publisher Trela with a wealth of previously unpublished Warholian photos and prefaced with a new scene-setting remembrance by Wilcock, who co-founded “Interview” with Warhol before eventually leaving for the west coast – where he still lives. Wilcock conducted his interviews in the late 1960s – with Viva nude in her Chelsea Hotel room, with Brigid Polk in the back of a cab, with Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, performers in Warhol’s early films, and with Factory personalities Paul Morrissey, Lou Reed and Nico. Trela’s foreword notes that the book’s title is somewhat inaccurate: Warhol didn’t write it, so it’s not really an autobiography; and as several interviews reveal, he was reticent about his sex life, so it’s not that racy a tome. But as an eyewitness perspective on Warhol’s eccentricities, enthusiasms and artistic explorations, it’s a true treasure.
“Best Gay Stories 2010,” edited by Steve Berman. Lethe Press, 254 pages, $18 paper.
Unlike most “best stories” anthologies, the series edited by Berman for the past three years incorporates essays as well as fiction. Best Gay Writing, then, is what readers will find – and while no one book can wholly represent all of a year’s good queer prose, there aren’t any clunkers here. There are selections from blogs: “In History’s Vicinity,” Richard Bowes’ personal account from Mumpsimus of being Stonewall Riot-adjacent as a young man; from magazines: “Two Sides of a Boy,” Phillip Tang’s elegant short story from “Chroma 9,” about an Asian’s man’s down-low life; from non-fiction collections: “Death in Venice,” Christopher Bram’s vibrant essay extolling the novel of the same name, from “50 Gay and Lesbian Books Everyone Must Read,” and “Lonnie Coleman Remembered,” Nowell Briscoe’s warm remembrance of reading – and meeting – an author who changed his life, from “The Golden Age of Gay Fiction”; and, of course, from fiction collections: Anthony McDonald’s jaunty “Mercutio’s Romeo,” from “Boy Crazy,” and Jameson Currier’s sinuous “The Theatre Bug,” from “The Haunted Heart.” Good reads, all.
“What about his sexual relationships with people? Are they constant?” He’s very visual in his sexual relationships. I mean, everything is sexual to Andy without the sex act actually taking place. “You mean the sex act might not take place?” I think it just grooves on the visual aspects. “Is he faithful to a particular person?” He is at the moment. “I see. I’d like to explore the ways that an artist’s sex life affects his art… It seems to me to be such an interesting theme, but I’ve no idea how to get into it or even ask questions about it.” I think it’s very simple, that one’s sex life goes into one’s art, and that’s a form of sexual expression with Andy: his art.
– from an interview with Charles Henry Ford, in “The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol,” by John Wilcock
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: “Rolling Stone” contributing editor’s “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,” coming from Grove Press in June, promises new insight into allegations of pedophilia that dogged Jackson for the last two decades of his life… THE SCARRED LIFE of professional wrestler Chris Kanyon is captured in Ryan Clark’s as-told-to biography, “Wrestling Reality: Inside the World and Mind of a Gay Wrestling Superstar,” coming from ECW Press in Fall 2011; Kanyon, who had a middling career with WWE until about 2003, committed suicide in April last year while working with Clark on the book… BEACON PRESS is releasing Jay Michaelson’s “God versus Gay? The Religious Case for Equality,” refuting the religious right’s monopoly on God, in November… MAGNUS BOOKS, the new press founded by former Alyson Books editor Don Weise, has signed “Connecting to the Right Side of Forty: A Guide for Gay Men at Midlife,” by therapist and New York City public health advocate Bob Bergeron, for January 2012 publication… KENSINGTON BOOKS will publish “Don’t Let Me Go,” by Janet Trumble, about a gay high school student, his straight best friend and his long-distance boyfriend, in 2012.