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Book Marks: ‘Leche’ is a chaotic, nostalgic read

By |2018-01-15T16:29:10-05:00May 19th, 2011|Entertainment|

by Richard Labonte

“Leche,” by R. Zamora Linmark. Coffee House Press, 280 pages, $15.95 paper.

The message of this kaleidoscopic novel is that you can go home again. But the trip is… trippy. Filipino-born Vince, raised by his grandfather after his parents decamped for Hawaii to escape the repressive Marcos regime, reunited with his mother at age 10. Thirteen years later, the now handsome – and quite queer – man returns to the crazy-quilt country of his birth, the prize for placing second in a male talent pageant for Filipino expatriates. A series of reflective postcards sent home and of tourist tips both cheeky and informative – “The Philippines has four seasons: hot, wet, melting, flooding” – capture Manila’s oppressive pollution and quirky culture. Equally disconcerting, a cast of colorful characters – among them a hunky taxi driver who fuels Vince’s sexual fantasies and a tour guide who doesn’t deliver on a date – all declare him American, a status he resists. But when Vince returns to the village of his birth, to honor his dead grandfather, he discovers he does belong. Linmark’s second novel balances the irreverent, the chaotic and the nostalgic with seductive energy.

“Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender,” by Nick Krieger. Beacon Press, 216 pages, $15 paper.

Life was nice enough for Nina – she moved in a circle of A-list San Francisco lesbians, hanging out with wealthy and sporty women, identifying as a dyke. But when she returned to the Bay Area after a winter bumming around Wyoming with her snowboarding brother, she moved into a cheap room in a Castro apartment. Immersed in the culture of unconventional queers – including a roommate in transition – she began to question her physical and emotional self-identity. Krieger’s journey through and beyond gender, from Nina to Nick, from a large-breasted “her” with shaved legs to an after-top surgery “him” with hairy calves, is chronicled with a dash of wit, with nuanced wisdom, and with candid accounts of confrontations with parents – particularly the father – who are puzzled and pained at seeing their daughter become their son. For the author, however, the essence of gender isn’t as cut-and-dried as daughter-or-son. Nina accepts Nick as a name while embracing this paradox: “…the confusing choice to take on a guy’s name, even though I do not consider myself a guy.”

“Red Clay Weather,” by Reginald Shepherd. University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pages, $14.95 paper.

The cancer that killed Shepherd in 2008, with five collections already published and this sixth nearing completion, haunts a brilliant book. “Calcium-deficient bones,” he writes, and “…a rising/ viral load, testing degrees of never, and “nurse says she recognizes me in the light’s edict,” and “today I am afraid of ghosts” and “my body is so porous.” The last poem, finished just two weeks before he died – and as he was baptized an Episcopalian – is titled, optimistically, “God-With-U.” According to the preface by Shepherd’s partner and literary executor, Robert Philen, the poem’s last lines first expressed a desire to believe – “How I want to believe?” – amended to the more affirmative “How I want to believe.” But for the most part, these poems don’t dwell on Shepherd’s disease; African-American experience, the ephemera of memory, and the presence, especially, of the natural world, inhabit many of these poems, connecting the eye of a poet to the world around him with a dedication to lyricism and a commitment to the purity of language.

“Donovan’s Big Day,” by Leslea Newman, illustrated by Mike Dutton. Tricycle Press, 32 pages, $15.99.

Donovan wakes up on the morning of the big day in a bedroom with a baseball bat and basketball in a basket in the corner. He can’t sleep in, not even for five minutes. He has to scrub his face and brush his teeth and clean his nails with extra care. After he’s dressed – in a new shirt, new pants, a new jacket, a new clip-on bowtie, even new shoes – he can’t play in the yard with his dog Sheeba, because she has muddy paws. And, especially, he can’t lose a special white satin box, because he’s ring-bearer for the wedding of his Mommy and his Mama, a happy occasion feted by hundreds of grown-ups in this picture book for youngsters aged 4 to 7. “I now pronounce you wife and wife,” says the man in the long black robes, and then Donovan remembers one more important part of the day: to announce, “You may now kiss the brides.” By focusing attention on a boy’s proud excitement, Newman depicts same-sex marriage in an easygoing, accessible tone.

Featured Excerpt

As I moved into the unknown, further into the trans-masculine realm, I didn’t see myself on the path of some big change. But I had less resistance to little changes, to a name that could be screamed in bed, to the male words that made me feel seen, to a chest that others might perceive as being of Man, to fighting my own desires as if for some higher cause, understanding now that I was of most value to myself and to others – women, lesbians, trans guys, lovers, my parents – when I was solid and secure in myself.

-from “Nina Here Nor There,” by Nick Krieger

Footnotes

TWO ORPHANED ALYSON novels have found new homes – Cleis Press is publishing Paul Russell’s novel, “The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov,” in October, and Magnus Books – founded by Don Weise after the former Alyson publisher left the company – is publishing Charles Rice Gonzalez’s novel, Chulito,” also in October… CANADIAN NOVELIST Joey Comeau’s short novel, “One Bloody Thing After Another,” a horror novel set at a summer camp, is a finalist (in the novella category) for the 2010 Shirley Jackson Awards, named after a master of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic; her work includes “The Haunting of Hill House” and the classic short story, “The Lottery”…THIRTY YEARS AFTER his last picture book, “Outside Over There” – and for the first time as an openly gay writer and illustrator – Maurice Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”) is publishing “Bumble-Ardy,” about a 9-year-old pig who has never had a birthday party; he invites nine pig friends to a masquerade bash that gets out of hand, coming from HarperCollins in September… BISHOP GENE ROBINSON has sold “God Believes in Love: Straight Talk on Gay Marriage,” making the case for same-sex marriage using religious tradition, his reading of the Bible, and his own experience as a husband in both a straight marriage and now a gay marriage.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.