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by Richard Labonte
“The Two Krishnas,” by Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla. Magnus Books, 348 pages, $14.95 paper.
A closeted husband, an unsuspecting wife, an achingly needy younger lover – the three pivotal people in Dhalla’s second novel are stock gay-fiction standards transformed into wrenchingly real characters by the author’s mastery of human emotion. Banker Rahul, outwardly a staid Hindu husband, is leading a double life; still in love with his wife, Pooja, he nonetheless is consumed by a secretive affair with a much younger bookstore clerk, Atif, a Muslim who has overstayed his student visa – and who is the same age as Rahul’s hothead son, Ajay. The narrative nimbly encompasses disparate settings, among them Pooja’s cardamom-scented traditional home life and the secular whirl of West Hollywood and gay love – two cultural flashpoints destined to collide. In a universe of easy-reading entertainment, true love blossoming after the closet door opens would be the outcome. But in this novel’s more nuanced, more honest, more poetic universe, duplicity has consequences and tragedy is inevitable. This is not a happily-ever-after story; its heartbreak is magnificently cathartic and enthrallingly inevitable.
“365 Days,” by KE Payne. Bold Strokes/Soliloquy, 234 pages, $13.95 paper.
In this digital age, do effervescent 16-year-old girls still write daily in a diary, penning new entries from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31? Let’s assume so, for the sake of this quirky coming-out chronicle’s plausibility. The year-in-a-life is penned by Clemmie, a British lass with mundane parents, a snotty, slightly older sister, a best friend with whom she has increasingly less in common – and with a near-obsessive crush on aloof “J”, a gorgeous schoolmate of the female sort. Clemmie tries to squelch her feelings for J by embarking on a couple of tragic dates with a boorish boy named Ben, whose text asking her out (“Kool! Letz do 2moz @7 @McDeez)” is about as articulate as he gets. But the girl’s daily-diaried desire for J remains a constant – until new girl Hannah arrives at school mid-term. In the hands of a less assured writer, using a diary as a storytelling device might lead to monotony. But Payne capture’s Clemmie’s voice – an engaging blend of teenage angst and saucy self-assurance – with full-throated style.
“Red White Black and Blue,” by Richard Stevenson. MLR Press, 232 pages, $13.99 paper.
Impetuous private investigator Donald Strachey and his more straitlaced lover, Timothy Callahan, first saw print in 1981, and they’ve aged well – though perhaps not as much as they would have in real life. The stalwart series has also aged well, its plots drawn over the years from such queer touchstones as outing, AIDS and aversion therapy. After an excursion to Thailand in his last book, “The 38 Million Dollar Smile,” Stevenson returns in this eleventh mystery to its series roots – the hurly-burly of Albany, New York politics. Strachey is hired to dig up dirt to muddy the Tea Party-backed gubernatorial primary campaign of a conservative Democrat cowering deep in the back of a sexual hypocrisy closet – he’s cheating on his wife with young men, who he regularly abuses and then discards. Stevenson treats the topic of abuse with the respect it’s due, but the author’s trademark twinkle-in-the-eye tone – and his cantankerously comfortable relationship with Timmy – remain. As for keeping up with the times? At mystery’s end, Andrew Cuomo’s is elected governor of New York.
“A Study in Lavender: Queering Sherlock Holmes,” edited by Joseph R.G. DeMarco. Lethe Press, 342 pages, $20 paper.
Ignore that academic title. This “study” is a brilliant blend of pastiche and homage in which Holmes and his companion-in-sleuthing, Watson, are relocated by 11 contributors from foggy Victorian streets to an alternate storytelling universe. In Stephen Osborne’s “The Adventure of the Bloody Coins,” for example, Sherlock’s mysterious brother, Mycroft, has “the conversation I’ve avoided for far too many years” after his men’s club is revealed to be the site of homosexual dalliances in which he participates. In Lyn C.A. Gardners’s “The Adventure of the Hidden Lane,” Watson expresses his love for Holmes with the plaintive statement, “But I’m not sure I can live this way forever. I’m the sort of man who needs a companion of the heart, not just the mind.” And in the anthology’s most ambitious story, “The Well-Educated Young Man,” a young rent boy’s attraction to Sherlock inspires lives that bridge decades. DeMarco has taken the concept of fanfiction – a genre where straight characters are re-imagined as gay – and elevated it to an admirably inspirational literary level.
Okay, so I know nothing will happen “immediately,” it’s not like I’ll wake up tomorrow and find a badge pinned to my pj’s saying “welcome to the club” or anything, but what I mean is that “something” has to happen next, right? I mean, ‘cos, like, it’s obvious to me that I’m gay, so does that mean it’ll be obvious to other people? I suppose at some point I’ll have to tell Mum and Dad, any my friends of course, but how’s everyone going to react? Will they expect me to shave my head and start wearing dungarees? OMG, what if I suddenly start dancing like Ellen DeGeneres at inappropriate moments???
-from “365 Days,” by KE Payne
Peter Cameron’s Wallflower Press has announced a third series of five limited-edition chapbooks (only 10 copies of each), to be published between September and next April, featuring his own writing as well as that of authors he admires. The titles are: “Cora Glynn,” an excerpt from a novel by Cameron, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in February, 2012; “The Strange Case of Catherine Hayes,” by Charles J. Finger, the true story of an 18th-century murder in London; “Last Night in the Moon: Excerpts from the Journals of Denton Welch,” by Denton Welch”; “I Know You: A Book of Portraits,” by Cameron; and “Sincerely Yours: The Correspondence of Beatrice J. Fitzhugh, Assistant to Mr. Kindelbinder (Senior),” letters by Beatrice J. Fitzhugh. The handcrafted books are $125 each. Meanwhile, chapbooks from Series I and Series II – only two of those 10 titles are still in print – are being reissued in “less elaborate editions,” says Cameron. The reprints include “The Daughter of Jesus,” by Edward Swift; “Love, James,” by James Lord; “Bunny Says It’s the Deathwatch,” by Stephanie C. Gunn; and three chapbooks of work by Cameron: “Dog Stories: Homework & The Secret Dog,” “The End of My Life in New York,” and “The Abridged Version & Hearsay.” Reprint prices range from $50 for one title to $400 for five. For information on this luxurious throwback to pre-digital publishing: http://www.wallflowerpress.com.