by Richard Labonte
“Stealing Angel,” by Terry Wolverton. Spinsters Ink, 288 pages, $14.95 paper.
Estranged lovers, custody fights, child abuse, kidnapping, spiritual beliefs, the shadowy boundary between religion and cult – Wolverton’s fourth novel juggles a number of hot-button issues with commendable fluidity. Once upon a time in Los Angeles, Maggie and Yolanda shared custody of Yolanda’s button-cute daughter, Angel. But when Yolanda, an aspiring performer, is offered a gig in Chicago, her aggressive new boyfriend demands that “their” daughter – though he isn’t the father – live with his sister, because “that dyke” Maggie has no legal right to parenthood. Heartbroken, Maggie reacts with a mother’s instinctive panic – and rage – when she learns that the girl is being abused; she snatches the child and flees south to Baja California and the sanctuary of an outpost of the Light Beings, a spiritual group whose meetings she occasionally attends in L.A. Wolverton’s depiction of Maggie as a relationship enabler, forgiving Yolanda her many trespasses, is often exasperating, but a combination of vivid writing, the novel’s embracing mantra of emotional healing and a number of compelling secondary characters all compensate.
“Dirty One,” by Michael Graves. Chelsea Station Editions, 154 pages, $16 paper.
As debuts go, they don’t get much better than this. Graves, a child of the ’80s, draws diligently on the banal pop culture totems of his adolescence – cassette tapes, pastel recliners, roller rinks, Walkmans, Mario Lopez in “Tiger Beat.” His characters, however, are far from banal. They are antsy, angsty kids, some in their teens, some younger, consumed by jarring desires they can’t resist but don’t quite comprehend, anxious to shed their everyday skins but with barely any sense of the world beyond their suburban existence. And, boy, do they transgress. In “Do It,” a 13-year-old girl walks in on her ex-boyfriend jacking off to a teddy bear; the next time she sees him, he’s smoothing the whiskers of a stuffed kitty cat. In “Dirty One,” Noah is smitten by high school rebel Ben, who sets fields afire and, when sex happens, ejaculates while almost strangling Noah. These two, and seven other stories in this slim collection, brand Graves as a next-generation master of prose that is at once remorseless and refreshing.
“The Choosing: A Rabbi’s Journey from Silent Nights to Holy Days,” by Andrea Myers. Rutgers University Press, 192 pages, $19.95 paper.
This is a memoir of religious conversion and sexual coming-out. It’s also something of a stand-up comedy routine. Myers, born Lutheran in suburban Long Island, connected to her lesbian self – and to the Jewish faith – as a student at Brandeis University. This meant leaving behind a sort-of boyfriend and embarking on educating herself about being a Jew, first by living in Israel for two years, then through fervent study at Rabbinical school. And it meant educating her generally supportive family (mixed Catholic and Lutheran) about both her newfound faith – as in, Jews don’t celebrate “their” New Year with midnight noisemakers and funny hats – and her yen for women. Her parents took both shifts with good grace, as illustrated by Myers’s often laugh-out-loud anecdotes. The book, arranged according to the Jewish calendar (from Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to Elul and Purim Katan) rather than chronologically, is all of an accessible primer for non-Jews about Jewish diversity, a primer for Jewish readers about lesbian lives and a splendid blend of wit and wisdom.
“Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry,” edited by Julie R. Enszer. A Midsummer Night’s Press. 86 pages, $14.95 paper.
In the land of milk and honey, there is room for a myriad of voices expressing a spectrum of emotions and witnessing a pantheon of moments – rage and humor, passion and regret, secular necessity and sexual desire, political exhortation and personal reflection. That’s how it is in this collection of work by more than 30 poets, every one somehow queer and in some way Jewish. It’s a slim chapbook but it overflows with a wealth of imagery and ideas, featuring a well-curated mix of elders – Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz is here, and Elana Dykewomon, and Joan Nestle, and Marilyn Hacker – and of a newer generation of poet, among them Jess Novak, Megan Volpert, Joanna Hoffman, Alison Wonderland and editor Enzser. Ellen Bass celebrates loving a woman, Ellen Orleans honors the dead, Eleanor Levine pleasures herself in a bathtub on Yom Kippur, Eryca Kasse goes into Yom Kippur yearning to be loved – varied experiences, yet each centered on and drawing from a distinctive faith in this vibrant collection.
If I went home, not only would the chocolate be off-limits: so would everything else. Passover with my parents and no kosher kitchen would mean a punishing week on the Macaroon Diet. The kosher-for-Passover coconut macaroons my family bought on sale every year for my Jewish uncle smelled like cheap suntan lotion, and stiffened into charcoal briquettes when exposed to air. Like the towering Italian panettone, or the traditional doorstop of a fruitcake, the Passover macaroon was for display purposes only. Besides, the constipation would have killed me.
– from “The Choosing,” by Andrea Myers
MAGAZINES TO WATCH OUT FOR: Chelsea Station Editions publisher Jameson Currier is launching “Chelsea Station,” a new magazine soliciting original fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, memoir, humor, narrative travelogue, interviews and reviews (books, theater, television, and film) relating to gay literature and gay men. Modeled after “Christopher Street,” which set a queer magazine standard from 1976 to 1995, the new journal will appear four to six times a year. Deadline for the first issue, dated November 2011, is Oct. 1. For info: www.chelseastationeditions.com… THE SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER “The Gay and Lesbian Review” – founded as “The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review” in 1994 and renamed in 1999 – features its usual mix of cogent reviews, poetry and features, including Andrew Holleran’s celebration of Tennessee Williams at 100 and James Gifford’s exuberant commentary – he bid successfully on eBay for one of only 34 copies known to exist of the print run of 125 – of the 1909 history of homosexuality, “The Intersexes: A History of Similisexualism As a Problem in Social Life,” by Edward Prime-Stevenson, who died in 1942… LESS SCHOLARLY AND even more exuberant is “Please, You Will Sodomize Me?!?,” an energetic ‘zine produced by Florida college students Frank Jaffe and Luke Munson reminiscent of the heyday of pre-Internet publications such as”Homocore” and “Holy Titclamps.” Contents include poems, colorful art, music and film reviews, an interview with Dutch artist Koes Staasen and fiction by Munson. This first issue may be sold out, but – young and queer alert – a second is promised. For info: [email protected]