by Richard Labonte
“Taking My Life,” by Jane Rule. Talonbooks, 284 pages, $19.95 paper.
It’s good to go through all the boxes. That’s how scholar Linda M. Morra came across an astonishing, never-catalogued find: a posthumous autobiography, handwritten on yellow foolscap paper, recounting Rule’s first 21 years from the thoughtful, ironic and sometimes painfully honest perspective of old age. On the first page, she “remember(s) remembering when I was born.” On the last page, she is settling into “my first real home,” learning “how to live with a lover” and writing “my first, unpublishable novel.” The years between included a peripatetic childhood, as her family bounced from home to home; a tomboyish youth – she was a gangly lass; a sometimes fractious relationship with her handsome but troubled older brother; and, as she passed from adolescence to young womanhood, a realization that she was born to love women. Though best known for the classic “Desert of the Heart,” Rule wrote 10 other novels and three other books; anyone who has read even one – though every queer reader with taste ought to read them all – will relish revisiting her fluid prose.
“The Fog: A Novel of Desire and Reprisal,” by Jeff Mann. Bear Bones Books, 224 pages, $15 paper.
Sex is violence and passion is pain in Mann’s relentlessly brutal – yet irrepressibly romantic – short novel. At its core are two long-term lovers, self-defined bears. Jay – the Daddy of the relationship – believes he was deeply wronged by a cop who sent him to jail. Consumed by a desire for revenge, he enlists his blinded-by-love partner, Al, in a plan to kidnap and torture Rob, the hauntingly hunky son of his nemesis. From first page to last, except for a redemptive epilogue, this pitch-perfect erotic novel epitomizes a thriller genre known as torture porn – the 22-year-old captive is blindfolded and bound and gagged for days on end, chained to his bed, denied heat in the midst of frigid Appalachian winter, lashed with whips, slashed by knives and cruelly raped by Jay. And yet, the poetry of Mann’s prose imbues even the most gruesome scenes with tender moments, particularly as a kind of Stockholm syndrome slowly bonds young Rob and his gentler captive, Al. Both shocking and sensual, this is an instant classic.
“Happy Accidents,” by Jane Lynch. Hyperion Voice, 256 pages, $24.99 paper.
By age 12, Lynch was mostly mooning about girls, though she confesses in this charismatic memoir to a hormonal crush on 1970s-era Ron Howard. The crankily comedic star of “Glee” acknowledged her lesbianism as a theater major, but it took a couple of decades, an ocean of alcohol and a pharmacy of over-the-counter pills before Lynch was able to accept the kindness of strangers – and the affection of friends. She was a solitary drinker for years – “Had I known that in AA one of the things you do is tell your drinking story over and over, I would have made mine much more interesting” – before accepting the challenge of recovery and exploring a stabilizing spirituality. All the while she was auditioning steadily, hawking cubic zirconia on a 1987 home shopping show and shilling for sugary cereal before breaking through with a scene-stealing cameo in “Best in Show.” Always candid, never coy, Lynch’s account of the happy casting accidents that led her to stardom -and, more recently, to love – is the work of a most talented woman.
“Nocturnal Omissions: A Tale of Two Poets,” by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard and Eric Norris. Sibling Rivalry Press, 168 pages, $16.95 paper.
Gavin lived in Hawaii. Eric lived in New York. Facebook brought them together – Gavin, a former porn star, life-long poet, one-time chef and sometime hermit in his 50s, responded to an admiring post from Eric, a poet 15 years his junior. This two-author collection of 111 poems – almost one a day from one to the other over two months – is the result. Playful and passionate, lusty and seductive, erotic and philosophical, their poem-fueled cyber-romance was to culminate in a joint “nude poet” reading in San Francisco – the first time the two men would meet in person. “I will be holding you in a few hours,” writes Eric in his last poem, emailed as his plane is landing in Oakland; and “I want…to breathe for a night – for four nights – the same bepassioned air,” writes Gavin in the besotted collection’s final poem. Did reality match expectation? This book ends at the brink of both the storytelling and sexual climax. Which is as it should be. The best romances are open-ended.
Writing an autobiography may be a positive way of taking my own life. Beginning in the dead of winter, mortal with abused lungs and liver, my arthritic bones as incentive for old age, I may be able to learn to value my life as something other than the hard and threateningly pointless journey it has often seemed. I have never been suicidal but often stalled, as I have been now for some months, not just directionless but unconvinced that there is one. No plan for a story or novel can rouse my imagination, which resolutely sleeps, feeding on the fat of summer. And so I take my life, with moral and aesthetic misgivings, simply because there is nothing left to do.
– from “Taking My Life,” by Jane Rule
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES: Vancouver children’s librarian Anna Swanson, whose first poetry collection, “The Nights Also,” won a Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry, has now received Canada’s 2011 Gerald Lampert Memorial award, which recognizes a debut collection – and comes with a $1,000 prize… DAVID RAKOFF is among the finalists for the 2011 Thurber Prize for American Humor for “Half Empty,” his collection of witty essays adopting a posture of “defensive pessimism” – that is, always expecting the worst so there’s nothing to be disappointed about…TWO QUEER-INTEREST books were runners-up in PEN American Center awards for 2011: Wendy Moffat, author of “A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster,” and Justin Spring, author of “Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward,” losing to Stacy Schiff’s “Cleopatra: A Life”; gay novelist and biographer Brad Gooch was one of the biography judges. In the essay category, “New Yorker” music critic Alex Ross was a finalist for his collection, “Listen to This,” showcasing a decade of his magazine reviews and commentary… COLM TOIBIN IS a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for his collection “The Empty Family.”.. TWO CANADIANS, Daniel Allen Cox (“Krakow’s Melt”) and Ivan E. Coyote (“Missed Her”) are contenders for the ReLit Award, for best books published by Canada’s independent presses… THE MIDWEST BOOKSELLERS Association has named “Wingshooters,” by Nina Revoyr, as its favorite adult fiction title.