by Richard Labonte
“Double Life: A Love Story from Broadway to Hollywood,” by Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine. Magnus Books, 448 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
When they met, Alan Shayne, recently divorced and trying hard to be cured of his queerness, was making his way in the world of theater. Norman Sunshine, more comfortable in his skin, was working as an illustrator. After a stuttering start, they fell in love; more than 50 years later, this is their story – much of it lived in a professional closet, years the couple write about (in seamlessly alternating chapters) with captivating candor. Their ardor sizzles on almost every page, though darker days of career uncertainty, domestic unrest and an incident of infidelity aren’t glossed over. And, boy, are names ever dropped: Lena Horne flew into a rage when she was without her liquor; Marlon Brando, with whom Shayne shared an acting class, was brilliant; Rock Hudson was generous – he loaned the couple his home when their Hollywood house burned to the ground. Anecdotes about Bette Davis, Robert Redford, Katharine Hepburn and dozens more entertainment luminaries pepper the pages, but they’re just diverting cameos in this exceptionally generous depiction of two men in love.
“Homestead,” by Sheila Ortiz-Taylor. Spinsters Ink, 238 pages, $14.95 paper.
The humble but heroic lives of two generations of women – with an epilogue embracing a third – are at the heart of this affecting portrait of interlinked families scrabbling to survive from the onset of the First World War to the eve of the Second. For the most part, the men are fools – but, being men, they possess the power to shape destiny, often poorly, while the women hold their families together. The narrative focuses first on Mary Beth, married unhappily but dutifully to her dead sister’s widower, Winston, who is never up to the task of providing for his family, and then on her daughter, Joyce, who also sacrifices her dreams for the sake of the man she has married. Though the novel is short, Ortiz-Taylor (author of a lesbian classic, “Faultlines”) has wrought an epic – a minimalist epic, to be sure – into which she packs more emotional moments and memorable characters in relatively few pages than most writers cram into multi-generational doorstops.
“Mystery of the Tempest,” by Sam Cameron. Bold Strokes Soliloquy, 244 pages, $13.95 paper.
There is a mystery, and a boat called “The Tempest” is at the center of the plot, but the charm of this young adult, teenage-sleuth debut lies in the twin boys who like to help their sheriff father solve crimes. One boy, Steven, is sexually precocious, sleeping with an old girlfriend while going with a new girlfriend, and plans to become a Navy Seal – though he’s hiding something from his parents. The other, Denny, who hopes to enter the Coast Guard, frets that he’ll die an 18-year-old virgin. He yearns to make out with a man, but, except for his brother, nobody knows he’s gay. Enter floppy-haired, handsome transfer student Brian, and Denny’s hormones – and more – are aroused. Meanwhile, back at the mystery: “The Tempest,” a gorgeous antique yacht explodes; Brian’s wealthy stepfather is being stalked by disgruntled family members over missing diamonds; a mysterious, muscled military veteran arrives in town; bullets and blood ensue. Cameron’s plot, an entertaining mix of desire and danger, plays out with storytelling panache and welcome unpredictability.
“A Long Road to the Sea,” written and illustrated by Joseph Hawk. Class Comics, 24 pages, $7.99 paper.
Young Aki is looking forward to a quiet day at the beach, so he sets off on his bicycle, muscled thighs and calves pumping at the pedals. Alas, erotics intrude. First, he’s accidentally forced off the road by a bearded hunk’s racy convertible and is offered hot sex as an apology; next, he pulls into a gas station to mend a flat tire and is serviced enthusiastically by two attendants; then a sudden storm forces him to find shelter in an abandoned cabin, where he finds four rugged, swarthy fellow cyclists doing the same – and what follows is no surprise. At last he reaches the ocean, cavorting in the water and savoring the sun before the shadow of a man massive in every way falls across his body. With minimal dialogue but with vivid artwork, comic artist Hawk has crafted a witty, sexy narrative – a visual short story. This is one of several recent publications from Class Comics, whose dozens of titles are reminiscent of the 25-volume “Meatmen” series edited until 2002 by Winston Leyland.
We both grew up at a time when homosexuality was not even spoken about. There were certainly no books that could help a young person understand that two people of the same sex could build a happy, productive and loving life together. When we entered our 50th year, another same sex couple told us we were “an inspiration,” so we began to feel we had the responsibility to make what we’ve experienced available to others. We also wanted to show people who were not gay that our life was not unlike theirs. We are all pretty much the same, so we deserve equal protection under the Constitution.
– from “Double Life,” by Alan Shayne and Norman Sunshine
Two LGBTQ bookstores, both coincidentally founded in 1970, are in imminent danger of closing, while a third is hoping to find a new location with lower rent. True Colors Bookstore, which opened as Amazon Bookstore Cooperative in Minneapolis (the oldest independent feminist bookstore in the U.S.), is having a going-out-of-business sale. “Barring a miracle, the store will close at the end of February,” said Ruta Skujins, who bought the bookstore in 2008. In Toronto, owner John Scythes is hoping to find a deep-pockets buyer for Glad Day Bookshop, which was born in gay activist Jearld Moldenhauer’s backpack and then housed in a back yard shed before opening its first storefront. Scythes, who bought the bookstore in 1991, dipped into his savings in 2010 when sales slowed. Meanwhile, a rent increase is forcing Atlanta’s Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse, which opened 18 years ago, out of its current location. The store has announced a moving sale with deep discounts, and a recent $1,000 donation from the Lloyd E. Russell Foundation kicked off an ongoing campaign to raise needed funds to finance the store’s move when a new location is found – or, if enough money is raised, store owner Philip Rafshoon said at a Dec. 3 anniversary party, donations will go to a “staying” fund.