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by Richard Labonte
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?,” by Jeanette Winterson. Grove Press, 224 pages, $25 hardcover.
More than a quarter-century after her searing autobiographical novel, “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” Winterson revisits the bleak childhood depicted in that story – and, in this seething memoir, suggests that life in the home of her evangelical adoptive mother was even bleaker, more hellish and more violent, and that reality was far worse than fiction. The novel “was a book I could live with…the other one is too painful,” she writes now, suggesting that, from the perspective of years – and after a nervous breakdown (following the end of a six-year relationship) and an attempted suicide – there’s a truer story to be told about her early years. After revisiting her past, Winterson recounts a no less harrowing present, in which a “savage lunatic” is both desperate to be loved while repelling the women who would love her, and in which an adult searching for lost mother-love becomes obsessed with searching for her birth mother. Their eventual reunion turned out to be lukewarm comfort; it didn’t fill the author’s emotional gap.
“Enter, Night,” by Michael Rowe. Chizine Publications, 420 pages, $15.95 paper.
Rowe’s outstanding first novel – after editing horror anthologies and penning well-crafted essays – is hard to categorize. There’s a vampire, but it’s not just a classic vampire novel (though blood is sucked and holy water splashes). There’s the mystery of a murder to be solved, but it’s not a traditional detective story. Both gay pride and gay shame figure in the plot, but it’s way more than a gay read. Set in a small northern Ontario town in 1972, Rowe’s characters include Christina Parr, destitute after the death of her husband, Jack, one-time scion of mining wealth but long estranged from his truly wicked mother, from whom Christina has sought shelter; her feisty daughter, Morgan, who befriends 12-year-old loner Finn, the hero of the tale; and her queer brother-in-law Jeremy, who like his brother Jack fled Parr’s Landing after bedding a buddy. And the vampire? He’s the embodiment of a 17th-century Catholic priest whose evil spirit, trapped in an archeological site near town, bathes the streets of Parr’s Landing with horrific blood in this terrific story.
“Growing Up Delicious,” by Marianne Banks. Bella Books, 232 pages, $15.95 paper.
Life in the small, mean town of Delicious was miserable for young Jennifer. Her mother was a tyrannical clean freak, her father was mostly drunk (though always caring) and her first lover, Ruthie, the preacher’s daughter, abandoned her to marry a man. The town’s notorious tomboy, she was forever the odd girl. And her misery only worsened when, at her sweetheart’s wedding, she tried to drown the preacher. A quarter century later, Jennifer, content in a relationship with a sensible woman, is called home by her hysterical (and hysterically straight) sister, Dorothy, who found their mother hanging from a beam in the family barn, an apparent suicide. Though reluctant to return, she finds comfort in the welcome of crusty gas-station owner Rosie and of Ina Lewinski, whose home was a safe harbor for young Jennifer – but disdain from others. Banks’ debut is a broad-stroke satire of homophobic attitudes, small-town hypocrisy, religious intolerance and – in a serious back story that meshes well with the novel’s dominant humorous tone – repressed shame and closely held secrets.
“For the Ferryman: A Personal History,” by Charles Silverstein. Chelsea Station Editions, 340 pages, $20 paper.
Readers might have expected more in this memoir about psychiatrist Silverstein’s heroic, historic effort in the early 1970s to remove homosexuality as a mental illness from his profession’s diagnostic manual. Or about his authorship in 1977 (with Edmund White) of the groundbreaking (and, in some places, eyebrow-raising) how-to tome, “The Joy of Gay Sex.” Both of those high points in the author’s memorable life are covered, of course, though briefly, as are his pre-gay years and the horror of the early AIDS years. But Silverstein focuses mostly on his tempestuous 20-year relationship with William Bory, a stunningly handsome 21-year-old with daddy issues when they met (Silverstein was 15 years his senior). Their love was true and deep, but not always a bed of roses: Bory was sexually alluring and intellectually brilliant but emotionally mercurial and, for years, an addict who stole from his partner. This searing memoir’s depiction of their years together, at once adoring and despairing, is testament to the enduring power of love, even as it addresses both men’s frailties and flaws.
William and I were perfect mirror images of each other’s needs. He was looking for a father to take care of him, while I, in the role of an idealized father, searched for my “son,” myself, to love as a substitute for the father who had abandoned me. In a psychological sense, it was a marriage made in heaven, a perfect union of two gay men in search of their phantom fathers. When I made William happy, I felt vindicated; when I failed, I was sure that I was culpable for his discomfort. And I continued to believe this tortured reasoning until the day he died.
– from “For the Ferryman,” by Charles Silverstein
If the Lambda Literary Awards are the queer Oscars, is there a LGBT equivalent to the Golden Globes? Not really – the Publishing Triangle Awards, to be announced in the next couple of months, are just as prestigious, if not as high profile, as the Lammys, whose winners will be named in early June. And there’s a certain cachet attached, as well, to the winners of the Stonewall Awards, selected by members of the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT), which were announced in late January. The fiction award went to Wayne Hoffman’s “Sweet Like Sugar ,” and runner-up “honor” titles are “The Temperamentals,” a play by Jon Marans; “Remembrance of Things I Forgot,” by Bob Smith; and “Annabel,” by Kathleen Winter. The nonfiction award was a tie: “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” by Jonathan D. Katz and David C. Ward; and “A Queer History of the United States,” by Michael Bronski. Runners-up are “Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender,” by Nick Krieger; “Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme,” edited by Ivan E. Coyote and Zena Sharman; and “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories,” by Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer. The young adult award went to “Putting Makeup on the Fat Boy,” by Bil Wright, while there were four runners-up: “Pink,” by Lili Wilkinson; “With or Without You,” by Brian Farrey; “a + e 4ever,” drawn and written by Ilike Merey; and “Money Boy,” by Paul Yee.