by Richard Labonte
“Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Through Genders,” by Joy Ladin. University of Wisconsin Press, 272 pages, $26.95 hardcover.
Poet Ladin brings elegance and eloquence to this memoir, by turn painful and joyous, of change from man to woman, from a suicidal “nonexistence” to an emerging embrace of life. Not sure that the Joy she is to become can return to Yeshiva University – an orthodox Jewish campus – where Jay, in his 40s, taught literature for several years, Ladin nonetheless embarked on her transition. Her wife was distraught and soon ready to divorce, and her children were initially more furious than curious, distant and difficult, determined to hang on to “Daddy” and wary of the woman he was becoming. Ladin doesn’t shy away from the trauma her need to transition inflicts on her family – or on herself, for that matter; time and again, the author refers “my gender crisis.” But she’s also blessed by her faith, listens to her inner angels, is buoyed by conversations with God, learns to stop wrestling with fear and frustration – and eventually comes to love a woman as a woman loves a woman, not as a man does so.
“Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies,” by Mikey Walsh. St. Martin’s Press, 288 pages, $24.99 hardcover.
Before he was five, Mikey’s dad was bruising his body with brutal punches, dreaming that his boy might one day recapture the Gypsy bareknuckle fighting championship long held by the family. By the time he was six, the lad was being raped on weekends by an uncle, a terror that went on for several years. He found scant solace with his He-Man action figures – for which his father whipped him – and temporary escape from a mean life when he was able to watch “The Wizard of Oz” with his mother. As he neared puberty, the author knew he was gay, a secret he kept to himself, though his father called him a “poof” and even his beloved sister turned against him. At 15, he fell in love with a 25-year-old bartender (who thought the boy was 20), and ran away with him – only to have his father and uncles hunt the man down and beat him repeatedly. Horrific as it is, though, this memoir and the glimpse it offers into secretive Gypsy life in England is also a celebratory story of queer survival.
“The Infernal Republic,” by Marshall Moore. Signal 8 Press, 226 pages, $15.95 paper.
In “Urban Reef,” two ladies lunch placidly while betting where a suicidal man’s body might land from a high rooftop leap. In “Metropolitan,” a “sartorial Santa-bunny” stuffs dozens and sometimes hundreds of dollars into clothing-store merchandise. In “The infinite Money Theorem,” a bored demon oversees a bet between Yahweh and Lucifer over whether a hundred thousand monkeys could in fact type the complete works of Shakespeare in a hundred thousand years. Of the 17 rather brilliant stories in Moore’s collection, these represent the lighter fare. Darker and deliciously twisted are “Flesh, Blood, and Some of the Parts,” in which a boy’s parents detach his arms, and then his legs, when he tries to kill himself; “Marble Forest, Karstic Heart,” in which a young Chinese boy never sleeps – until he becomes as still as a statue; and (one of the most emotionally unsettling tales) “Town of Thorns,” in which gay lovers drift apart after one is gay-bashed. This is a terrific collection of divinely amoral stories penned with precision by a writer who loves language.
“Lake on the Mountain,” by Jeffrey Round. Dundurn Press, 488 pages, $11.99 paper.
Canadian writer Round packs plenty of plot into this new mystery series, featuring missing-persons investigator Dan Sharp. He’s a single father to a precocious 14-year-old boy; as a boy himself he hustled on the streets of Toronto; and one of his current cases involves finding a teenage boy involved with porn films. Meanwhile, he’s forever hoping that his affair with a studly heart surgeon will blossom into more than one-night stands. And, when he accompanies the surgeon to the gay wedding of the scion of a wealthy WASP family and his hunky Brazilian boytoy, he’s drawn into both a wedding-party death and a decades-old missing person case. Round juggles assorted storylines – and such queer concerns as parenthood, wedding equality, fidelity and teen prostitution – with aplomb in this blend of plausible sleuthing and often-hot sex. As a bonus, readers are treated to some nifty travel writing. One of the mystery’s settings is a 120-foot-deep lake high on a hill, possibly fed by underground water flowing hundreds of miles – but the water’s source, too, is a mystery.
I can’t remember when I first realized that I really was gay. In some ways the knowledge had always been there, deep inside me. But of course I tried to deny it to myself, desperate not to be the one thing that would totally destroy me as a Gypsy. But as I approached puberty, I couldn’t pretend to myself any more. It wasn’t anything to do with what my uncle had done to me, but knowing that he too was attracted to the same sex left me feeling even more cursed. I lived every day, hating myself for being a freak among Gypsies. Although my father called me a poof every day, if he thought it was true, he…would almost certainly kill me.
– from “Gypsy Boy,” by Mikey Walsh.
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Lillian Faderman, co-author most recently (with Stuart Timmons) of “Gay L.A.”), has signed with Simon & Schuster for “Our America Too: The Story of the Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights,” history recounted in a “novelistic voice,” offering a mosaic of gay liberation pioneers and of LGBT successes and defeats; it’s being compared to Taylor Branch’s trilogy chronicling the life of Martin Luther King and African-American Civil Rights Movement … THE FOCUS IS MORE NARROW, but queer history is again the subject, in James Down’s “More Than Just Sex,” a look at pre-AIDS gay liberation in the decade after Stonewall and before the plague, coming next year from Basic Books … POET CHERYL DUMESNIL, editor of “Hitched: Wedding Stories from San Francisco City Hall,” has sold “Love Song for Baby X,” about a lesbian couple’s struggles with infertility as they attempt to become parents and set within the marriage equality movement, to Ig Publishing … TWO ELDERLY WOMEN, widows and long-time friends who find themselves falling in love, are featured in two thrillers by Charles Atkins, “Vultures at Twilight ” and “Connecticut’s Best Place to Die”; in the first, a May release from Severn House, the unlikely sleuths are determined to find the rest of the body after a severed finger shows up during an antiques auction.