By Richard Labonte
Send Me By Patrick Ryan. Dial Press, 310 pages, $23 hardcover
Youngest son Frankie lusts as an adolescent for Luke Skywalker and grows up to be an extroverted queer, eventually fusing AIDS with his art. Another son, Joe, cowers too long in the closet, overshadowed by his younger, more dazzling brother. The oldest, Matt, is a teen slacker who as an adult coasts as caretaker for his ailing, mob-connected father. Their sister Karen, quirkiest of the siblings, evolves from self-indulgent party girl to emotionally suffocated wife of an evangelical salesman. These four, along with their twice-divorced mother, are the memorably distinct characters inhabiting Ryan’s fragmented but seamless debut novel. Their interwoven stories are recounted – with prose that’s by turns witty and heartrending – in mixed-chronology flashbacks that arc hypnotically from the mid-’60s to contemporary times, from the age of Mercury space capsules to the launch of an aging space shuttle. “Send Me” is that rarest of novels, one that crafts a wholly self-contained universe where the reader can dwell for a few special hours, oblivious to the real world and reluctant to re-enter it.
There were times when I saw Frankie as a kind of prodigy. There were other times when he just seemed weird. After coming out at 14 (before I even realized I was in the closet), he declared himself a gay alien at 15, and by the time he turned 16 he was human again (and still gay), claiming his previous incarnation hadn’t been him but a “proxy clone” marking his place while he explored the galaxy. He wore his clothes backward every Thursday throughout his sophomore year because he claimed it helped rest his gravity. He took Grant Jenkins, the drum major, to the junior prom and slow-danced…
-from “Send Me,” by Patrick Ryan
The Night Watch By Sarah Waters. Riverhead, 464 pages, $24.95 hardcover
Engrossing historical fiction, with satisfying queer twists, is Waters’ forte, and she’s at the top of her form in her fourth novel. After the page-turning Victorian atmospherics of “Tipping the Velvet,” “Affinity,” and “Fingersmith,” “The Night Watch” brings to life World War II London, where lesbian love blossoms in underground bomb shelters, and gay conscientious objectors are jailed as much for their sexuality as for their politics. There are several point-of-view characters, the most prominent of whom are butch “night watch” ambulance driver Kay and sensitive working-class lad Duncan, through whose eyes Waters depicts a kind of Gothic city riddled with urban chaos. Even as German bombs fall nightly, though, plucky Londoners muddle through, and queer love survives. The novel opens in the war’s aftermath, in 1947, shifts back to 1944, when London life was at its most bleak, and then to1941, when the characters meet – in the aftermath of the German bombing Blitz that reduced large swaths of London to rubble. It’s a fragmented format, at first somewhat discordant – but one that in the end knits overlapping lives together with literary panache.
1,001 Beds: Performances, Essays, and Travels By Tim Miller.
University of Wisconsin Press, 277 pages, $19.95 paper
A queer Johnny Appleseed – that’s Tim Miller, the peripatetic performance artist who has been sowing seeds of insurrectionary faggot art across America for a quarter of a century. By his own tongue-in-cheek estimation, he’ll have slept in 1,001 strange beds before a career of weekly workshops and weekend shows winds down: this halfway-there account of an ongoing performance odyssey showcases both his political activism and his personal life and loves. Men he has slept with, and boyfriends in particular – Tim Bernd, Douglas Sadownick, Alistair McCartney – are often the catalyst for his art. So, too, is AIDS, with the activist anger and energy – and even humor – of ACT UP’s early days infusing many of this book’s journal entries and performance excerpts. There are engaging elements of memoir, but they’re more snatches of memory than full-on autobiography. That’s another book; this one is a warm, brisk exposition of the personal, political, artistic, and pedagogical sides of a multifaceted man – all constituents of Miller’s life on the front lines of queer art.
The Boswell Thesis: Essays on Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality Edited by Matthew Kuefler
. University of Chicago Press, $27.50, 348 pages paper
When it was first published in 1980, John Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” was something of a queer-bookstore phenomenon – a high-priced academic text that outsold the popular gay fiction of the era (Gordon Merrick’s naughty paperback novels, for example). The essence of Boswell’s research is that there was a time in the life of the Catholic Church when homosexuality was both tolerated and ritualized – a thesis queers not too distant from Stonewall embraced with some fervor. To this day, 25 years after it came out and a decade after its author’s death, the book is still a bestseller, and its cultural and scholarly longevity are justly honored in this timely collection of celebratory essays. “The Boswell Thesis,” to its credit, isn’t merely hagiography: editor Kuefler’s substantive introduction even-handedly summarizes the views of scholars, some of them gay, who roundly, sometimes angrily, condemned Boswell’s scholarship in the years after the book was published. That done, the 15 essays here celebrate a book whose influence among gays, and Christians, continues to resonate.
LITERARY HOAXER JT LEROY isn’t ready to quit. On the heels of the release of a film based on “his” story collection, Asia Argento’s “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” comes news that Last Gasp of San Francisco is moving ahead with plans to publish the short graphic novel “Labour,” a sequel of sorts to LeRoy’s 2005 book, “Harold’s End”; it’s about a young boy who lives in a trailer with his mother and her boyfriend, coping with the birth of a brother. “We stand behind the work as fiction, and that it’s good,” said Last Gasp publisher Ron Turner, who reported that “Harold’s End” has sales of about 8,000 copies, and announced a press run of 10,000 for the new book, due in mid-summer… AFTER FINDING PUBLISHERS for its Spanish, Greek, German, and Catalan editions, Lawrence Schimel has sold his third short story collection, “Two Boys in Love,” to American publisher Kenneth Harrison’s Seventh Window Press… NOVELS BY DENNIS COOPER, Mack Friedman, Jeanette Winterson, and Katia Noyes are among 100 titles in 20 categories nominated this year for the Lambda Literary Award. For a full list of finalists and information on the May 18 Lambda Literary Foundation awards dinner in Washington, D.C.: http://www.lambdaliterary.org.