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Book Marks

By |2006-06-29T09:00:00-04:00June 29th, 2006|Uncategorized|

By Richard Labonte

“The Good Neighbor,” by Jay Quinn. Alyson Books, 298 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

Will and Rory are the gay neighbors: Will is the over-achieving careerist, while laid-back Rory works part-time from home and walks their “child” – Bridget, the dog. Meg and Austin are the straight neighbors: she’s the driven, just-made-partner lawyer, and he’s the downsized house husband most involved in caring for their two young boys. The power dynamic in their respective relationships is obvious. So it’s not a shock that Rory and Austin get it on, out of frustration – and some envy – over the busy lives of their partners, and out of their own ennui. Over-the-fence conversations morph into a sensual friendship and, ultimately, a furtive sexual tryst. Don’t let this prosaic plot summary deter you, though, from reading this accomplished novel. Quinn invests “The Good Neighbor” with effortless prose that’s a pleasure to read, a nimble sense of nuance that gives it complex emotional texture, and a deep intelligence about how couples can love each other while dealing with imbalance in their lives. This is the good gay novel about suburbia and its torments that John Updike won’t ever write.

“Between Mom and Jo,” by Julie Anne Peters. Little, Brown, 232 pages, $16.99 hardcover.

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby… and then the merry, contented, loving marriage of Nick’s birth mother, Erin, and her wife, Jo, falls apart. Young-adult novelist Peters’ novel about a young boy coping with the rancorous split of his two moms couldn’t be more timely, what with the growth of gay parenting and the onset of limited marriage rights. The story is recounted mostly from 14-year-old Nick’s precocious perspective, in alternating chapters that effectively capture the bewilderment and suffocating displacement engendered by the two women’s venomous separation. Peters cuts quite close to the emotional bone: this finely tuned story incorporates, with nimble sensitivity, topics like marital fidelity, alcohol abuse, and the lash of unthinking anger. The resolution – the teenager moves into the apartment of decidedly butch Jo, while his birth mother’s romance with a more feminine woman proceeds – has the whiff of stereotype to it. Nonetheless, “Between Mom and Jo” is a powerful depiction of the pain of divorce.

“ManBug,” by George K. Ilsley. Arsenal Pulp Press, 230 pages, $15.95 paper.

Sebastian is surely one of the most original gay characters to ever inhabit a novel. He’s an entomologist, obsessed with bugs since boyhood, forever attributing insect characteristics to the people around him. And he has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism that inhibits normal social interaction. His lover, Tom, is a dyslexic bisexual Buddhist with a cult-like weirdness to his spirituality, and a wandering eye for impressionable blond “manboys” (and the occasional young woman). So it’s no wonder that their relationship is, in a word, fraught. Ilsley’s first novel bristles with radiant, utterly original writing – prose that lives up to the stellar standard set by his short story collection, “Random Acts of Hatred” – and brims with fascinating, sometimes disturbing factoids about bugs (you don’t want to know what’s living in your eyebrows). And for a novel about the bumpy ways of romance, to say nothing of those yucky bugs, “ManBug” has more laugh-out-loud lines than might be expected.

{AMAZON”The Way Out: The Gay Man’s Guide to Freedom Even if You’re in Denial, Closeted, Half In, Half Out, Just Out, or Been Around the Block,” by Christopher Lee Nutter.} Health Communications, 174 pages, $14.95 paper.

Nutter was an unhappy, ungainly, and deeply closeted Southern teenager who transformed himself, in his early 20s, into a sexually voracious gym bunny and hot Chelsea-boy bartender. And he was still unhappy – even as he was dispensing coming-out advice, more than a decade ago, to hordes of boys and men who read his own brash coming-out account in “Details” magazine. He’s a more contented homo now; “The Way Out” is about how he came to develop an improved self-image and a more sane, and sanguine, take on the gay community. As help-the-queer-self books go, this isn’t an immensely original exercise: Brad Gooch covered much the same spiritual ground in “Finding the Boyfriend Within”; David Nimmons offered a similar common-sense accumulation of self-healing wisdom in “The Soul Beneath the Skin.” But Nutter’s likable book, a confessional memoir as much as a how-to-guide to the rites of emotional gay passage, has a clarity and a sense of humor that renders its hard-earned advice nicely accessible.

{ITAL Featured Excerpt:

Tom brought home scabies. Scabies, like lard worms, are also tiny little mites who make themselves at home in our skin. However, these mites are another story. These mites are a problem, because they are insanely itchy and especially fond of the baby-tender skin between the fingers, on the neck, or on the penis. Tom was infested near both hips, in front. You could actually see little trails burrowed through his skin along the crease where torso met legs. Some were scratches and some were burrows. Mites, at home in your skin: nothing could be creepier.
}
-from “ManBug,” by George K. Ilsley

Footnotes:

JACK FRITSCHER’S EPIC 1980s novel, “Some Dance to Remember: A Memoir-Novel of San Francisco, 1970-1982” – about San Francisco queer life in the pre-AIDS era – is winner of “ForeWord” magazine’s Book of the Year award in the gay-lesbian fiction category. It was first published by now-defunct Knights Press in 1990; that edition was distributed with a new ISBN by Mark Hemry’s Palm Drive Press in 1999, and the novel was reprinted last year by Harrington Park Press. Runners-up in the fiction category are two self-published books, I.E. Woodward’s “Symmetry” (iUniverse) and Fred Carrier’s “Maurice and Alex in America” (AuthorHouse). The nonfiction winner is Zsa Zsa Gershick’s “Secret Service: Untold Stories of Lesbians in the Military” (Alyson Books); runners-up are Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince’s “Best Gay and Lesbian Films: Glitter Awards 2005” (Blood Moon) and Daniel Gawthrop’s “The Rice Queen Diaries” (Arsenal Pulp). The awards were presented in May at Book Expo America in Washington, D.C…. BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Popular young-adult novelist Alex Sanchez has sold a new book – “Different Springs,” about two teen boys challenged by an unexpected attraction to each other while dealing with self-discovery, first love, and losses in their lives. It’s due next year from Simon & Schuster, publisher of the novels “Rainbow High” and “Rainbow Road” and the forthcoming “Getting It,” about a straight boy who turns to a gay boy for help in getting the girl of his dreams.

“Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.”

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.