by Richard Labonte
August 13, 2007
“First Person Plural,” by Andrew W. M. Beierle. Kensington Books, 336 pages, $15 paper.
One twin, Porter, is an athletic extrovert and straight. The other, Owen, is an intellectual introvert and gay. They are as emotionally different as brothers can be – and, for better and often worse, inseparable from birth. That’s because they’re conjoined – born with two distinct (and eventually incredibly handsome) heads atop one shared (and eventually eye-fetchingly well-built) body. From the neck down, they are one person – with one penis, a definite complication once puberty hits. Beierle’s novel about how Owen and his brother navigate life – from playing football to studying quietly, from drinking alcohol to fronting a band, and from boyhood masturbation to adult sex with Porter’s wife and Owen’s lover – is superbly (and never salaciously) imagined. From start to finish, this is a wholly original and wildly imaginative achievement, a unique exploration of the profound intricacies of human anatomy and human love. The 2007 reading season still has many books to go, but it’s not too early to single out this astonishing novel as one of the year’s best.
“I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard’s Fall,” by Mike Jones with Sam Gallegos. Seven Stories Press, 256 pages, $23.95 hardcover.
The story of how a muscular massage therapist outed fundie preacher Ted Haggard last year got so much press that there’s not much new news in this book-length reprise. But there is a lot of heart, much good humor, and a surprising dollop of forgiveness. Jones was prompted to disclose three years of sex sessions with Haggard because of the preacher’s hypocrisy around gay rights – preaching homophobic hellfire from the pulpit every Sunday, while showing up for monthly erotic massages and handjobs. Jones had no idea who his charismatic client was until one of his gym’s TVs was tuned to a religious channel, and he put a name to the body he’d serviced so regularly. “I had to say something” perfectly sums up Jones’ rationale for going public. The added value that transforms last year’s news headlines into a rewarding read comes from the back story: how Jones doted on his mother and was affected by her death, how sensitively he related to his clients, and how he handled the hysterical aftermath of his disclosure.
“Red Light,” by J.D. Glass. Bold Strokes Books, 296 pages, $15.95 paper.
Most lesbian romances are rigorously formulaic: girl wants girl, girl is unattainable, girl almost gives up, girl and girl are thrown together in a crisis, girl and girl combust sexually, and at last girl and girl live happily ever after. That’s how it is in “Red Light,” with this exquisite improvement on the formula: Glass constructs a well-researched world around the fierce desires of her damsels. The women who want to fall in love work in New York’s emergency medical services – driving ambulances, administering immediate first aid, and saving lives, a gritty “riding the rig” milieu that Glass captures with heart-pounding realism. Her characters are multidimensional, too – not just Tori, dedicated to saving lives, and Jean, the tough dyke she comes to love, but also a rich array of others: Tori’s censorious Spanish mother, Jean’s rowdy Irish-American family, Tori’s selfish first lover, and the wacko lesbian sexual predator who stalks almost every lesbian in the book. Emotional thrills, medical chills, erotic interludes, and sweet romance: this page-turner has spirit to spare.
“Homosex: Sixty Years of Gay Erotica,” edited by Simon Sheppard. Carroll & Graf, 332 pages, $15.95 paper.
Any connoisseur of classic gay porn in its written form will have already read several of the hot but never hoary older selections in this smart collection of smut – work by Phil Andros, Richard Amory, Dirk Vanden, Bob Cochran, John Preston, Aaron Travis, Lars Eighner, and Jack Fritscher, whose contributions span the decades from 1953 to 1986. Sheppard, no slouch himself when it comes to penning arousing queer prose, has chosen well from the early years of erotic gay writing, with reprints that are as literarily rewarding as they are sexually stimulating. Two lesser-known gems open the book – excerpts from Eldon Barnard’s novel “Navy Daze” (1945) and H.R.’s novel “Whittier” (1950); Sheppard cast a wide and savvy net. His historical survey plucks smut from the ’90s by Michael Lassell, Al Lujan, D. Travers Scott, Jay Ruben Dayrit, Christopher Wittke, and Ian Philips, and from this century by Karl von Uhl (“AIDS Is Over”), Bob Vickery, Trebor Healey, and Matt Stedmann – every one worth a read, or a re-read…and often a wank.
From time to time I ventured into chat rooms with names like “M4M Unusual,” knowing I was the most unusual person there. I talked to a few guys who were amputees or paraplegics or who were looking for those types. I thought if I could find someone “unusual” enough to identify with me, I could come out to them about my condition. I didn’t find anyone like that, although some of the “hobbies and interests” listed in profiles of men in that room made the idea of having sex with a two-headed man seem almost normal.
-from “First Person Plural,” by Andrew W.M Beierle
HOPEFUL UNPUBLISHED AUTHORS have from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 to submit their novels to Project Queer Lit’s third incarnation. The first-fiction contest was launched three years ago by Suspect Thoughts Press; “Men With Their Hands,” Raymond Luczak’s novel about a deaf gay man, was the 2006 winner, and is scheduled for publication in December. Two novels were chosen in 2004 and published in 2006: Peggy Munson’s “Origami Striptease,” and Alicia E. Gornason’s “Supervillianz,” both Lambda Literary Award finalists. All three titles were published by Suspect Thoughts Press, but Rebel Satori Press has signed on to award a second deserving submission a publishing contract this year. For info: http://www.projectqueerlit.com… IVAN E. COYOTE is the winner of Canada’s 2007 ReLit Award – which stands for “Regarding Literature, Reinventing Literature, Relighting Literature” – for her Arsenal Pulp novel, “Bow Grip.” The award is open to books from independent Canadian publishers… WRITING OUTSIDE THE MARGINS is a one-day queer literary festival scheduled for Aug. 26 in Toronto, along a three-block stretch of Church Street, the city’s gay village. Canadians Michael Rowe and Nalo Hopkinson and Americans Patrick Califia and James St. James are among writers confirmed for what the organizers are calling “the first gathering of queer and queer-friendly publishers in Canada.” For info: http://www.writingoutsidethemargins.com.