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Book Marks

By |2008-01-17T09:00:00-05:00January 17th, 2008|Uncategorized|

By Richard Labonte

“The Sixth Form,” by Tom Dolby. Kensington Books, 320 pages, $24 hardcover.
Ethan, an artistically talented 17-year-old California kid transplanted to a somewhat stuffy all-boy East Coast prep school, finds it hard to fit in among the chiseled-cheekbone beauty and monied backgrounds of his fellow students. So when classmate Todd – well-endowed with cheekbones and wealth – befriends him, he’s cautiously excited, though not sure he deserves the attention. And when teacher Hannah – whose easy-go-lucky chirpiness masks a scary neediness – starts to seduce him, he’s sexually ecstatic, though confused by her advances. Dolby’s second novel (after “The Trouble Boy”) is a riveting coming-of-age love triangle: Todd, still deeply closeted, has fallen for Ethan but can’t articulate his attraction; Hannah has her psychotic sights set on malleable Ethan; and Ethan…well, Ethan isn’t sure what, or who, he wants. This story of inchoate emotion and confused passion takes a well-worked theme – boyish self-discovery – and transforms it into a read that transcends gay lit. It’s a surefooted novel with a gay character; but more than that, it’s a minor masterpiece that universalizes the messy mystery of young love, straight and gay alike.

“Hard Times,” by Blayne Cooper. Spinsters Ink, 308 pages, $14.95 paper.
Jailhouse babes! Lesbian pulp fiction alert! Not really. Cooper’s novel, about an embittered girl hardened by tough prison years and the naive innocent who ends up in her cell, is more nuanced than that. When still a teen, Lorna – Mally to the other inmates – killed her father while defending her younger sister from his fearsome alcoholic abuse. Fourteen years later, land developer Kellie, cheated out of her fortune by a conniving bitch of an ex-lover, is behind bars convicted of fraud she didn’t commit. Intense shower rape scenes, fierce jail-yard staredowns, callous brutality on the part of malevolent prison guards, the constant threat of sharpened shivs, and, of course, lesbian passion after lights out, ensue. It’s all very gritty and melodramatic, but there’s a real romance woven through Cooper’s concept of the violence of life behind bars in the Blue Ridge Women’s Correctional Facility – a love story that ends happily, and not too implausibly, ever after.

“Sex & Isolation and Other Essays,” by Bruce Benderson. University of Wisconsin, 208 pages, $24.95 paper.
The sexual subculture and the hustlers, adventurers, and misfits who inhabit it excite Benderson, intellectually as much as physiologically. This iconoclastic collection opens with a title essay that uses his Internet jack-off session with a lithe, young, and eager Egyptian queen as a springboard for discussing the rise of computer sex and the decline of street sex, with a focus on the Disneyfication of Times Square. That same topic is explored at more length in the concluding essay, “Towards a New Degeneracy,” published several years ago as a slim, stand-alone text. Other essays, reworked from magazine assignments, delve into the artistic and sexual quirks of Cuban writer Severo Sarduy and Argentinian writer Manuel Puig, and the gender-bending persona of Consuela Cosmetic, a fierce transsexual dying of AIDS. Benderson, as these cunning essays demonstrate, is a sexual outlaw with a most intelligent agenda.

“And Beauty Answers: The Life of Frances Loring and Florence Wylie,” by Elspeth Cameron. Cormorant Books, 544 pages, $36.95 hardcover.
Cameron, biographer of a number of Canadian cultural figures – and herself a lesbian, her own coming-out chronicled in the memoir “No Previous Experience” – writes early on in this magisterial account of the lives of two women sculptors that there’s scant proof they were lovers. Sure, one dressed mannishly, they shared a bed, they were together more than 50 years, they led free-spirited bohemian lives in Toronto after relocating from Greenwich Village shortly before the First World War, and they died within weeks of each other in 1968. But, as Cameron details, they led very private lives – even though, from the 1920s to the 1950s, they were at the core of neoclassical sculpture in Canada, commissioned for major works on Canada’s Parliament Hill and in many other public spaces. “And Beauty Answers” is really two books in one: a breathtakingly readable biography that recovers, and honors, the story of two remarkable women – known as “The Girls” – and their artistic and personal relationship; and at the same time, a meticulous study of Toronto, and of Canada’s, tradition of sculpture as a national visual art.

Featured Excerpt:

As time passed and homosexuality gradually became more visible in Toronto society, the couple – also known as the “Loring-Wyles” or the “Loringwyles” – were assumed to be lovers. Writing in the “Toronto Star” in 1979, Donald Jones describes Loring as “an unusual and talented woman who shocked and fascinated this city for more than half a century….” Whether or not The Girls were lovers, theirs was the closest emotional relationship either of them ever had. In Platonic terms, they were soulmates, as complementary to each other as Yin and Yang. They shared the church’s small vestry, closed off with peaked doors, as a bedroom… regardless of the nature of their relationship, Loring and Wyle certainly challenged the gender stereotypes of their times.

-from “And Beauty Answers,” by Elspeth Cameron

Footnotes:

NOVELIST DENNIS COOPER, who has been living in Paris for more than two years – with a Russian lover who can’t get a visa to come to America – is the first non-French winner of the Prix Sade, named after the notorious Marquis de Sade. The prize, inaugurated in 2001, went to Cooper’s Lambda Literary-award winning novel “The Sluts,” published in France as “Salopes.” The Prix Sade is for literary work that “pushes boundaries, formal and in content,” said Cooper when he learned of his win. “I’m pretty blown away, as you can imagine, being a lifelong adorer of French literature. This is just an amazing thing for me.” Four novels were finalists, including French author Alain Robbe-Grillet’s “Un roman sentimentale” – which was expected to win, since both his wife and his attorney were members of the jury this year. British author Sarah Waters was a finalist in 2006 for “The Night Watch.”.. BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Scott Pomfret, a co-author of the Romentics series of gay romance novels, has sold “On Bended Knees: A Gay Catholic Memoir,” a humorous account of the gay Catholic experience. Pomfret, who also writes erotic short stories, is a lector at a church in Boston. The book is coming in June 2008 from Arcade.

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.