By Richard Labonte
“Band Fags!,” by Frank Anthony Polito. Kensington Books, 448 pages, $15 paper.
A decade ago, who’d have thunk there would be a glut of high-school coming-out novels. Bret Hartinger, Robin Reardon, Brian Sloan, Alex Sanchez, Perry Moore, David Levithan, James Howe, Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Drew Ferguson: the authors’ names – their books published in just the past year – are legion. It’s a welcome glut, however – and this hilarious ’80s-set story about band fag Jack Paterno and his best friend (and maybe more) Brad Dayton raises a high standard hilariously higher. Polito captures perfectly the acne and the angst of teen boys grappling from junior high onward with the agonies of raging hormones, lunchroom cliques, disastrous fashion decisions, girlfriends who cling, cute boys who keep their distance, and the heartbreak of adoring a female TV soap star too much. Snappy dialogue drives the story, much more so than in most novels, but the style works here – no surprise, given that the rollicking book is based on Polito’s 2001 stage play, “John R.” The translation from spoken word to printed page gives “Band Fags!” a joyously giddy and quirkily syncopated immediacy.
“Word of Honor,” by Radclyffe. Bold Strokes Books, 264 pages, $15.95 paper.
When the lesbian daughter of the U.S. president wants to marry her lover – newly anointed as head of Homeland Security – can a religious bigot’s assassination fantasies be far behind? Of course not – that, along with spicy sex every few pages, is the essence of the seventh novel in Radclyffe’s gung-ho series about First Daughter Blair Powell and her former Secret Service protector, Cameron Roberts, now in the high-profile position of securing the nation from terrorist threats. Cameron doesn’t actually do a very good job, at least in this installment: the religious bigot, in cahoots with unseen terrorists, is eventually able to hold a gun to Blair’s head, after sneaking undetected through assorted layers of Secret Service agents. Of course, Cameron saves Blair at the last moment – this is a series, after all, and there’s a wedding to attend to. The ceremony itself is destined for the next “Honor” book, but not before the wedded-couple-in-waiting steam up the mirrors in their bedroom one more time in this frisky political thriller.
“Death Vows,” by Richard Stevenson. MLR Press, 220 pages, $14.99 paper.
In nine novels since 1981, mystery writer Stevenson has fused his engaging story-telling skills with contemporary queer concerns – outing in “Third Man Out” (1992) and aversion therapy in “A Shock to the System” (1995), for example. So it follows naturally that gay marriage and the culture wars around it propel the plot of the latest in a series that rivals the mysteries of Joseph Hansen and Michael Nava for good writing and good sleuthing. Stevenson’s PI, Donald Strachey, is a wry fellow with a tart tongue and a cynical take on the world around him. So when a friend asks him to get involved in the murder of an older man whose younger lover is the suspect, he smells several rats – the two had apparently planned to wed, thus the killing didn’t make much sense. Deep closets, secretive pasts, and a crazy family’s religious homophobia – think Fred Phelps, fictionalized – figure into the complex plot, which Stevenson wraps up with a graceful logic not always evident in the gay mystery genre.
“A Prophet in His Own Land: A Malcolm Boyd Reader, Selected Writings 1950-2007,” edited by Bo Young and Dan Vera. White Crane Books, 332 pages, $30 hardcover.
Six decades ago, Malcolm Boyd was a Hollywood heavyweight, pals with Mary Pickford, producing early TV programs. In the 1950s, he turned to the church, and eventually became known nationally as “the coffeehouse priest.” Civil rights engaged him in the 1960s, as did the peace movement in the 1970s – the decade he came out. AIDS was among his missions in the 1980s and 1990s, when he also became poet/writer-in-residence for the Cathedral Center of St. Paul in L.A. And over the years, he has written or edited more than 30 books – from which editors Young and Vera have carefully culled the prose and the prayers comprising this rich reader of a gay elder’s always-questioning, never-faltering activist faith. The selections, spanning more than 50 years, distill Boyd’s wisdom wonderfully. But his voice takes on added dimension in dialogues that open and close the collection. In the first, conducted earlier this year, Boyd – now 85 – declares that one of his greatest joys is “authentic” discussion. He holds up his end of the conversation here with wit and grace.
Our witness is to thank God for the union of the sexual and the spiritual that we have experienced in our own lives. Our witness is to the extended family where we deeply experience the joys and meanings of marriage in Lesbian and Gay unions. Our witness is to affirm sexuality as we believe Jesus Christ experienced it – Jesus Christ, a human being and therefore inescapably a sexual being, in the teaching of the incarnation which is a cornerstone of the church’s faith. We are a deeply moral people. We have persevered against the most outrageous calumny. God has a purpose for us. We are a blessed people with a mission, and we are called to love and joy.
-Malcolm Boyd, from “A Prophet in His Own Land”
SCIENCE FICTION WRITER Thomas M. Disch died July 4, an apparent suicide stemming – according to entries on several sci-fi fan LiveJournal blogs – from prolonged depression following the death of his longtime companion, Charles Naylor, in 2004. Disch, 68, was also caught up in a protracted legal battle with his Manhattan landlord, who wanted to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment. He was best known for such novels as “Camp Concentration ,” “334,” and “On Wings of Song,” but he also published poetry, literary criticism, and the “Brave Little Toaster” series of illustrated books for children. A last novel, “The Word of God,” was published a month before Disch’s death by Tachyon Publications, which is also releasing a new collection of short stories, “The Wall of America ,” in October… FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, 21-year-old Johann S. Lee published Singapore’s first gay novel, “Peculiar Chris,” a sexually candid, semi-autobiographical coming-out story. Now there’s a sequel: “To Know Where I’m Coming From,” also loosely drawn from the author’s own life, this time as a mid-30s gay man who moves back to Singapore from his Westernized life to recover from a broken heart. Reviews in Singapore have been good: “Lee’s real strength lies in his alter ego’s frankness with his readers… as he finds himself attracted to a younger man and a country to which he had never wanted to return,” wrote critic June Lee.