By Richard Labonte
“So Many Ways to Sleep Badly,” by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. City Lights Books, 252 pages, $14.95 paper.
The unnamed narrator of this fabulously flamboyant novel turns tricks for money and, on client-free occasions, cruises adult movie theaters or the Internet for blowjobs, in search of a human connection as much as for sexual release. He frets about rats in his ceiling and roaches on his walls, obsesses over how his hair looks before he leave his apartment, and camps it up for queer street protests – with makeup a must. He’s carrying on a troubled romance with a beautiful boyfriend, and coping with chronic pain rooted most probably in childhood abuse. Such is the life of an under-30 gender-queer activist in San Francisco, the city that quite gloriously never really grows up. Sycamore – whose spirited real-life blog echoes many of the book’s witty, bitchy, and philosophically trenchant moments – captures the committed insouciance of his tale’s quirky characters with a refreshingly non-traditional prose style. There isn’t much narrative linearity here – nothing really resembling a beginning, a middle, or an end – but Sycamore’s luscious prowess with prose is evocative and provocative and literarily seductive.
“Bad Habits,” by Cristy C. Road. Soft Skull Press, 216 pages, $15.95 paper.
Carmencita Gutierrez Alonzo – her friends call her Car – is a Cuban-American punk with a repressive family past, a penchant for promiscuous sex with women as often as men, and a lot of bad habits she’s trying to outgrow. Handsome gay boys and capable drag queens are part of her new, found family in New York, of which she writes, “We were the things that went bump, crack, and hump in the night.” Emphasis on hump: Road’s novel – strongly autobiographical, according to the publisher – has an underground, John Rechy-esque tone, as Car moves from man to woman to man again in her quest for a heart connection. Road’s first book was the graphic memoir “Indestructible,” about being a queer Latina teen in Miami. This work of fiction picks up where that work of fact left off, a link intensified by cartoonish sketches that add visual punch to Car’s seamy but eventually life-affirming odyssey of self-discovery. Road’s prose isn’t particularly stylish, but the raw energy of her writing – and of the graphic art that complements the words – is its own reward.
“Mariposas: A Modern Anthology of Queer Latino Poetry ,” edited by Emanuel Xavier. Floricanto Press, 156 pages, $19.95 paper.
The 17 writers collected in Xavier’s dynamic anthology of contemporary Latino poets make up a real mosaic. Some are American-born, others hail from Argentina, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. Their poems are in English, in Spanish, even in “Spanglish”; some are bilingual, and a few Spanish-language poems also appear in English, translated by Xavier – a vibrant diversity connected by mutual queerness and common themes. One such theme is sexual desire: “Why, my God, do I like men so much?” Daniel Torres wonders, and “Suddenly, our sex lives were full of safety drills,” Rane Arroyo laments. Another is defiant anger: “There are not enough hate crimes/ to kill us all,” Yosimar Reyes declares in memory of murdered queens, and “You call me wet back/ Yes my back is wet/ Wet of sweat/ Wet of blood,” Xuan Carlos Espinoza-Cuellar cries in the face of immigrant-bashing. Xavier is a generous editor: instead of compiling a “greatest hits” sampler of one or two poems by many poets, he has opted to limit the number of contributors, giving each a real showcase for his talent.
“Out and Proud in Chicago,” edited by Tracy Baim. Agate Surrey Books, 224 pages, $30 hardcover.
The histories of gay New York, gay Los Angeles, gay San Francisco, and even gay Philadelphia have been recounted in recent books. With this lush, impeccably designed coffee-table collection of essays and art, Chicago makes it to the lavender map. From Oscar Wilde’s visit to Chicago in 1882, to the 1957 publication of hometown girl Valerie Taylor’s first lesbian pulp, “Whisper Their Love,” to the opening of a queer community center in 2007, Baim and a crew of 32 contributors – among them John D’Emilio, Jorjet Harper, Jonathan Ned Katz, and Owen Keehnen, noted authors all – chronicle every conceivable nook and cranny of America’s third-largest city. Most of the essays take up less than a page, but several mini-histories – about early-20th-century lesbian legal pioneer Pearl M. Hart, the rise and demise of Mattachine West, the “gay and lesbian media explosion” of the 1970s, and the impact of AIDS on the city’s queer community – add reflective heft to this sprightly overview of the Windy City’s gay life and times.
I arrived at my room around 8 a.m. and received a message from Tatiana. She lived in Florida and I had lusted after her for years. Our affair took its toll, but my false hope still ran wild. Tatiana was a devilish lover who bled through the cracks of every affair that followed. The morning after the nights we had sex, we hardly spoke of what had happened, but we knew the glare of our teeth burned one another’s eyes from smiling. Tatiana was ambidextrous, half Mexican, and from the South. She rejected my plea to be a pair, but I hid the hurt to facilitate the fond farewell that took place minutes before hopping in a U-Haul that smelled like a basement.
-from “Bad Habits,” by Cristy C. Road
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Former fundamentalist and ex-ex-gay Patrick Chapman, now a happily homosexual Christian, challenges evangelical attacks on gays in “Thou Shalt Not Love: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays,” forthcoming from Haiduk Press… UNIVERSAL CHURCH OF CHRIST minister Candace Chellew-Hodge counsels queers on how to find their way through the minefield of condemnation and persecution and reclaim their church, in “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians,” new from Jossey-Bass… HUMORIST AND PLAYWRIGHT Paul Rudnick is collecting sheaves of witty essays from the “New Yorker” and other magazines, and writing new work, for an untitled collection coming from HarperCollins… LAMBDA AWARD-WINNER Bonnie Shimko’s “The Private Thoughts of Amelia E. Rye,” about a 12-year-old girl growing up in the early sixties and her search for love and acceptance, is coming in 2009 from FSG… ANOTHER LAMBDA WINNER, Maureen Seaton, examines her path to good sex, welcome sobriety, religious faith, and a household of children in the memoir “Sex Talks to Girls,” an October hardcover from the University of Wisconsin Press… RICH WALLACE writes about intertwining adolescent romances in a gay resort town in “Dishes,” an October young adult novel from Penguin… COMEDIAN MARGARET CHO has penned the introduction to Mike Player’s “Out on the Edge: America’s Rebel Comedians,” a November book from Alyson that goes backstage with America’s queer comics.