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By Richard Labonte
“The Boomerang Kid,” by Jay Quinn. Alyson Books, 292 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
Kai Ostryder has his good days and his bad days. When he’s on the pills that hold his bipolar demons at bay, he functions as a high-end woodworker. When the side effects of his meds become overwhelmingly numbing, he self-medicates with illegal painkillers. At 27, he hasn’t fully accepted the fact that he’s queer – he’s fallen in love with a man, though he’s also sleeping with a woman. So, as he’s done over the years when life overwhelms, Kai retreats to his doting mother’s home. But she has her own needs – at 50, after decades of divorced contentment, she’s dating a man who adores her, and she’s pregnant. Quinn’s focus shifts nimbly between the concerns of his straight and his gay characters, in a novel where the conflict is less between individuals and more about Kai’s gripping internal struggle to come to terms with his troubled life. The result is a powerful but placid page-turner whose tension resides in whether Kai can honor the pledge to himself – and to the man he decides he wants to love – to stay clean.
“Women. Period.,” edited by Julia Watts, Parneshia Jones, Jo Ruby, and Elizabeth Slade. Spinsters Ink, 292 pages, $15.95 paper.
It’s a mystery to men, this menstruation thing. All the more reason for males of the species – the vagina-impaired – to dip into this unique collection of poems, essays, and short fiction about “Aunt Flo.” There’s plenty for the boys to learn about what the editors describe as “the most universal of all female experiences.” Meanwhile, women will have no trouble finding themselves in these descriptive accounts about the bloody monthly cycle, from Jane Yolen’s “It starts like a dot” to Marty McConnell’s .”..the incident of blood which is not your birth” to Margo Berdeshevsky’s “It comes like smudged lavender paint.” For an anthology about a singular experience, there’s remarkable range in the more than 100 contributions (certainly justification for having four editors): nervous anticipation, anguish and embarrassment, mystical celebration, anger, and joy. And some humor. Julia Watts’ “Unlikely Testimonials” imagines what womanly icons like Gertrude Stein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Janis Joplin might have said if they were touting tampons. The last word goes to Dorothy Parker: “Men seldom make passes/ At girls with red asses.”
“Are You Guys Brothers?,” by Brian McNaught. AuthorHouse, 180 pages, $16.95 paper.
After a career of advising gay men on how to live their lives, in books like “On Being Gay” and “Now That I’m Out, What Do I Do?,” McNaught turns inward with this gracious memoir about his decades with husband Ray Struble (they met in Boston in 1976, married in Canada in 2003). Its candor is always refreshing, sometimes startling: he’s remarkably open about the scant role sex now plays in his loving relationship with Struble, for health reasons, and defiant in recounting his enduring friendship with imprisoned priest Paul Shanley, convicted of raping a youth after the now-adult man claimed he had recovered repressed memories. That honesty is all the more reason to relish McNaught’s bravura in setting himself up as a role model for gay Americans: the how-to advice of his earlier writing is backed up by real experience, some of it grievously painful, much of it hard-learned, all of it leading to his fulfillment as a contented gay man settling into a serene seventh decade.
“Best Gay Stories 2008,” edited by Steve Berman. Lethe Press, 292 pages, $18 paper.
A short story collection that claims to be “best” is begging to be questioned – any editor’s taste is sure to be subjective. But Berman’s initial effort – he hopes this anthology will become an annual – is without a doubt pretty good. Some of the 20 contributors boast an accomplished body of work, among them novelists Ethan Mordden and Paul Russell, editor and mystery novelist Greg Herren, young adult novelist and editor David Levithan, poet and essayist Aaron Shurin, critic and short story writer Jameson Currier, speculative fiction author Richard Bowes, and essayist and short story writer Jeff Mann; their work doesn’t disappoint. It’s the work of relatively new voices, however, that’s most welcome – anthologies like this are valuable for introducing newer writers to queer readers who relish good writing. Two of the best are playwright Charles Rice-Gonzalez’ “Bronx Boyz in Poe Cottage,” a poignant short story about the educational gulf that separates two Latino boyhood friends, and poet Billy Merrell’s “My Boyfriend Refuses to Speak in Iambic Pentameter,” a short play about two young men fumbling for love.
Sex with Ray was always enjoyable while he was able to get an erection. If I could arouse him, even if it took more patience and time, our lovemaking was mutually satisfying. When medications, depleted testosterone, and a minimized interest in sex impacted his ability to perform, we eventually quit making the attempt. It was too frustrating or embarrassing for us both. But we always talked about it. Since we first came together, we have both committed ourselves to talking through our feelings about everything, if not initially about sex.
-from “Are You Guys Brothers?,” by Brian McNaught
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: There’s no publisher yet, but moody and ambiguously sexual British rocker Morrissey is working on an untitled autobiography in which he hopes to set the record straight about the many controversies that have followed his career. “So much crap is written about me and it’s quite hard to live with sometimes because it all gets burned down in history and becomes part of whatever it is you are, the legacy, and it becomes very annoying,” Morrissey said in an interview with the British newspaper the “Guardian.”.. QUEER HUMOR COLUMNIST and novelist Michael Thomas Ford has signed a three-book deal with science fiction/fantasy publisher Del Rey; the first novel is “Jane Bites Back,” in which Jane Austen returns as a modern-day vampire frustrated by her inability to get another novel published, and pissed at contemporary portrayals of her past life… “TALES OF THE CITY” author Armistead Maupin is following “Michael Tolliver Lives,” the sort-of sequel to his six-volume classic, with a new book based on another character from the series, “Mary Ann in Autumn”; no publication date is set.