by Richard Labonte
“The Sky Below,” by Stacey D’Erasmo, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, 288 pages hardcover.
Gabriel Collins isn’t a very likeable fag. When young, he dealt drugs without guilt to his peers, seduced high school girls without emotion and sold bathroom blowjobs to older men he despised. Relocated to New York, where he writes obituaries for a failing post-9/11 newspaper to finance his stalled creativity, he perhaps loves an older, wealthy financier – more likely, it’s a Daddy thing – but refuses to relocate from his slummy rent-controlled apartment to more lavish quarters. He steals keepsakes from an elderly writer whose work he’s ghostwriting, and when illness strikes he abandons friends trying to care for him, and decamps for Mexico. Despite these many failings, Collins is a seductive character, a selfish charmer whose manipulative ways are queerly appealing – particularly as they’re shaped by D’Erasmo’s ravishing prose. Collins’ surface character traits and the plot points through which he moves are accessible enough, but beyond that this is multi-textured, metaphorical fiction that demands an intense, careful reading, and rewards it with a dazzling vision of how a marginal man transforms his life.
“Basketball Jones,” by E. Lynn Harris. Doubleday, $22.95, 226 pages hardcover.
He’s the gay Danielle Steel and the black Nora Roberts, he’s possibly the bestselling queer novelist ever (Armistead Maupin and Gordon Merrick are the other contenders), he’s perfected a reader-pleasing formula – and he’s sticking to it. Harris’s latest novel, already on the “New York Times” bestseller list, has it all: a closeted basketball star, his longtime but well-veiled lover, homophobia in major league sports, the threat of blackmail, a gold-digger’s pregnancy, a marriage cover-up, consequent heartbreak and a happy-ever-after ending for the gay guys. The tense, emotionally fraying intersection of public persona and private desire is a regular theme in Harris’s work, represented here by the contradiction between NBA superstar Dray Jones’s deep love for his college tutor turned down-low lover, and his alleged prowess as a womanizer. But Harris is such a spirited writer that familiarity breeds satisfaction, rather than contempt – for fans, at least, of gay romances with roller coaster plotting, brisk prose, periodic homo-steamy passages and satisfyingly predictable storytelling a few notches above potboiler.
“Uncross My Heart,” by Andrews & Austin. Bold Strokes, 242 pages, $15.95 paper.
The timely topic of contemporary scriptural strictures against the reality of same-sex love gets an informed airing in this engaging story about the passion between two women, one leery of falling in love because of her faith, the other wary of that very same faith. Alexandra Westbrooke is a one-time radical who has opted for a more sedate life as a seminarian. But her apparent serenity is unsettled when she’s asked by her college chancellor to use both her sharp intellect and her calm demeanor to deal with media attacks from hardnosed agnostic journalist Vivienne Wilde, who has an ax to grind with the religious world. Spirited philosophical and theological spats over dinner are soon followed by equally spirited sexual encounters in bed, as the two women reconcile abstract belief and antagonistic attitude with their long-suppressed physical and emotional needs. Andrews & Austin weave religion and romance together in a story that tackles a serious issue with bracing humor, and that balances provocative thought with sensual entertainment.
“I Do: An Anthology in Support of Marriage Equality,” edited by Kris
Jacen. MLR Press, 306 pages, $14.99.
How swell that good intentions combine with entertaining writing. In the wake of California’s Prop. 8, which muddied the gay marriage waters, MLR Press donated the printing and 21 writers donated their talents to this anthology, all proceeds for the Lambda Legal fund. One surprise: All but one contributor (or, maybe, two) are women, though most of the stories are about men loving men, almost always realistically so. Among the manly standouts by women: Storm Grant’s “Lust in Translation,” about a night of sex between a vice cop and a waif plucked from a rainstorm. On the distaff side, Allison Wonderland’s “Holy Macaroni (and Cheese)” is a charming tale about two girls who grow up to be women in love. The odd man in is Jerry Wheeler, whose “Templeton’s in Love” is a memorably romantic story about two men reconnecting years after one left the other for a woman; by contrast, gender-ambiguous Marquesate’s “Code of Honour,” about two tough men who meet in the French Foreign Legion, is memorably intense. Stories are heat-rated, from “sweet” to “scorching” – a nice touch.
I didn’t like war or footballs or magnifying glasses or the half-built additions he took me in the drafty truck to see. I liked to make beautiful things with my mother. When I was very small, my mother would fill the sink with ice and then, together, we’d pour food coloring onto the ice, and the blue and red and yellow would swirl, making purple and green in some places, while in other places the blue or the red tendriled down on its own, cutting a long blue path, a river or a ribbon, over the frozen hummocks heaped up in our ordinary sink. I thought it was a miracle.
-from “The Sky Below,” by Stacey D’Erasmo
NEW YORK-AREA queer readers will be able to meet with gay publishers, editors, and writers at the first New York Rainbow Book Fair, set for March 28 at Manhattan’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center. It’s “the only book fair expressly designed to showcase” LGBT media, says coordinator Perry Brass; for information: [email protected] … ON A MORE national level, the Saints & Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans has announced its first headliners for the seventh year of the event: Jess Wells, author of 13 books, most recently “The Mandrake Broom”; Ali Liebegott, author of “The IHOP Papers,” now working on “The Crumb People,” an illustrated novel about post-9/11 duck feeders; Radclyffe, the prolific novelist (30 and counting, most recently “Night Call”) and publisher of Bold Strokes Books; and Michael Thomas Ford, with 11 books and a number of anthologies to his credit, including the novels “Last Summer” and “Changing Tides.” The conference runs May 14-17; for registration information, visit http://www.sasfest.org… BLACK LGBT ARTISTS gather later this year in Austin for Fire & Ink III: Cotillion, a cultural festival aimed at bringing together hundreds of writers of African descent whose work spans the genres, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, multi-media arts and performance art – the first such festival since 2002. The event runs Oct. 8-11; for information: http://www.fireandink.org.