by Richard Labonte
“The Torturer’s Wife,” by Thomas Glave. City Lights Books, 268 pages, $15.95 paper.
Few of the nine short stories in Glave’s second collection are explicitly queer. But his themes are universal: the trauma of haunting memories, the puzzle of erotic longing, the intersection of intimacy and desire, the gnawing disease of unacknowledged racism, the parallel horrors of war and anti-gay violence. The most intellectually charged story, “Between,” about the unarticulated ambivalence and unsettling racism arcing between two men in an interracial relationship, opens the collection. The most emotionally searing story, “Out There,” about a quiet man’s savage death at the hands of homophobic vigilantes in Jamaica, closes it. Among the most surreal – worlds are often askew in this disquieting collection – is the mesmerizing title story, in which a woman known only as She is paralyzed by nightmares of bloody body parts falling from the sky after she learns of her autocratic husband’s wartime atrocities. Glave’s daringly experimental but eloquent prose style, often elliptical and interspersed with lines of poetry, is a challenge. But a deep, attentive reading will yield exciting literary rewards.
“The Slow Fix,” by Ivan E. Coyote. Arsenal Pulp Press, 152 pages, $16.95 paper.
Most of the stories in Coyote’s fourth collection are just four pages long, a uniform length dictated by their initial incarnation as a regular column in “Xtra! West,” Vancouver’s gay community paper. Think of them as literary nibbles – scrumptious canapes of wit and insight – stuffed with prose that is simultaneously elegant and down-to-earth. The writing is billed as fiction, but the author’s observations on gender, romance, family and life’s assorted challenging and rewarding vagaries are obviously drawn from personal experience. For example: Coyote, a happy butch, is wryly matter-of-fact about the many times she’s thought by strangers – often hostile straights – to be a young queer man; the role her physical persona plays in her love life is described with genial honesty; how she relates to her family – and her family to her – is a steady storytelling refrain. Four loosely linked stories that end the collection are more melancholy, as Coyote laments how encroaching urbanization has changed the landscape of northern Canada where she was born and raised.
“Becka’s Song,” by Frankie J. Jones. Bella Books, 292 pages, $14.95 paper.
If Google is to be trusted, there is no such place as Christmas, Arkansas, the sugar-overload setting for this otherwise charming, robust and refreshingly well-written romance. In fictional Christmas, residents – by law! – don Victorian-era clothes for three months, cars are barred from main streets, stores are festooned with decorations and tourists flood in for a gooey fix of holiday cheer. Yikes. Art gallery owner and artist Leanne Dresher – a totally likable character despite an affinity for Winter Wonderland Festival excess – is the contented single lesbian mother of a college-age daughter. All is well, until a menacing old coot seems to be stalking her, her good-for-nothing ex-husband from decades past comes back into her life and, most unsettling, she’s falling in love with a secretive new arrival, beautiful Becka. A wealth of characters – a gay male couple who bake divine desserts; Leanne’s straight, black and female assistant; and a hilarious bevy of town biddies among them – add texture to Jones’ story about a woman who learns she doesn’t have to be alone.
“Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems 1962-2007, John Giorno,” edited by Marcus Boon. Soft Skull Press, 392 pages, $19.95 paper.
As wonderful as it is to have this well-curated, career-spanning collection of Giorno’s explosive poetry bound into book form, do yourself a favor: listen to him read (if you haven’t experienced a performance in person) before delving too deeply into the text; MP3s are easy to find online. Then, with the indelible aural impact of Giorno’s percussive voice echoing in the background, the formal minimalism and confessional nihilism of his playful profundities assume extra depth and added dimension. Sex, violence, despair, drugs and dharma – he hosts teachings in the Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism – mark much of Giorno’s writing, which is influenced by almost everything avant-garde of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and beyond: the outlaw prose of Ginsberg and Burroughs, the Pop artistry of Warhol and Rauschenberg, and the punk/new wave sounds of Throbbing Gristle and Black Flag. Boon’s lengthy and illuminating introduction works well as both a loving mini-biography and an intellectual Cliff’s Notes critique of Giorno’s work, providing an academic context for his creativity without solemnizing an exuberant subject.
I was recently single and therefore skeptical, and reluctant to waste time dating anyone who might not appreciate my new hobbies, which were classic rock, cooking steaks, and chain smoking. I told her that I would love to have her over for dinner, as long as she wasn’t a vegan. She laughed on the other end of the phone and I heard her light up a cigarette. “Vegan? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m Danish. Our national dish is, like, two kinds of meat, wrapped up in meat.” Later that night she ran her fingers lazily through my hair, our four legs a naked tangle, lipstick on my pillow, sheets in a twist on the floor.
-from “The Slow Fix,” by Ivan E. Coyote
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Author and activist Sarah Schulman has two books on the horizon: from Arsenal Pulp Press in October comes “The Mere Future,” a science fiction satire set in a time not far from now, where everybody works for the same giant corporation, known as the Media Hub, and the only jobs are in marketing; and from New Press in 2010 comes “The Twist: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences,” exploring family structure and its role in cementing homophobic behavior… SAN FRANCISCO ACTIVIST Tommi Avicolli Mecca’s “Smash the Church, Smash the State!,” collected essays about the early days of gay liberation, is coming from City Lights Publishers in June, on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall… NYU PRESS has announced “Out in the Country,” a study of the rural American experience for queer youth, scheduled for August… JAMES FREY, AUTHOR of the fraudulent memoir “A Million Little Pieces” and the satirical novel “Bright Shiny Morning,” has announced that in his next novel – a fictional third book of the bible, titled “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible” – his Jesus will perform gay marriages.