by Richard Labonte
“At Least In the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life,” by Wade Rouse. Harmony Books, 272 pages, $23.95 hardcover.
You can take the boy out of the city. Can you take the city out of the boy? That’s the question Rouse considers in this spirited, saucy and sardonic account of geographic relocation and spiritual reorientation. His first memoir, “America’s Boy,” was all about surviving a rural Ozark boyhood and finding cultural and sexual refuge in randy Manhattan. At midlife, after narcissistic New York years of prissy cocktails, winter tans and shopping sprees – and inspired by Thoreau’s “Walden” – Rouse opts for the simple life. He and his partner move to a small cabin surrounded by a lot of forest, 10 miles from the Michigan resort community of Saugatuck. Culture shock ensues: no cable TV, no Silver Palate rough-cut oatmeal, karaoke nights out for entertainment, the heartbreak of having to wear clunky rubber gumboots rather than fashionable Kenneth Cole. Rouse delivers comic broadsides about adapting to country ways in three- and four-page bursts, a format that fragments the narrative arc but gives the book the momentum of a standup comedy routine. And there’s a happy ending: He acclimates, eventually, to rural ways.
“Blue Boy,” by Rakesh Satyal. Kensington Books, 276 pages, $15 paper.
Twelve-year-old Kiran Sharma is your typical sissy adolescent outcast. He sneaks into his parent’s bedroom to pilfer his long-suffering mother’s cosmetics. He chooses ballet instead of basketball for a school elective, and has an affinity for dolls, confusing his father. He’s not sure what sex is all about – he’s only 12 – but the sight of teenagers canoodling in a nearby park at night is rather exciting, even more so when a handsome park ranger apprehends him and escorts him home. Satyal’s coming-of-age story trods familiar debut-gay-novel turf, but with a cultural twist. His young hero is an Indian-American who channels his alienation and queer-to-be angst into feverish preparations to star at his school’s 1992 talent show as an incarnation of the Indian deity Krishna, all while trying – and failing – to fit into an insular Indian culture of potluck dinners, religious instruction and chosen-bride expectations. Though possibly autobiographical novels about nascent gay boys are all too common, Saytal’s graceful contribution to the canon is several charming cuts above the norm.
“Death of a Dying Man,” by J.M. Redmann. Bold Strokes Books, 292 pages, $16.95 paper.
When feisty New Orleans PI Mickey Knight first meets drop-dead gorgeous Damon LaChance, wealthy gay scion of a storied family, she’s not sure he isn’t an arrogant jerk. But when he hires her to track down the child he’s never seen, born of a long ago one-night-stand, she learns that he’s dying of a wicked one-two punch of HIV and hepatitis C – and that he’s not such a bad guy. The work is welcome; less so, the intrusive arrival of a pesky journalist, lesbian partner to a seductive doctor working with Mickey’s increasingly aloof lover, Cordelia. Sleuthing for the missing child, now a teenager, is one-half the mystery. The other is trying to discover who attempted to murder LaChance with a cocaine overdose – until Hurricane Katrina descends, interrupting Mickey’s investigations. Set with wrenching reality against the backdrop of a city whose soul has been ravaged by a massive storm and government neglect, Redmann’s emotionally complex (and sometimes erotic) novel, weaving together a dying man’s poignant last wish and the pain of a crumbling lesbian romance, is a virtuoso literary whodunit.
“Salvation Army,” by Abdellah Taia, translated by Frank Stock. Semiotext(e), 148 pages, $14.95 paper.
Yes, there’s the novelty factor: 36-year-old Taia’s slender autobiographical novel is said to be the first openly gay work by a Moroccan writer, and thus a daring account of coming out in a homophobic culture. But this narrative – more a series of biographical sketches and sexual vignettes than a traditional novel – transcends its novelty nicely. Opening chapters are rooted in the author’s family life, offering an insider’s glimpse of a non-Western culture’s ways. Soon enough, the narrative edges into mildly trangressive territory. Abdellah’s first serious sexual fixation focuses incestuously on his 12-year-older brother – until, in his early teens, a movie theater encounter with an older man broadens his desire. Not long after, he’s embraced by a Swiss sex tourist, whose invitation to spend a few months in Geneva offers revelatory entree to a cultural awakening that parallels the author’s sexual awakening. American coming-out fiction (often rooted in personal experience) is almost a cliche. This straightforward story about self-discovery is a reminder that coming-of-age tales still need to be told.
I feel sick, sick, sick. I am a traitor. I have betrayed Abdelkebir. At the movies, with Salim. And the worst is that, I loved it. Loved having this 40 year old man who smelled good wrap me in his strong arms and talk French in my ear while he tried to get at my penis, my ass. And I let him. And it didn’t hurt. Oh, I loved it. Yes. Oh God! I feel sick. I want to stay in bed all day.
-from “Salvation Army,” by Abdellah Taia
MAGAZINES TO WATCH OUT FOR: “Chroma: A Queer Literary and Arts Journal,” published twice a year, has emerged as the premier print magazine for gay and lesbian prose writers, poets and artists; each issue is organized around a theme, and forthcoming issues focus on America, Body and Utopia. Information at chromajournal.co.uk… THE JUNE ISSUE OF “Lambda Book Report” includes an interview with Kate Clinton (new collection, “I Told You So”), reviews of the novel “Finlater,” by Shawn Stewart Ruff (a Publishing Triangle debut fiction award finalist) and the black and gay oral history “Sweet Tea ,” by E. Patrick Johnson; the new issue heralds a change in format. Information at lambdaliterary.org… ISSUE ONE OF THE Semiotext(e) journal “Animal Shelter” is chock full of queer-interest writing, including an essay by the late French writer Tony Duvert, Bruce Benderson’s reflections on William Burroughs, prose by Paul Gellman about the straight boys (“strays”) he has known and a short memoir by Abdellah Taia; information at semiotexte.com… ISSUE 24 OF THE film journal “Reverse Shot” focuses on New Queer Cinema, with 10 essays evaluating mainstream movies (“Milk,” “Brokeback Mountain” and “Hairspray”), foreign films (from Taiwan, Mexico and Iran), and gay subtext in James Bond, Judd Apatow’s “I Love You, Man” and television programs like “The Wire”; information at reverseshot.com… KNOCKOUT, A POETRY magazine based in Seattle that aims for 50 per cent queer content, has announced a contest memorializing the late queer poet Reginald Shepherd, judged by Carl Phillips; for submission information, go to knockoutlit.org. Poems by Jeffrey Beam, Jeff Mann, Timothy Liu, Carol Guess and Beverly Burch appeared in the first issue.