by Richard Labonte
“Risk,” by Elana Dykewomon. Bywater Books, 268 pages, $14.95 paper
Woman meets woman herein, and romance ensues. But this isn’t one of those dozens-a-year breezy reads crammed onto the lesbian bookshelves of the nation. It’s a novel with depth and heart and wisdom, with political clarity and spiritual dimension and the promise of forever. Carol Schwarz is a downwardly mobile Berkeley math tutor and feminist activist with a penchant for betting on the horses and rolling the dice at casinos. Z.D., her lover, has an infectious laugh, deals dope and is slowly working her way up the ranks at a paper supply store. They’re everyday dykes, characters with real dimension, not stereotypical rowdy cowgirls or tough detectives. Dykewomon weaves many themes through a narrative that arcs from the mid-’80s to after 9/11: Fat acceptance, class and race consciousness, a mother-daughter connection, enduring friendships, lesbian empowerment, addiction and recovery and – most rewardingly – an inspirational account of the sexual pleasure and emotional sustenance two women can provide each other as caring years pass.
“Lake Overturn,” by Vestal McIntyre. HarperCollins, 448 pages, $24.99 hardcover
There is a queer misfit kid at the core of this intricate debut novel about a tiny Idaho town. But McIntyre, author two years ago of an acclaimed short story collection, “You are Not the One,” has crafted something far more exhilarating than just another coming out account. The town of Eula, abutting a high-desert lake, is conservative to the core, culturally disconnected from mid-’80s America and bristling with religious peevishness – not an easy place for a lad to come to terms with himself. Enrique finds furtive sensuality with men’s workout magazines and in a public bathroom, and adolescent solace in science – he’s a geeky gay Hispanic boy. Meanwhile, he’s fumbling with an attraction to Gene, his befuddled peer in the trailer next door, with whom he teams up for an abortive science fair project. That’s just one thread among many in this deliriously colorful tapestry of a small town’s depressing poverty, pointless pettiness, quirky rivalries, domestic infidelities, desperate drug use, class and race divisions – and occasional quiet triumphs.
“I Told You So,” by Kate Clinton. Beacon Press, 206 pages, $22 hardcover
When reactions to a book range from wry smiles through gentle chortles and on to choking guffaws, what’s to say except hurrah. Humorist Clinton, speaking hilarious truth to self-righteous power for the past quarter century, has cobbled together 85 standup routines, blog entries, magazine articles and original essays to tart and tender effect. The book was originally completed last July, but the publisher wisely opted to delay publication so Clinton could train her eagle eye for nincompoopery on the election. For example, consider poor Palin: “Just as eight years ago when the bar was set low for Bush, if Sarah Palin did not burst into flames, she would be proclaimed the winner,” Clinton wrote of the debate. Hot-button topics such as gay marriage (not for her, but why the hell not if “you” want it?), gays in the military and religious hypocrisy are fertile fodder for the author’s intelligently caustic ridicule. But Clinton also has the knack of spinning even the small moments of everyday life into comic gold. Five ha’s.
“Christ Like,” by Emanuel Xavier. Queer Mojo Press, 248 pages, $14.95 paper
By his own admission, there’s a lot of Emanuel Xavier in Mikey X, the fiercely self-destructive Puerto Rican club kid, a semi-survivor of horrific boyhood abuse, who poses, vogues, drugs and whores his way through the late ’80s and early ’90s of the gritty Manhattan gay Latino street scene the author depicts. First published in 1999 and revised for this 10th anniversary edition – “I have made it a bit more of a memoir, though it remains a work of fiction” – the book retains a jagged immediacy despite its chronological distance from the author’s younger experiences. The story’s setting is atmospheric and realistically raw, but there’s a softer side, too, as Mikey struggles to escape the numbing cycle of sex and drugs, finally finding redemption through engagement with a spirituality that’s the antithesis of his Catholic upbringing. As with Andrew Holleran’s “Dancer from the Dance” – the moneyed, white flip side of Xavier’s street-level demimonde decadence – the novel has evolved since its first publication into a seminal record of a particular queer culture’s era.
Mikey brought his party atmosphere to the lifeless West Village bookstore with a crank of the volume. He would pump the sound system, insisting that the gay clientele preferred listening to house music rather than “that tired old elevator crap!” He was always on the phone with one of his sistas when he was not flirting with one of his preferred customers. Instead of asking customers if he could check their bags, he would yell, “Can we snatch your products, please?”
from “Christ Like,” by Emanuel Xavier
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: There are reviews (critical assessments of new books), and there are blurbs (those quotes on the back of books). I’m asked to provide a dozen blurbs a year, and respond to a few – only books I quite like. Here are three for new novels, imparting my enthusiasm… “BETTER THAN EASY,” by Nick Alexander (BigFib, $17.99): Can love last? Can gay men find domestic contentment? Alexander asks and answers pesky questions central to the homo condition in this perceptive novel (part of a series, though it can be read on its own) that showcases the author’s warm wit, wry insight, and commendable knack for crafting queer characters with real dimension… “BLUE SKY ADAM,” by Anthony McDonald (BigFib, $17.95): The durability of a teenager’s first real love, the ebb and flow of romantic friendship, the perplexities of maturing from boy to man, and the puzzle of how to fit gay self into a straight world: these eternal queer questions are explored with astute insight (and bracing erotic interludes) in McDonald’s sensitive sequel to “Adam ,” back in print from BigFib… QUEEROES, by Steven Bereznai (Jambor Publishing, $19.95): The good and evil that bottled water can cause propels this smart story about teen bullying, queer self esteem, high school angst, the heartbreak of desire (and acne) and the limits of superpowers. Bereznai’s wicked hybrid of “Heroes” and “Gossip Girl” is an astute take on life lessons to be learned during the perilous passage through adolescence for girls and boys, straight or gay.