by Richard Labonte
“The Show That Smells,” by Derek McCormack. Akashic Books/Little House on the Bowery, 112 pages, $15.95 paper.
This tenth title in a sublime literary imprint, curated smartly by Dennis Cooper for Akashic, is a creepy gem that’s both grotesquely horrific and terrifically hilarious – a most inviting if uncommon combo. There isn’t much by way of plot: Parisian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s famed perfume Shocking! figures prominently, with Elsa refigured riotously as a vampiric baby-killer whose perfume contains a seductively vindictive drop of blood; Coco Chanel’s eponymous perfume sears the skin off Lon Chaney; country crooner Jimmie Rodgers is tubercular, so his wife aims to sell her soul to Schiaparelli to save him; and a reporter named Derek McCormack pops up to comment on the absurdist goings-on. Narrative coherence is neither point nor purpose of this feverish, dark carnival of rambunctious wordplay, inventive punctuation and, particularly, hyperbole not meant for those with delicate sensibilities. As in: “At my vampire carnival, you’ll win balloons made of babies – soft skin stretched out and stitched and blown full of air. That balloon has eyebrows!” Take a deep, calming breath, and revel in mad genius.
“Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad” , by Bob Morris. Harper Perennial, 306 pages, $14.99 paper.
Bob Morris and his octogenarian Lothario of a father, Leo, never do actually double date in the course of the parallel yearning for romance chronicled in this endearing memoir. Bob himself has been serially unlucky on the dating scene, and single queers will identify with a wince with his accounts of disastrous dinners and unsettling one-night stands. His dad, meanwhile, is a cranky, randy old man, ready for a woman to take care of his daily needs, sexual and otherwise, following the death of his wife after a decade-long lingering disease. Leo is a domineering rightwing Republican, and Bob doesn’t sugarcoat their turbulent to-and-fro in the least; nor does he soft-pedal what he perceives as his own love-handle shortcomings. But in their own way, father loves son and son loves father, despite a contentious relationship – again, a reality with which many a mature queer man is likely to identify. Both Morris the elder and Morris the younger find soul mates after all – but Bob recounts even that happy outcome with a refreshingly saccharine-free poignancy.
“Mean Little deaf Queer,” by Terry Galloway. Beacon Press, 248 pages, $23.95 hardcover.
Most among us acknowledge being queer; few of us self-identify as mean; even fewer of us are deaf; and who wants to be perceived as little? Galloway, hilariously and harrowingly, embraces them all with gusto and infuses them all with bravura. Born with hearing, the author lost that connection to the world at age nine, the after-affect of an experimental antibiotic her mother was given while pregnant. As a child she raged at her boxy hearing aids, spitefully faked her death at a summer camp for cripples (there’s much that is gleefully un-PC here) and confronted the xenophobic homophobia of the American South in the Cold War era. For all that, she turned out to be quite a spite-free adult, happy in love and brave in life, both a cultural warrior and a settled woman. This unflinching episodic memoir, skipping through the tortures and triumphs of the author’s adolescence and young womanhood, depicts the double outsider burden of being deaf and lesbian – a self-described “child freak” – with comic, sometimes caustic candor.
“The Mariposa Club,” by Rigoberto Gonzalez. Alyson Books, 216 pages, $14.95 paper.
The “Fierce Foursome” of largely Hispanic Caliente Valley High are a varied bunch of gay lads. Isaac is the only white boy, the envy of even straight boys when he walks nude through the locker room. Trinidad – Trini for short – is fiercest of the quartet, prone to feminine pronouns and pronounced makeup. Liberace – Lib – is a pudgy, budding queer firebrand (and, sad to say, absent from the cover art, which depicts only three buff hunks: overweight homos don’t sell books). Mauricio – Maui – is the story’s narrator, and something of a square, with the most level head among the buddies bonded by their otherness. Gonzalez recounts the teens’ senior-year effort to create a GLBT club with typical YA tropes – the principal is evasive and most fellow students are hostile. But families, friendship and the emotional agonies of growing up, more than just high school homophobia, are at the heart of the novel, the first of a projected trilogy. Young adults may be the target audience, but older readers will appreciate the author’s mature storytelling.
“All monsters are queers, Monsieur Rodgers,” Schiaparelli says, sweeping into the scene. “Who is able to bring the dead back to life?” she says. “God and the Devil. The Devil makes dead men into monsters: immortal, immoral – and queer. Zombies are queer. Frankenstein’s monster was queer. It’s fitting. “How’s that?” Jimmie says. “Monsters must be scary,” she says. “What’s scarier than sodomites? Like the dead, sodomites carry disease. Sodomites, like the dead, dwell underground. Sodomites wear cosmetics like they’re corpses. Sodomites and dead men – they all smell like shit, and love it! Cemeteries are full of fairies. Vampires are the fairiest of all.”
-from “The Show That Smells,” by Derek McCormack
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: In “Love is the Higher Law,” young adult editor and author David Levithan tackles the emotional aftermath for three teens, two of them gay, of September 11, 2001; it’s a late August release from Knopf… CHRISTOPER BRAM, AUTHOR of nine acclaimed novels, collects a quarter century of nonfiction prose in “Mapping the Territory,” with essays about the power of gay fiction, coming out in Virginia in the 70s, the sexual imagination of Henry James and the experience of seeing his novel “Father of Frankenstein” transformed into the film “Gods and Monsters”; it’s a September release from Alyson Books, as is a 20th anniversary edition of “Heather Has Two Mommies,” by Leslea Newman with illustrations by Diana Souza – fully illustrated in color for the first time… THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHS, LETTERS, and other selections from his vast personal archives, Gore Vidal’s “Snapshots in History’s Glare” paints a picture of the author’s intersection with Kennedy’s Camelot, his time on the set of “Ben Hur,” his friendships with notables from Eleanor Roosevelt to Tennessee Williams, his foray into the political arena and his sometimes fiery feuds; it’s an October release from Abrams… ADAM HASLETT, WHOSE short story collection “You Are Not a Stranger Here” was a breakout bestseller, makes his fiction debut with “Union Station,” a novel revolving around Charlotte, a retired New England schoolteacher; her brother Henry, president of the New York Fed; Doug, a Boston financier whose garish home abuts Charlotte’s property; and Nate, an impressionable teenager; it’s a January release from Doubleday.