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By Richard Labonte
“My One-night Stand With Cancer”
By Tania Katan. Alyson Books, 286 pages, $15.95 paper.
Playwright Katan’s one-night stand with cancer in fact stretched over a decade. She lost one breast in 1992, when she was 21, and the second in 2002. This would not seem an experience to laugh about – except that’s exactly what she does, in this feisty, fiercely funny memoir about toxic girlfriends and toxic chemotherapy, about her neurotic Jewish family and her loving gay male friends, and above all about coping, emotionally and physically, in the face of daunting medical odds. And she coped with outrageous fine style: she asked every dyke she met at a club to rub her “booby” the day before one surgery; she played tennis before her scars were fully healed after the second surgery; and, by story’s end, she was running – topless, her scars proudly on display – in a 10K fundraiser for breast cancer awareness, cheered on by a new, totally nontoxic, girlfriend. This is by no means a Pollyanna look at cancer: Katan often rages furiously at her fate. But anger and despair are leavened, bountifully, with sharp humor and smart insight.
“What We Do Is Secret”
By Thorn Kief Hillsbery. Villard Books, 364 pages, $13.95 paper.
Rockets Redglare, laconic and iconic and not so lost that he can’t finally find himself, is a 13-year-old punk turning tricks and scrounging meals along L.A.’s Santa Monica Boulevard, circa 1981. His street-kid companions include Blitzer, Squid, and Siouxsie, all of them “different with a vengeance.” He’s drifting in the charismatic and sexual orbit of Darby Crash, months after the lead singer of the Germs died at 22 of a deliberate heroin overdose. This blistering novel details one night in Rockets’ life – of sex for pay with television’s “dog groomer to the stars,” of being hassled by the LAPD, of tripping out, and of lacerating himself with an industrial-strength stapler on stage at a punk concert. For Rockets, a normal night – but one with its own jagged, lyrical epiphany. As he did in his first novel, “War Boy,” Hillsbery captures the void and the voices of the disaffected young with vivid writing and excitable wordplay. “What We Do Is Secret” is a brave and brilliant queer novel, miles out of the mainstream but right on target.
“No Sister of Mine “
By Jeanne G’Fellers. Bella Books, 292 pages, $12.95
Imagine a distant world where humans have been all but bred out of existence, except for a genetic trace surviving in a race of telepathic women, the Taelachs, who struggle to coexist with a resentful patriarchal society, the Autlachs. ThatÕs what G’Fellers has done in this rather gory first novel about civil wars, alien threats, and women loving women in the midst of the carnage. The civil war has ended as the story starts, but bitter resentment lingers. The aliens are the Iralians, “a highly evolved reptilian species known for eating captives alive as a means of torture” – and the common enemy that has brought the women warriors of the Taelachs and the male forces of the Autlachs into an uneasy alliance. And the lesbian romance is between new warrior LaRenna Belsas and battle-scarred Krell Middle, her first commander. “No Sister of Mine” is a wholly and inventively imagined space opera, old-fashioned science fiction without a whiff of fantasy, fairies, or feyness about it – fiction for hardcore SF fans.
By Michelangelo Signorile. Carroll & Graf, 275 pages, $14.95
There’s a pleasant musty-attic quality to some of this collection of more than 40 of journalist Signorile’s essays and columns, written between 1996 and early 2005. That’s not to say that any of the pieces are dull -Signorile is far too fine, forceful, and opinionated a writer ever to be boring. But some of the earlier columns – on the “end of gay,” on Tom Cruise’s aversion to the word “gay,” and even on outing – are a tad hoary. Many, though, are timeless, including a lengthy 1998 article, “Murder Among the Ruins,” about the deaths of gay men in Italy, and “Leave My Kid Alone,” from 1997, about an openly gay 16-year-old Arkansas youth. There are only a few instances where Signorile updates his writing: a prescient column on barebacking from 1997, and a jeremiad from 2001 against his political sparring partner on the right, Andrew Sullivan, are all the better for their short postscripts. “Hitting Hard,” history written on the run, isn’t a leisurely read; it’s best read in short bursts – the way it was written.
And I can’t believe it but I do, I just start talking, I tell her about that first time with Darby, he said to fuck him and I did, hard really hard, and he said scratch him and he said punch him and he said rip handfuls of his hair out by the roots and I did I did I did. And I bit him until he bled, everywhere he told me to, till he was like the Braille edition of “The
Illustrated Man,” with teeth marks not tattoos. Though what was he to me but gentle gentle gentle, that night and always after, too gentle. Too fucking gentle.
-from “What We Do Is Secret,” by Thorn Kief Hillsbery
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Toilet by Tom Woolley, a collection of short stories rooted in the queer ’90s but not a whit nostalgic about the era, is the first in a series of reprints (from 1998) of edgy, out-of-print fiction. “The Wild Creatures,” edited by Kevin Killian, collects both unpublished and previously published short stories by Sam D’Allesandro, a San Francisco writer who died of AIDS in 1988. Both are just out from Suspect Thoughts Press… ALSO JUST OUT, another classic reprint – the late John Preston’s “Entertainment for a Master : A Novel,” from Cleis Press, which earlier this year reprinted his S/M novel “I Once Had a Master.”.. FEMMES WRITE PORN in “With a Rough Tongue: Femmes Write Porn,” edited by Amber Dawn and Trish Kelly, an anthology of queer sex tales by Daphne Gottlieb, Rachel Kramer Bussell, Ducky Doolittle, and others that go well beyond lace; it’s coming from Arsenal Pulp Press in September… CANADIAN GAY NOVELIST Darren Greer (“Still Life with June”) muses on the Iraq War and baseball, Picasso and post-modernism, and Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams, in “Strange Ghosts,” his collection of essays, travel writing, and criticism, coming from Cormorant Books in September.