By Richard Labonte
Breakfast with Tiffany: An Uncle’s Memoir
By Edwin John Wintle. Miramax Books, 312 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
The author of this blend of warmhearted memoir and unorthodox parenting guide – a self-described drama queen – was quite unprepared for the drama about to take over his life when he offered to become a surrogate father for his troubled 13-year-old niece, Tiffany. He was a 40-year-old single gay man settled into an almost obsessive-compulsive Manhattan routine. She was a complex, precocious teenage girl buffeted by suburban boredom and a violent home life. In this candid chronicle of their first year together, Wintle describes how he handled her drinking, drug use, and flashes of ferocious rage; how he balanced his bewilderment and anger at her behavior by cherishing her sweetly artistic side, her ability to excel at school when she chose to, and her flashes of real gratitude for taking her in; and, most movingly, how he revealed to her that he was HIV-positive. “Breakfast with Tiffany” is in the end a tale of familial love – the somewhat magical story of how two strong-willed, articulate people came to be each other’s emotional salvation.
When I closed the cell phone, my head shot back against the train seat and my eyes darted around wildly, looking for witnesses. Had this actually just happened? My mind sparked in a dozen different directions. What would I do about my roommate? Where would Tiffany go to school? Could I really afford to support a child? What if she runs away in New York City? And, even more frightening, would I have to throw away my porn collection? What the hell have I gotten myself into?
-from “Breakfast With Tiffany,” by Edwin John Wintle
By Katia Noyes. Alyson Books, 314 pages, $14.95 paper.
Teenagers with a troubled home life head “to” California, right? But when you already live there, and when your best friend dies, and when your father is too busy to care about you, and when your granddad is afraid to let you crash in his home, and when your world is sad and crazed and confusing, “away” is the way to go. So the restless 17-year-old vagabond narrator of this sizzling road novel – a girl named Girl – lights out for America’s dusty heartland, aiming to reconnect romantically with Randa, an older woman who once visited San Francisco and seduced Girl. It’s quite the tumultuous trip – Girl skips out on a “menage a trois” with a lusty Mormon housewife, flirts with the girlfriend of a Christian punk rocker, finds a short-lived semblance of home in Nebraska with Randa and her laconic boyfriend, and falls in love with a teenage waitress. “Crashing America,” a defiant debut about survival, bristles with the primal need in Girl’s life – in everyone’s life – for safe emotional and physical space.
How’s Your Romance?
By Ethan Mordden. St. Martin’s Press, 288 pages, $24.95 hardcover.
This is must-read fiction for all queers – but to fully appreciate Mordden’s arch wisdom, bitchy humor, and sexually historical sweep, it’s best not to start the book until you’ve read the four collections of linked short stories in the “Buddy Cycle” that preceded it: “Buddies,” “Everybody Loves You,” “I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore,” and “Some Men Are Lookers.” And even if you’ve read the savagely comic and acutely ironic quartet already, it wouldn’t hurt to enjoy them again before diving into the flamboyant writing and textured characters of “How’s Your Romance?” – the fourth book came out more than seven years ago. Mordden is, as ever, bluntly pithy and lyrically pissy about Manhattan gay life, as he winds down his 20-year saga of a close-knit but fractious circle of lovers and friends: gym hunk Carlo, irascible Dennis Savage, narrator Bud – like Mordden, immersed in musicals and the opera – and Bud’s sweet ward, Cosgrove. As stand-ins for a particular near-stereotypical subset of the gay world, they – like this clear-eyed, quirky series – have aged well.
Sodom on the Thames: Sex, Love, and Scandal in Wilde Times
By Morris Kaplan. Cornell University Press, 312 pages, $35 hardcover.
The sodomy trial of Oscar Wilde has gotten all the ink, but his wasn’t the only lavender scandal to rock and shock Victorian England. This detailed exploration of three late-19th-century incidents that preceded Wilde’s 1895 trial and subsequent tribulations provides fascinating cultural context for the prosecutorial moral climate that treated Wilde so harshly. The first, about which relatively little has been written, involved two transvestites tried in 1871 for conspiracy to commit sodomy; their offense was covered by newspapers of the day with the same slavish attention tabloids and cable TV lavished on the Michael Jackson trial. The second, better known, was “the Cleveland Street affair” of 1890-1891, in which teenage telegraph boys – in uniform – moonlighted as prostitutes for prominent gentlemen, possibly including Queen Victoria’s grandson. The third, more hushed, involved two Eton schoolmasters forced to resign amid whispers of romantic attachments with students. By drawing on court records, contemporary newspaper stories, and personal diaries and correspondence, Kaplan invests “Sodomy on the Thames” with a riveting mix of rigorous academic writing and vivid true-crime energy.
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Douglas A. Martin’s October short-story collection, “They Change the Subject,” focuses on a young-man-on-the-make whose goal is to become the purest object of other men’s desire (University of Wisconsin Press, $17.95); in November, Martin’s “Bronte Boy : A Novel” merges fiction and fact in a lyrical novel about Branwell Bronte, the gifted artist, writer (and possibly homosexual) brother of the better-remembered Bronte sisters, who died at 31 from alcohol and opium abuse (Soft Skull Press, $13.95)… GAVIN BUTT considers the role gossip and innuendo played in shaping the careers of Larry Rivers, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and other emerging artists of the period in his November book, “Between You and Me : Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World, 1948-1963” (Duke University Press, $21.95)… POET AND NOVELIST Edward Field’s chatty November memoir, “The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag : And Other Intimate Literary Portraits of the Bohemian Era (Wisc Living Out),” earns this blurb from editor and novelist Brian Bouldrey: “After reading a chapter, I feel like I’ve just had a martini with Edward…” (University of Wisconsin Press, $29.95).