by Richard Labonte
January 1, 2007
“Bow Grip,” by Ivan E. Coyote. Arsenal Pulp Press, 224 pages, $16.95 paper.
After three acclaimed collections that blurred the line between fiction and autobiography, Coyote has written her first novel, a character-driven charmer. Joey is a sweet-hearted small-town auto mechanic in a funk a year after his wife, Ally, left him for another woman. Ally and her girlfriend, Kathleen, are living contented artistic lives in Calgary, contemplating mommyhood – with Joey as a third parent. Hector is a widower writing his memoirs – and dating hunky cowboys – in the motel room next door to the shabby space Joey checks into when he comes to Calgary. He’s there to return Ally’s books – and to track down a troubled loner who had bartered a gorgeous handmade cello for a car at Joey’s garage, but then vanished, leaving the car behind. This graceful novel’s storytelling strength comes from the compassionate interactions of the warmly authentic characters, who also include Kelly, a spunky single mom with an adorable daughter living in Joey’s motel, and Cecelia, the missing man’s sister – and a new romance for Joey.
“A Separate Reality,” by Robert Marshall. Carroll & Graf, 400 pages, $14.95 paper.
Mark, the introspective 12-year-old narrator of this novel of adolescent angst, is every queer-to-be boy’s stereotype. He’s a skinny kid, envious of other boys’ muscles, picked last for team games. He loses himself – quite precociously – in the mystical writing of Carlos Castaneda, a trendy spiritual guru of the ’70s, when this story is set. He sits in his room alone for hours, writing poetry. He adores hippie-ish Anna, the pot-tolerant teacher who oversees the small group putting together his school’s fledgling literary magazine. He’s alternately attracted to and repelled by the physical presence of Bruce, another seventh-grade outsider. And, with the hormonal onset of puberty, young Mark is suddenly exploring his penis, with thoughts of other boys for stimulation. Marshall’s debut book is set in Phoenix, where Mark’s environmentally concerned Jewish family – a perky older sister, a “normal” younger brother, a confused but caring dad, and a fussy mom – discuss the Watergate hearings over dinner. They’re a rare suburban ideal, portrayed with poignant precision in this gentle book about self-discovery.
“Satyr Square,” by Leonard Barkan. Farrar Straus Giroux, 304 pages, $24 hardcover.
Renaissance scholar Barkan is an aesthete in all things. In Rome for a year to research a book about ancient sculpture, he soon entangles himself in the city’s pleasures of the spirit. An oenophile with a somewhat snooty mouth for precious vintages, he finds entree to an exclusive wine-tasting group. A gourmand who delights in preparation and presentation as much as in consumption, he forges friendships with Italian foodies. He embraces the language of the country and the culture of the city with an ardor that is zesty and seductive. His rich, dense prose – blink and you’ll miss a marvelous historical allusion or a scintillating critical insight – illuminates a Rome where life is lived well. Barkan invokes his immersion in a sensuous foreign city with passion that is witty, eloquent, and learned – and, sometimes, lonely. A yearning for handsome young men floats through this remarkable account of a passage abroad; the author’s lust for life lacks, for the year, the fulfilment of a man to love.
“Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity,” edited by Mattilda aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore. Seal Press, 356 pages, $15.95 paper.
This is a dandy anthology of autobiographical essays by a smart array of sexual outlaws, societal misfits, gender deviants, and plain old nervy queers, edited with verve by a self-identified male femme who calls herself Mattilda. The theme is that conformity – trying to “pass” in order to measure up to a norm – is passe. Some pieces are engagingly autobiographical: Kirk Read writes about days as a novice sex worker; Tommi Avicolli Mecca recounts an encounter, while wearing radical drag, with an Italian friend’s homophobic, gun-waving father; Benjamin Shepard tells what it’s like to be “Not Quite Queer”; Nikki Lee Diamond writes about a prison stay where inmates pointed and said, “There’s the girl who used to be a guy.” Other work is affably didactic: Ralowe T. Ampu, rap name G Minus, explores how his homohop experience connects to the concepts of commodification and gay shame, and Amy Andre and Sandy Chang discuss what happens when two femmes cut their hair short. This book’s 26 essays, each powerful in its own way, are a cocky challenge to contemporary sexual and cultural expectations.
A sort of light and then a little quivering. Oh. Was this it? Was my life completely different now? I’d thought it was going to be a very new feeling, but it was only sort of new. Maybe this wasn’t really it – maybe the feeling would grow. But there was something on my fingers. My children. I slowly reached over, turning on the bedside light, pulling away the mountain. I touched the pearly liquid on my little penis and lifted my finger to my nose. Raw eggplant. Oh well, I thought, now what?
-from “A Separate Reality,” by Robert Marshall
THERE’S A NEW gay-friendly bookstore – and bar – in Manhattan: performance artist, porn-video maker, and short-story writer Joe Birdsong (“Hot Gay Erotica”) opened Rapture Cafe and Bookstore in mid-December. “Presenting another bar where people can get drunk for cheap is not what we’re about,” Birdsong told the “New York Observer”; his vision is of “a nice little neighborhood Internet cafe bookstore performance space” with a selection of organic free-trade-certified teas and coffees and “a real strong emphasis on different beers and wines.”.. AUSTRALIAN CHRISTOS TSIOLKAS, with three gay-themed books to his credit, won the inaugural Melbourne Prize for Literature Best Writer Under 40 award, and $30,000 (AUS), for his novel “Dead Europe,” about a photographer who leaves his longtime lover to explore his Greek roots – and to embark on an orgy of sex, alcohol, and self-pity. Tsiolkas’ other novels, “Loaded,” about a teen coming to terms with his sexuality – on which the 1998 film “Head On” was based – and “The Jesus Man,” are both out of print in America; “Dead Europe” doesn’t have a U.S. publisher yet… BELLA BOOKS AND Spinsters Ink publisher Linda Hill, novelist Christopher Rice (“The Snow Garden,” “A Density of Souls”), academic Judith Markowitz (author of “The Gay Detective Novel”), and Washington, D.C. attorney Kirstin Gulling have joined the board of trustees of the Lambda Literary Foundation.