By Richard Labonte
“The Girls in 3-B,” by Valerie Taylor. The Feminist Press, 206 pages, $13.95 paper.
In 1959, when it was first published, “The Girls in 3-B” was marketed as lurid “pulp fiction” – a scandalous, steamy narrative of three small-town girls at loose in the big city. Times sure have changed. This once-racy tale could now be classified as a well-mannered young adult novel, suitable for today’s teen readers weaned on the likes of Judy Blume. There are happy endings all around, even for the one lesbian lass – a twist that set Taylor’s cautionary story of love, drugs, betrayal, and Bohemians apart from other pulps of the era. Taylor is best known for her more intensely dykey writing (“World Without Men,” “Journey to Fulfillment”), but this new edition of a lost classic is a reminder of what a well-rounded writer she was. The novel, part of a “Femmes Fatales” series, is book-ended by a foreword providing solid historical context and an afterword of digestible academic analysis – which transmutes this guilty pleasure into a fine learning experience.
“Original Youth: The Real Story of Edmund White’s Boyhood,” by Keith Fleming. Green Candy Press, 192 pages, $19.95 hardcover.
Given that Edmund White has described most of his novels as “autofiction” – the blending of autobiography and fiction – the “real story” of his boyhood in the 1950s might seem redundant. The revelations of “A Boy’s Own Story,” after all, left little to the imagination. But Fleming, White’s nephew (the son of his lesbian sister), really does have a story to tell, one that is astonishingly honest. It’s the story of a bright child bullied by – but sexually attracted to – his father; of a conflicted boy who begged his divorced parents to pay for analysis so he could “cure” himself of his homosexuality; of a precocious teen who both hired hustlers and seduced married men; and of a preening fellow with an impulse for lies and betrayal. Much of “Original Youth” is based on original letters, on the memories of childhood friends, and most essentially on soul-baring interviews with White himself, whose frankness infuses Fleming’s fluent biography. This is a portrait of today’s affable gay literary lion as an often ferocious cub.
“Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality,” by Patrick Moore. Beacon Press, 236 pages, $25 hardcover.
The controversial core of “Beyond Shame” is this assertion: that the queer promiscuity of the pre-AIDS ’70s was a wellspring of art, culture, and ideas. Moore comes to this bold theory with impeccable credentials: he founded and for a decade directed the Estate Project for Artists With AIDS, preserving the art of hundreds who died too young. And he defends his radical thesis ably, through a combination of insightful thumbnail biographies (ranging from S/M icon Fred Halstead to poet and publisher Assotto Saint); tender histories of hallowed sexual playgrounds (the Mineshaft in New York and the Catacombs in San Francisco among them); and supportive interviews with surviving elders (including novelist Felice Picano, porn historian Durk Dehner, and activist Arnie Kantrowitz). Most potent, though, is the coda to Moore’s unapologetic reclamation of a sexual, political, and artistic past – a haunting, stunning list of hundreds of our dead writers, performers, directors, designers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers.
“The Substance of God: A Spiritual Thriller,” by Perry Brass. Belhue Press, 232 pages, $13 paper.
With its mad scientists, murderous fundamentalists, steamy Istanbul bathhouses, and queers who rise Christ-like from the dead, this is quite the blend of genre fictions – part “noir” mystery, part erotic odyssey, part political manifesto, part Michael Crichton-like science thriller. The plot concerns a kinky bio-researcher heavy into cloning (not clones, though he is a queer), who receives in the mail what may be a slice of the body of Christ, unearthed in an archeological dig. This is good news for the scientist, who grafted the strip of flesh to his calf before he was bludgeoned to death by anticlone religious radicals; and three days later, in the morgue, he resurrects from the dead. On this imaginative hook, Brass hangs a provocative exploration of the connections among spirituality, carnality, and love – meatier subject matter than most genre fiction deals with, though not unusual in this author’s imaginative work. “The Substance of God” is a deft consideration of the philosophical need for a good God, of the physical lust for good sex, and of the emotional need for real love – a lot of heft, but it’s also good, light reading.
Beginning with Stonewall and extending into the early 1980s, when AIDS first began to drain away creative energy, the gay men of the 1970s created a culture, an ethos, that positioned them as some of the greatest artists in history. Their medium was sex and they marshaled all of the creative tools at their disposal to render sex in the most revolutionary way ever seen. It is so easy to see only the negative aspects of this experiment that was necessarily abandoned before its conclusion. It is so difficult to see how these practices could have grown into a culture that was sustainable and loving.
-from “Beyond Shame” by Patrick Moore
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Mark Feb. 10 on your calendar – on your “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy 2004” wall calendar, of course, now heavily discounted at better bookstores. That’s the publication date for – guess what – “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5’s Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better,” the latest but not the last print spin-off of every queer man’s straight friend’s favorite TV phenomenon. Later this year: Carson Kressley’s untitled book “about the simple sartorial staples of style, from ascots to zippers, along with a dose of makeover magic for behavior and attitude.” Coming next year: cooking expert Ted Allen’s “COOK 1.0,” presenting 100 recipes for novices (especially men), including the most fundamental dishes they should have in their repertoires. Can how-to, do-it-my-way tomes from the Bravo show’s grooming expert Kyan Douglas, design expert Thom Filicia, and culture expert Jai Rodriguez be far behind? … MAY IS THE PUBLICATION MONTH for Jeanette Winterston’s new novel, “Lighthousekeeping” – but for now only in England, from Fourth Estate. The first line, according to her website, is “My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal, part pirate.” Read the rest from an American publisher this fall.