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BOOK REVIEWS

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Richard Labonte | July 3, 2003

Boyfriends from Hell: True Tales of Tainted Lovers, Disastrous Dates, and Love Gone Wrong, edited by Kevin Bentley. Green Candy Press, 231 pages, $14.95 paper.

Boyfriends from Hell is not a book for beginners. Only the brave - or the desperate - will dare date after reading these remembrances of love gone awry. Editor Bentley's treasure trove of romantic tragedy is sublime cautionary hyperbole (that is, factual exaggeration not intended to deceive - and these 19 pieces are too good not to be true). Because they're drawn from rejection, misunderstanding, and disaffection, these confessional revelations ooze with rueful wit. Two of the best are Jim Coughenour's "Happy Birthday," about first love as a harrowing form of gay boot camp; and Simon Sheppard's "Going Down, Going Down Down," about a tryst with a tweaking twinkie. Most accounts are hilarious - Jerry Rosco's "My Boyfriend Brought Home a Rock Band," about the Butthole Surfers, is a standout. There are serious essays, too - Asian-Canadian Andy Quan's "Rufo," about ethnic eroticization, and Marshall Moore's ode to dysfunctional dating, "Almost." And then there's the angry ex who tried to chew off his former beau's scrotum - eek! Who needs a date tonight? Stay home with a good book. This one.


Street Rules: A Detective Franco Mystery, by Baxter Clare. Bella Books, 292 pages, $12.95 paper.

This fierce, somewhat bloodthirsty police procedural is the second in a series. Caution one: Read Bleeding Out (Firebrand, 2000), in which Clare introduced hardboiled homicide lieutenant L. A. Franco, before starting Street Rules. Otherwise, the complicated personal tics and romantic foibles of the tough-talking, tender-hearted cop won't make much sense. Caution two: This is no bloodless cat-solves-the-crime caper or even an authentically gritty Kate Delafield mystery from Katherine V. Forrest. Lt. "Frank" Franco, lesbian head of a rowdy crew of male detectives, lives and works in a Los Angeles barrio awash with graphic crime scenes, unrelenting chauvinism, and intricate backstabbing and betrayal. Street Rules is an intense, sometimes unsettling read, heavy on blood and sorrow. Clare captures the street-level realities of gang lives, drive-by-death, forced prostitution, and grinding poverty with the chilling power of someone who has been there - or at least researched it well. Caution three: The book is rife with unfortunate typos, to the point of annoyance. Let's hope for better proofreading and more backgrounding in book three.


Amuse Bouche, by Anthony Bidulka. Q Press/Insomniac Press, 200 pages, $16.95 paper.

An amuse-bouche, in culinary terms, is a palate-pleasing tidbit, an appetizer. Amuse Bouche, the mystery, is a full meal - but more frolicking picnic than serious sit-down dinner. Bidulka's first book is set mostly in the Canadian Prairie city of Saskatoon, where rookie P.I. Russell Quant, though hardworking and cute, isn't having much luck with either his lackluster investigative career or his low-wattage love life. He has a slew of odd friends, the kind of quirky cast common to the genre of dizzy-queen gay mysteries - a wacky lady neighbor, an indulgent gay uncle, a fag-haggy gal pal. The comic plot revolves around one groom gone missing from his gay wedding, then turning up dead. Suspects include the other groom, as well as the dead man's vile sister, shady lawyer, supercilious business colleague, and brother - a priest of uncommon hunkiness and suspicious rectitude. Attentive reading reveals the killer rather quickly; Bidulka drops a few careless clues. But the real charm of this debut comes less from the matter of whodunit and more from its savory good cheer.


Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture, by Mack Friedman. Alyson Books, 320 pages, $15.95 paper.

Strapped for Cash is a book of several fascinating parts. It's a comprehensive social and sexual history of male prostitution in America since 1600 - everything from 18th-century sailor boys and their Manhattan Island "fairies," to the Internet escorts of the 21st century. It also expresses heartfelt concern for the health and welfare of contemporary male sex workers; offers pages of sultry come-on photos culled from varied eras of gay pictorial/hustler porn; and is sprinkled with snippets of defiant, sassy, often wrenching oral histories from more than 50 male and transgender hookers. Friedman turned tricks for a spell in his college years - even toiled as a nude housecleaner in apartments that weren't always dusty - and now works as a case manager for youth prostitutes. This well-rounded perspective adds sincere heft to his meshing of objective scholarship and subjective advocacy. Alyson has given the book an arty coffee-table design, a handsome format that showcases the photos and other illustrations but invites casual browsing rather than serious reading of the solid, informative text.


Featured Excerpt:

Even on her day off, her eye caught the three kids slinking into the alley too fast, the woman in the too-tight outfit near Tripps Market, the crackhead jerking towards a cluster of young men at the corner and their defiant perusal of all traffic. But none of that bothered her right now. With the sun warm through the window and hip-hop on the radio, she rolled through the shadows of tall palms and billboards advertising Hennessey and Alize, Virginia Slims and Camels, Whitney Houston and Ice Cube. Strikes and tags boldly proclaimed which gang's turf she was in where the boundaries met, rival names were repeatedly crossed out.
-from Street Rules, by Baxter Clare

Footnotes:

STORY'S END FOR MORE QUEER BOOKSTORES: A Brother's Touch in Minneapolis closed in June after 20 years, a victim of declining business and owner burnout. Founder Harvey Hertz tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer; instead, the bookstore's inventory - and website address - were taken over by Rainbow Road, a Minneapolis card and gift shop with a second retail store in San Diego. In New Orleans, Faubourg Marigny Books, in a Creole neighborhood not far from the French Quarter, has closed after keeping irregular hours for several months. It was founded 30 years ago by historian Tom Horner, author of the 1978 book Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times - still in print from Westminster Press. In recent years, the store - better known by locals as "the F.M." - was owned by Alan Robinson ...

JUST TWO WRITERS MADE it onto Out magazine's June Hot Issue list of "79 people, places, and things that turn us on right this minute" - Gore Vidal, "hottest novelist over 60 who isn't John Rechy" (though Vidal's three recent books have been nonfiction essay collections and antiwar tracts); and Matt Bernstein Sycamore, "hottest novelist under 30," whose first novel, Pulling Taffy, was published this year by Suspect Thoughts Press. The only book listed is Escape from Fire Island by Jim English, a playful parody featuring sweaty men, soaked Speedos, and a plague of zombie drag queens. There were, however, more than a dozen listings for clothes and fashion accessories on the list.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s.

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