Richard Labonte | September 22,2004
Fruit, by Brian Francis. MacAdam/Cage, 284 pages, $23 hardcover.
Outwardly, young Peter Paddington seems relatively normal. He loves his
ditzy, dysfunctional parents, grins and bears the selfish cruelty of his two
older sisters, dutifully ensures that the newspapers he delivers land on his
customers' front porches, and navigates the perils of junior-high cliques
with aplomb. And – like every good stereotypical sissy – his best friends
are straight girls, he occasionally dons dresses, and he's nuts about
musicals. Inwardly, however, Peter is a jangled mess, medicating his
emotions with chocolate bars and seeking security in assorted religions.
Fruit, a sweet and tart novel, is about a somewhat tubby queer kid whose
newly popped nipples keep teasing him (or so he imagines). He obviously has
issues around body image – and when Scotch tape won't keep those nips from
poking out and betraying his burgeoning sexuality, he resorts to masking
tape. Ouch. This charming debut captures the perils of male puberty –
out-of-control hormones, pits and pubes that sprout hair overnight, and an
inexhaustible supply of boners – with humanity and hilarity.
Once Upon a Dyke: New Exploits of Fairy Tale Lesbians, edited by Karin
Kallmaker and Julia Watts. Bella Books, 310 pages, $14.95 paper.
Only two of the four novella-length stories in this accomplished collection
have much to do with fairy tales. Therese Szymanski has the most fun with
her gleeful parody: "A Butch in Fairy Tale Land" skews half a dozen classic
characters, from Little Red Riding Hood to Rapunzel to Sleeping Beauty, as a
buff butch heroine makes her dizzy, erotic way through assorted tarted-up
bedtime stories of our youth. Barbara Johnson borrows her plot unabashedly:
"Charlotte of Hessen" is essentially the story of Cinderella and the slipper
that fits, told with kinky queer twists – the prince is gay, has a lesbian
sister, and really wants to wed the coachman. The other two tales are
equally engaging, but not very fairy: "La Belle Rose," by co-editor Watts,
is a lovely story about running away to join the circus and falling in love
with the bearded lady, and "A Fish Out of Water," by co-editor Kallmaker, is
an alternate-future fantasy about mermaids and land maidens lusting for each
other - shades, perhaps, of The Little Mermaid.
Written in Water: The Prose Poems, by Luis Cernuda. City Lights, 158
pages, $15.95 paper.
Though he was Federico Garcia Lorca's homosexual contemporary, Spanish poet
Cernuda hasn't been honored – or romanticized – nearly as much. Lorca died
young, assassinated by the fascists of Spain's civil war, while Cernuda went
into lifelong exile in Europe and North America, dying in Mexico in 1963.
Written in Water goes a long way toward relieving the restless poet's
undeserved obscurity. His writing – lyrical, autobiographical, sensual,
philosophical, and always guarded – traces his Seville boyhood, his passion
for peace, his sad longing for a sense of place, and his radical (for its
time) embrace of his sexuality. Few of the pieces are more than a page or
two long; many ache with contradictions of an aristocratic intellectual
fated to be a rootless wanderer. This slim book, translated with delicate
assurance by Stephen Keller, combines two different Spanish collections
(Ocnos and Variaciones sobre tema mexicano) that the author had hoped to
reissue as a single volume before his death. These evocative illuminations
of an intensely internal life are worth the four-decade wait.
50 Reasons to Say "Goodbye",by Nick Alexander. www.lulu.com, 151 pages,
For a book brimming with vignettes about lust leading absolutely nowhere and
sex gone sadly awry, 50 Reasons to Say "Goodbye" is great fun to read.
Hapless Mark, bouncing around England and the rest of Europe, risks blind
dates, fritters away his nights in dark bars and stylish clubs, trolls the
Internet until dawn, and bikes and hikes with men whose athleticism makes
him feel inadequate. As he flees one man, he is ever hopeful that the next
will be the perfect partner, the dream lover, the ideal man. Time and again,
perfection is an illusion, dreams melt into nightmares, and ideals are
dashed - experiences recounted in self-contained chapters with lachrymose
titles like "The Universe Lets Us Down" and "Drunk and Lonely." Alexander's
self-published fiction is too intelligent to be written off as "gay
chick-lit" – but it sure does share that genre's sassy way of hyperbolizing
autobiography to tell an entertaining story. This obstinately optimistic
first novel expresses both passion and pathos with firsthand freshness and a
delightful balance of whimsy and wisdom.
Those creatures whose beauty we admired one time, where are they now?
Fallen, tarnished, defeated, if not dead. But the eternal miracle of youth
continues, and at the sight of some new young body, sometimes a certain
resemblance awakens an echo, a trace of the other we loved before. Only when
we remember that between one and the other there's a distance of twenty
years, that this one hadn't even been born when the first still carried the
bright inextinguishable flame the generations pass from hand to hand, an
impotent pain assaults us, comprehending, behind the persistence of beauty,
the mutability of bodies.
– from Written in Water, by Luis Cernuda
A BOOK TO WATCH OUT FOR: Scholastic Press editor David Levithan and young
poet Billy Merrell are looking for writers ages 13 to 23, queer or not, for
an anthology of personal nonfiction about today's queer teen experience. All
royalties from the book, coming from Knopf in fall 2005, will go to GLSEN
(the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), a national organization
ensuring safe schools for all LBGT students. "It used to be that queer teens
were fighting to find a single voice. Now we each have our own voices - and
finally someone wants to give us a place to tell our stories in order to
show what gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/questioning life is really like
now," say Levithan and Merrell in their call for submissions. The co-editors
bring their own experience to Queerthology. Merrell – who will be 23 when
the book comes out – is the author of Talking in the Dark, a collection of
personal narrative poems that tell the story of a boy coming of age in
contemporary America. Levithan's young adult novel, Boy Meets Boy, won the
2003 Lambda Literary Award in the Children's/YA category; his second novel,
The Realm of Possibility, is a tale told by 20 different teens who go to
the same high school - "straight and queer, goth and gospel, hopeful and
heartbroken." The deadline for submissions to Queerthology is Oct. 15; for
information, go to www.queerthology.com.
Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s.
Book Marks [05/07/2004]