Film / TV



Book Marks

Richard Labonte | August 01, 2005

God Jr., by Dennis Cooper. Grove/Atlantic, 144 pages, $12 paper.

The teen in this spare and startling new novel isn't a flayed queer skaterboy dancing on the razor's edge of sex and death, the kind of kid familiar from Cooper's earlier fiction. Tommy, the boy here, is dead as the story starts – killed in a car accident after toking with his depressed and addlepated dad, Jim, who drove them into a telephone pole while stoned. Now Jim is alienating his co-workers and his marriage is falling apart, all because of his obsession with building a memorial based on a series of sketches discovered in his son's notebooks. What he doesn't know, at first, is that Tommy plagiarized the drawings from a popular video game. When he learns this, he turns to playing the game obsessively – and Cooper's nuanced novel about overdone grief and guilt turns, seamlessly and with irony intact, into a trippy and mystical tale about seeking understanding and searching for redemption. God Jr. is a delicious departure for the gay author of Closer, Wrong, and other writing – not as edgy, sexually, but just as exciting, literarily.

The Next World, by Ursula Steck. Bella Books, 232 pages, $12.95 paper.

What luck that Anna Spring, the plucky protagonist of this inventive and fast-paced mystery, is a genetics researcher. Actually, she's working as a lowly security guard for a hip ad agency, after transplanting herself from Germany to escape her crazed twin sister and a profession she'd come to detest. But when her best male friend is murdered, and the agency's stylish female copywriter with whom she is flirting disappears, Anna plunges into a mystery that's right up her alley, science-wise. It seems something is awry at a fertility clinic, where a despicable male lout is transferring genetically flawed cloned embryos into unsuspecting surrogate mothers, resulting in a series of life-threatening abortions. Steck is the author of three popular German mysteries; this is her first foray into the American market, and her first novel written in English, which explains the occasionally stilted dialogue. But its blend of hard science, sensible sleuthing, and sexual tension smoothes out the linguistic rough edges.

Diary of a Drag Queen, by Daniel Harris. Carroll & Graf, 224 pages, $14.95 paper.

Trust a sexually insatiable fag to figure out how to score when he thinks that, at age 46 – and just jilted by his long-term boyfriend – he's past his attractive prime. His scheme? Dress in drag and display his heavily made-up, bewigged, and black-gartered self in AOL chat rooms and on NYCShemale4male. The author of The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture wrote an online diary during his drag-queen phase, from which this candid, whiny, witty, and reflective memoir has been molded. In vignette-length chapters, Harris recounts his sexual encounters with frustrated teens, nervous husbands, playful NYPD officers, bodybuilders gone to seed, and ex-cons who acquired a taste for cock while in prison: a steady stream of men of assorted ages, ethnicities, and proclivities who trek to his apartment for one-night stands. In alternate, less raunchy chapters, he despairs about finding the perfect wig, details the online catfights among other drag queens, and philosophizes on gender issues: this is the dishy diary of a decidedly intellectual drag queen.

Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, by Peter Shapiro. Faber & Faber, 368 pages, $26 hardcover.

The Village People and John Travolta didn't quite kill disco – but they did it grievous musical harm, according to this deeply informed and incredibly comprehensive history of the dance, its star DJs, and the music it continues to inspire. Shapiro traces disco's roots back to the Swing Kids of Nazi-era Germany, who gathered clandestinely to dance to "a connoisseur's collection of swing music" played on a portable gramophone. The author plays his story forward thoughtfully to this decade, "where disco has never been very far from the top of the European pop charts." But the core of his exuberant study lies in the turbulent '70s, where black power, gay pride, and urban angst – goosed by the arrival of the synthesizer – came together to craft an outcast sound with the same cultural heft as its pop-culture peers, hip-hop and punk. Along the way, Shapiro discusses more than 400 disco tunes – not merely listing their titles, but deconstructing them so artfully, sometimes in a sentence, occasionally for a full page, that Studio 54 and Danceteria come alive again.

Featured Excerpt:
Crucifixion is an apt metaphor for last night's date. A man excused himself after a few short minutes of chitchat, saying – several times in fact – "I don't want to waste your time, but you look nothing like your pictures." Humiliated, I opened the door for him, adopting a bored look as if to say, "If not you, then someone else," feigning elegant ennui, and then, as soon as I slid the bolt, collapsed in my chair virtually in tears, utterly defeated, my ennui giving way to a towering rage, trembling like Joan Crawford sacked by MGM.
– from Diary of a Drag Queen, by Daniel Harris

BOOKS BACK IN PRINT: Lethe Press and White Crane Journal, a magazine about gay spirituality, have announced plans to reprint up to 10 queer nonfiction classics, using print-on-demand technology. The first title, Andrew Ramer's Two Flutes Playing, is now available. Future books in the White Crane Spirituality Editions series will include Mark Thompson's Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning; the collected works of Edward Carpenter, a champion of both women's and homosexual liberation at the turn of the 20th century; and previously unpublished writing by the late fairy poet and avant-garde filmmaker James Broughton. Books can be ordered online from www.whitecranejournal.com. Meanwhile, Arsenal Pulp Press, in collaboration with Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium, has new editions of two classics now available – Jane Rule's The Young in One Another's Arms, with an introduction by Katherine V. Forrest, and Richard Amory's Song of the Loon, with an introduction by Michael Bronski. Isabel Miller's Patience & Sarah, with an introduction by Emma Donoghue, and John Preston's Franny: The Queen of Provincetown, with an introduction by Michael Lowenthal, are due in September.

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

Previous edition Book Marks [18/07/2005]


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