Book Marks

By Lavender April 10, 2008

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The End of the World Book by Alistair McCartneyTerrace Books314 pages$26.95 hardcoverThere’s nothing linear about McCartney’s debut novel. There’s not much narrative to it, either. It’s not really a novel by any rational definition, actually. But its giddily unconventional structure delivers a glorious literary experience. From chapter A to chapter Z, this is an irreverent alphabetical guide to the author’s many intense obsessions (knives and razors, young men and porn, horror films and hair), quirky cultural observations (macrame as a notable art form?), frequent literary touchstones (Proust and Kafka predominate), and—blurring the boundary between fiction and memoir—loving anecdotes about his Australian family and his American partner, performer Tim Miller. There’s a searing satirical edge to many of the entries; some are deliriously absurd. A few are concise gems, such as “Inspiration: Quick, before it evaporates!” and “Homosexual: I think I am mentioned somewhere in the Bible, if I remember correctly.” What links the several hundred entries together, aside from their eclectic poetic and philosophical range, is a thread of quizzical yet comic melancholy about the world.Gentleman Jiggerby Richard Bruce NugentDa Capo Press353 pages$18 paperHarlem Renaissance luminary Nugent’s wicked roman a clef, written between 1928 and 1933 but not published until now, 20 years after his death, is a work with a split personality. Book One is based, without much apparent fictional embellishment, on the self-anointed Niggerati Manor circle of artists—including Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, and Countee Cullen—who produced just one fiery issue of the scandalous literary journal, Fire!!. Nugent’s alter ego is precociously gay Stuartt, a black man so light-skinned that he can (and does) pass for white. Not much happens in the first half, though lengthy disquisitions on race, identity, and skin hue illuminate the era’s black intellectual and artistic ferment. The pace picks up in Book Two, after Stuartt relocates his narcissistic charm and breathtaking beauty from Harlem to Greenwich Village, where he’s soon seducing Italian street boys and eventually Mafia crime bosses. Editor Thomas Wirth cobbled the novel together from several partial manuscripts, and the result is far short of seamless. Nevertheless, this is a must-read for anyone intrigued by early gay fiction and black gay history.Heartlandby Julie CannonBold Strokes242 pages$15.95 paperDrop 10 fun-seeking lesbians onto a working ranch run by a butch mourning the loss of her lover, and you’d expect much randy action to follow. But the focus of this fluid romance is primarily on just two women. One is Shivley McCoy, who was able to create her working-vacation getaway spread with money willed to her by her late mate; the other is Rachel Stanton, a political strategist-for-hire stressed by too many mudslinging campaigns. There’s nothing coy about the passion of these unalike dykes—it ignites at first encounter, and never abates. The main impediment to their mutual physical and emotional fulfillment is rooted in Shivley’s guilt: turns out she cared deeply for her dying partner, but wasn’t really in love with her, and is wary of another romantic entanglement that might peter out. Cannon’s well-constructed novel conveys more complexity of character and less overwrought melodrama than most stories in the crowded genre of lesbian-love-against-all-odds—a definite plus.Legacies of Love: A Heritage of Queer Bondingby Winston WildeTaylor & Francis236 pages$19.95 paperThis is a queers-in-history reference book with a difference. It’s about couples—and the occasional menage-a-many. And there’s a twist. Rather than order his historical vignettes chronologically, Wilde categorizes couples by “patterns.” The most extensive is “peer love,” involving relationships between persons roughly equal in age, class, and wealth, from Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Greek lovers said to have died at age 16 after plotting to rid Greece of a tyrannic ruler, to Paul Monette and Roger Horwitz—whose AIDS death is chronicled in Monette’s memorable memoir, Borrowed Time. Other categories include the obvious—intergenerational, interclass, and interethnic love. Then there’s the “utopian love” of pirates, male dancers, and the founders of Camp Sister Spirit; the “heterogender love” of the likes of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickock; and, most intriguingly, “overlapping love”—a category linking three and even four individuals, most notably Sharon Kowalski, paralyzed in an auto accident in 1983, her lover, Karen Thompson, and a third member of their polyamorous relationship, Patricia Bresser. Profiles accompanying the 106 entries are brief but fact-filled; a wealth of photos puts faces to the facts.Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.

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