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Book Marks

By Lavender April 27, 2009

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Cheever: A Life
by Blake Bailey
Alfred A. Knopf
784 pages
$35 hardcover

Let this incisive biography stand as an object lesson in the perils of denial: Without casting judgment, it makes clear that Cheever—dead more than a quarter century, his literary legacy dimmed—was a resolute alcoholic in part because of insecurity around sexual identity. Dalliances with gay composer and diarist Ned Rorem and gay novelist Allan Gurganus are two of many same-sex moments detailed in Bailey’s exhaustive but riveting bio. Cheever’s lust for a young Mormon writer and for a Sing Sing convict are also part of the sympathetic biographical tapestry, which balances not-so-private drinking and sexual demons with nicely nuanced praise for his many novels and short stories. Cheever’s queer bent is no secret: In the 1980s, daughter Susan wrote about it in her own memoir, and son Benjamin edited a few-holds-barred selection of Cheever’s letters—and there are certainly autobiographical elements in Falconer, the prison novel that redefined the perception of Cheever as merely a master of the leafy, suburban moment. This is an exquisite, judicious portrait of a flawed man’s rich life.

Centuries Ago and Very Fast
by Rebecca Ore
Aqueduct Press
160 pages
$16 paper

In his 15,000 years, gay immortal Vel has seen it all, from mastodons roaming the Earth in the Pleistocene era to the Stonewall riots in 1969. He’s had innumerable lovers, remaining young as they aged. He can trip through time, offering one boyfriend in the 20th century a handful of wooly mammoth fur snatched in a flash from thousands of years past. He witnesses those heroic homo riots after rambunctious sex with a Puerto Rican drag queen, he trysts with cavemen by flickering firelight and—the thread that ties together this hugely imaginative fable’s 13 interconnected stories—he falls in love with mortal Thomas, who is cautiously permitted to learn the secrets of a man who has kept his family land intact for centuries. Ore, a mainstream science fiction novelist and short story writer with James Tiptree, Jr. and Philip K. Dick nominations to her credit, has crafted a time-travel tale incorporating ancient religious rites, a tender gay love story, snapshots of historical attitudes about homosexuality—and earthy queer erotica.

Stealing Ganymede
by J. Warren
Rebel Satori Press
192 pages
$16.95 paper

Bloody shootouts, decadent sexual behavior, an underground sex cabal, fiercely dysfunctional family life, teenage boys molested: this is not a novel for the faint of heart—or the weak of stomach. Warren fuses a gritty crime caper—first-person narrator Zeus enters the transgressive tale as a hit man and hired muscle without a shred of remorse—with emotionally complex literary fiction in which a compelling, redemptive narrative elevates the repellent content. The result is mesmerizing, particularly as Zeus evolves from cold-blooded killer without a shred of soul to compassionate caretaker for Ganymede, a boy he is hired to deliver to a pederast with brutal desires—and in whom he perceives elements of his younger, abused self. The compact novel’s chronology flits across time, so the intricate story is hard at first to follow, but Warren soon enough knits past and present together to dazzling effect. Unsettling, yes, but this intelligent depiction of aberrant carnal lust and chilling sexual abuse is haunting, ultimately more humane than profane.

Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life
by Raymond Luczak
RID Press
160 pages
$14.95 paper

A longing to connect runs through the 11 essays in this slim but evocative collection by Luczak, deaf since age 7 months. Ostracized because of bulky hearing aids, he was a pre-teen outsider at his regular school, before switching to special classes. Sensing he was gay as a young teenager, he yearned to learn more about his feelings but was inhibited by his disability. Deaf and gay liberation both blossomed at Gallaudet University, where American Sign Language connected him to other deaf people, and he proudly introduced himself thus: “Hello, my name is Ray, and that rhymes with gay.” Luczak discusses anti-Deaf discrimination and Deaf self-oppression with unabashed candor, writes about friends lost to AIDS with tender poignancy and exults about new technology—most recently crystal-clear video chat—that in his lifetime has connected him to a universe of other Deaf queers. This deeply personal writing offers the hearing gay world a confident look at life as a member of an outsider community inside a larger outsider community.

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 [email protected]

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