The Boomerang Kid
by Jay Quinn
Kai Ostryder has his good days and his bad days. When he’s on the pills that hold his bipolar demons at bay, he functions as a high-end woodworker. When the side effects of his meds become overwhelmingly numbing, he self-medicates with illegal painkillers. At 27, he hasn’t fully accepted the fact that he’s queer—he’s fallen in love with a man, though he’s also sleeping with a woman. So, as he’s done over the years when life overwhelms, Kai retreats to his doting mother’s home. But she has her own needs—at 50, after decades of divorced contentment, she’s dating a man who adores her, and she’s pregnant. Quinn’s focus shifts nimbly between the concerns of his straight and his gay characters, in a novel where the conflict is less between individuals and more about Kai’s gripping internal struggle to come to terms with his troubled life. The result is a powerful but placid page-turner whose tension resides in whether Kai can honor the pledge to himself—and to the man he decides he wants to love—to stay clean.
Edited by Julia Watts, Parneshia Jones, Jo Ruby, and Elizabeth Slade
It’s a mystery to men, this menstruation thing. All the more reason for males of the species—the vagina-impaired—to dip into this unique collection of poems, essays, and short fiction about “Aunt Flo.” There’s plenty for the boys to learn about what the editors describe as “the most universal of all female experiences.” Meanwhile, women will have no trouble finding themselves in these descriptive accounts about the bloody monthly cycle, from Jane Yolen’s “It starts like a dot” to Marty McConnell’s “…the incident of blood which is not your birth” to Margo Berdeshevsky’s “It comes like smudged lavender paint.” For an anthology about a singular experience, there’s remarkable range in the more than 100 contributions (certainly justification for having four editors): nervous anticipation, anguish and embarrassment, mystical celebration, anger, and joy. And some humor. Julia Watts’ “Unlikely Testimonials” imagines what womanly icons like Gertrude Stein, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Janis Joplin might have said if they were touting tampons. The last word goes to Dorothy Parker: “Men seldom make passes/ At girls with red asses.”
Are You Guys Brothers?
by Brian McNaught
After a career of advising gay men on how to live their lives, in books like On Being Gay and Now That I’m Out, What Do I Do?, McNaught turns inward with this gracious memoir about his decades with husband Ray Struble (they met in Boston in 1976, married in Canada in 2003). Its candor is always refreshing, sometimes startling: he’s remarkably open about the scant role sex now plays in his loving relationship with Struble, for health reasons, and defiant in recounting his enduring friendship with imprisoned priest Paul Shanley, convicted of raping a youth after the now-adult man claimed he had recovered repressed memories. That honesty is all the more reason to relish McNaught’s bravura in setting himself up as a role model for gay Americans: the how-to advice of his earlier writing is backed up by real experience, some of it grievously painful, much of it hard-learned, all of it leading to his fulfillment as a contented gay man settling into a serene seventh decade.
Best Gay Stories 2008
Edited by Steve Berman
A short story collection that claims to be “best” is begging to be questioned—any editor’s taste is sure to be subjective. But Berman’s initial effort—he hopes this anthology will become an annual—is without a doubt pretty good. Some of the 20 contributors boast an accomplished body of work, among them novelists Ethan Mordden and Paul Russell, editor and mystery novelist Greg Herren, young adult novelist and editor David Levithan, poet and essayist Aaron Shurin, critic and short story writer Jameson Currier, speculative fiction author Richard Bowes, and essayist and short story writer Jeff Mann; their work doesn’t disappoint. It’s the work of relatively new voices, however, that’s most welcome—anthologies like this are valuable for introducing newer writers to queer readers who relish good writing. Two of the best are playwright Charles Rice-Gonzalez’ “Bronx Boyz in Poe Cottage,” a poignant short story about the educational gulf that separates two Latino boyhood friends, and poet Billy Merrell’s “My Boyfriend Refuses to Speak in Iambic Pentameter,” a short play about two young men fumbling for love.
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.