Are You Guys Brothers?
Brian McNaught shares his 32-year-relationship with partner Ray Struble, with its attendant pain and pleasure, success and failure. Married in Ottawa in 2003, they first met in 1976 through Dignity, an organization for gay Catholics. They were just looking for roommates, but found much, much more. Each of the young Midwesterners contributed a hefty amount of emotional baggage, not unusual for any couple, but even more challenging in a society (gay and straight) that is spooked by male intimacy. McNaught, whom The New York Times dubbed “the godfather of diversity training,” and Struble, who had a distinguished career in Wall Street, now have more “mature” problems, such as widely disparate incomes and erectile dysfunction. And that is really the point of this moving and startlingly candid memoir: You never run out of challenges. Enduring love is not a function of money or luck, not a one-shot deal, but an edifice built over time, like a coral reef—or a cathedral.
Friend of the Firm: A Sheldon Bailey Mystery
Homicide detective Sheldon Bailey thinks, “Liv wants me,” setting the dramatic tension for Frances Richter’s first novel. Sheldon, who shortly will be drawn into a grisly murder case surrounding her friend, Liv Jordan, has been partnered for the past five years, and is, to all outward appearances, content with her love, Sera. At first, Sheldon simply is handling Liv’s divorce case (Liv is straight—isn’t she?), but then, a young woman with whom Liv is staying disappears. Her charred remains are found in the burnt-out shell of Liv’s car that she had borrowed one evening, along with Liv’s leather jacket. Did the murder target the friend, or was he/she after Liv? Richter produces a cast of characters gay and straight (whom we will expect to see in her upcoming Love Valley) to delve into the seamy world of pornography and blackmail Sheldon uncovers in her attempt to exonerate Liv from a murder charge, while holding true to her own relationship.
The Screwed Up Life of Charlie the Second
Kensington Publishing Corp.
Another gay-teen-angst novel? Well, gay teen angst is still abroad in the land, and author Drew Ferguson not only draws on familiar material, but also mines uncharted territory. Used to being simply “Charlie the Second” (legally, Charles James Stewart Jr.) at 17, our hero as well is used to being too tall, too awkward, too big-eared, too browbeaten by his father (Charlie One)—and, not the least, way too gay. Hope dawns in the form of one Rob Hunt, a new member of the soccer team (unlike most misfit heroes, Charlie the Second plays on a school team, although ignored by his teammates). The unique twist to the novel comes with the discovery that Rob’s Mom is ill with—and eventually dies from—Lou Gerhig’s disease. Charlie’s Dad, the assistant state’s attorney, learns her death may involve assisted suicide by Rob’s Dad. Narrated through Charlie’s diary, the novel adroitly mixes teenage and adult angst, humor and reality, in a satisfying read.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames
A book jacket that leaps out at the prospective reader with Vincent van Gogh’s 1886 Skull with Cigarette above the title When You Are Engulfed in Flames must have been a publicity agent’s wet dream. How could a browser not pick it up? The book is filled with truth-amplifying essays running the gamut from art to death (“Adult Figures Charging Toward a Concrete Toadstool” and “Memento Mori”), culminating in “The Smoking Section,” an 83-page riff on the author’s decamping to Tokyo to quit smoking. No need to analyze Sedaris: You’ve read him before, and you need this book; you haven’t read him yet, but you find van Gogh a funny fellow, so you need this book. Upon finishing any Sedaris miscellany of sarcasm, hyperbole, nonsequitur, humiliation, and mal-de-siècle, one desires not to meet the author himself, but Hugh Hamrick, his longtime boyfriend, who, if I read correctly, brings the practice of detachment and unconditional love to an unprecedented height.