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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | January 09, 2006

Loose End, by Ivan E. Coyote. Arsenal Pulp Press, 176 pages, $14.95 paper.

Reading the good-humored sketches in Coyote's third collection of autobiographical stories is like having the author drop by for a pot of hot chamomile tea with fresh lemon: It's a comfy, warm experience tinged with plainspoken tartness, infused with giddy laughter and the occasional tear. Most of the 47 pieces, expansions of a column that ran in the Canadian gay paper Xtra! West, are just three or four pages long, but they pack a wealth of personality. Coyote refers often to gigs as a storyteller, and it's easy to "hear" her voice as she writes about her in-recovery father, her temperamental mother, and the earthy, blue-collar neighbors in her then-hometown of Vancouver. The most powerful entries in this most appealing collection, though, dwell on her godson Francis, whose penchant for "bravely cross-dressing his way through Grade Three" both inspires and concerns her. Coyote – so butch-looking in her 30s that she's constantly being mistaken for a young man – spins her marvelous stories with the gift of an enchantress.



Mordred, Bastard Son, by Douglas Clegg. Alyson Books, 284 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

Clegg's heroic recasting of the life story of Mordred, bastard (and in other accounts, heinously villainous) son of legendary King Arthur, is a nifty way of making an oft-told tale fresh again – and more queer than it's ever been. This askew view of Camelot focuses on Mordred's sorceress mother Morgan Le Fay's hatred for the King, young Mordred's own ambivalence towards his powerful father as he grows from boy to man, and his adolescent attraction to a handsome hermit – who turns out to be Lancelot, the most fair-haired Knight of the Round Table in the powerful king's court. There's a lot of scene-setting and foreshadowing in the somewhat slow first half of Mordred, but patient reading pays off: Clegg's revisionist fiction – the first of a planned trilogy – picks up the pace once the historical backstory is in place. The author is best-known for crafting horror fiction set in contemporary times, but this new direction in storytelling augurs well for fans of fiction imbued with myth, magic, and man-on-man adventure.



Beyond Recall: Mary Meigs, edited by Lise Weil. Talonbooks, 160 pages, $15.95 paper.

For two years, as she was dying after suffering a stroke, painter and writer Meigs – the longtime companion of French-Canadian author Marie-Claire Blais – kept a journal that celebrated her struggle with life. This profoundly self-aware book – excerpted with Weil's caring editorial eye from Meigs' determined, near-daily record of the shrinking world around her – ranks with the later writings of May Sarton as a grand elegy to the abundance of aging. The diary entries included in Beyond Recall are the most painful to read, with their blunt honesty about the failings of body and mind. A number of "freewriting" exercises – experiments in writing without pause for reflection or self-editing – that Meigs wrote with Weil are astonishingly lucid and often magical. But most remarkable, and poignantly playful, are the faxes Meigs wrote in the voice of her cat to Blais' cat when the two women were apart, each illustrated with cartoony line drawings: love letters, really, to their shared world.



Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, edited by E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson. Duke University Press, 384 pages, $23.95 paper.

The core message of this pointed assessment of the American academy is that it's time for black studies to incorporate queer realities, and for gay studies to include black truths. Most of the contributions are drawn from papers delivered at the Black Queer Studies in the Millennium conference several years ago, but the passage of time hasn't blunted their premise: that the "nascent field" of black gay studies remains underdeveloped and underappreciated. The collection ranges widely across disciplines, including sociology, film studies, history, politics, and performance, in each instance claiming the right of black queer insights to be included in the intellectual dynamic of higher learning. A couple of essays in particular focus on fiction. In one, anthology co-editor Henderson discusses the literary "whiteface" that made James Baldwin's pioneering novel Giovanni's Room palatable to a nongay, nonblack audience; in another, popular novelist Jewelle Gomez (The Gilda Stories) notes the dearth of black women authors in her lament "But Some of Us Are Lesbians: The Absence of Black Lesbian Fiction" – a state of affairs not much improved in the years since the essay was penned.



Featured Excerpt:
In the beautiful little world around me, this house and its garden moving in the wind, with my pleasant schedule and lovable friends, a heavy curtain sometimes seems to fall in me. The invisible particles that make decisions have been consulting again. "Let's try blocking dreams. Let's prevent an idea from becoming intelligible." My dreams continue but by next day only fragments remain. They are images of a diminished creative state´┐Ż –from Beyond Recall: Mary Meigs, edited by Lise Weil



Footnotes:
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Brian Malloy, author of the coming-out novel The Year of Ice, has sold new books to two different gay editors. Keith Kahla at St. Martin's Press picked up Brendan Wolf, the grownup story of a man dumped by his boyfriend, then evicted, then fired, who subsequently becomes ensnared in a plot to scam a pro-life fundraiser, and the unwilling nurse to an unusual sugar-daddy. David Levithan, who handles young-adult titles at Scholastic, went for Twelve Long Months, about a teen girl from Minnesota who moves to New York for college and falls in love with her gay best friend...
BRETTE SEMBER IS ANOTHER two-sale author: Career Press has acquired Gay & Lesbian Medical Rights, a guide to next-of-kin rights, health insurance for partners, handling discrimination in medical services, and other medical concerns; and The New Supervisor's Handbook, a guide to workplace relations that touches on the treatment of gay and lesbian subordinates...
ON THE PARENTING FRONT, Da Capo has bought journalist David Valdes Greenwood's Homo Domesticus: Notes from a Same-Sex Marriage, a look at a gay couple's 10-year relationship, from first date to marriage proposal to their adoption of a baby girl.

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


Previous edition Book Marks – the best of 2005

 
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