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Richard Labonte | March 13, 2006

America's Boy, by Wade Rouse. Dutton Books, 288 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

Chosen last for schoolyard games – check. Best junior-high friend was a girl – check. Shy in the showers – check. Fancied boyish actor Robbie Benson – check. Fussed with hair an hour every morning – check. Hated hunting – check. Yes, indeed, Wade was a young fag, a condition obvious to the bachelor neighbor who inspired in him a love for books – but something he repressed with a vengeance until he was 30. Meanwhile, Wade drank too much, ate way too much, and, once he got to college, toyed with the affections of young women without really delivering the goods: there was a lot of self-loathing going on. Rouse's memoir of growing up conflicted in an eccentric small-town Ozarks household, and dealing with self-image demons through his teen and young adult years, doesn't bring anything particularly new to the coming-out genre. But every queer boy has a tale to tell about how he came to be a queer man, and this one is a charmer with a happy ending – thanks to an epiphany involving Nordic Track exercise equipment.



The Three, by Meghan O'Brien. Quest Books, 276 pages, $19.95 paper.

A raging sickness has decimated North America, leaving isolated bands of survivors to fend for themselves in a mean, dog-eat-dog world – one where electricity is a memory, living off the land is a necessity, and religious fanatics are kidnapping women for forced baby-making. The post-apocalyptic novel is a science fiction staple, and cliches are unavoidable: the weeks-long trek down weedy, cracked highways, for example, is a classic. But O'Brien takes the genre's familiar template and invests it with strong, complex characters and imaginative queer twists – most provocatively, the loving (and intensely sexual) menage a trios that develops after young Anna, whose own tribe has been slaughtered by male marauders, stumbles into the camp of Elin, a woman steeped in spirituality, and Kael, her fierce, lithe-muscled lover. After oodles of swordplay, much bloody mayhem – and an encounter with an adorable teenage boy – the three come together with others to form a tribe of their own. That's another staple of the genre, to be sure – but this brisk read keeps it fresh.



Sugar, by Martin Pousson. Suspect Thoughts, 86 pages, $12.95 paper.

There is a poem about a homophobic uncle: "AIDS is not a plague, but a blessing." There is a poem about American literature: "Not all the best writers are white." There is a poem about anger: "Your fist, my nose, blood on my T-shirt." There is a poem about sex: "His fingers shift in my ass. I'm white hot." There is a poem about race: "Don't come home with no nigger or you got no home." There is a poem about love: "Feel my breath hear my whisper." There is even a poem about wanting to fuck George W. Bush: "He fell to his knees like a born-again pledge." These are poems infused with fire and desire: Pousson, Southern and Cajun and queer – an outsider's outsider – writes with pithy simplicity and searing precision about growing up fey in an intolerant world, about family tragedy in his childhood home, about years passed in big-city gay ghettos – and, most passionately, about coming home to Louisiana, to New Orleans, where "we'll sink with the city."



The Ash Gray Proclamation, by Dennis Cooper. VSP Lazarus, 25 pages with 14-song CD, $15 paper.

Not long after 9/11, Dennis Cooper wrote "The Ash Gray Proclamation," drawing the title from a song by Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices. The longish short story has now been released in a limited-edition booklet, paired with a CD in which 14 musicians – fans of Cooper's writing, most of them influenced by the story – contributed work. The songs, by Pollard, Richard Hell, Xiu Xiu, New Wet Kojak, Eddie Ruscha, and others, range from raw punk to soft acoustic: something for most every ear, and – more often than not – quite easy listening. The story? It's chock-full of familiar Cooper riffs: pretty boys whoring, extreme sexual acts, teens flirting with death, intimations of pedophilia. Osama Bin Laden – the 9/11 connection – makes a cameo appearance: "Steve's ass turned the great Bin Laden gay for an hour"; so does Edmund White: "He wrote novels. Do you know what a novel is?" And despite Cooper's reputation as an "edgy" writer, the story is sarcastic and ironic and subversive – and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. Great fun, this one.



Featured Excerpt:
Josh's boyfriend: So any last words? I mean before you just start saying ouch and all that? Mackerel: Yeah, actually. Let history record that a boy who only wanted to serve humanity by serving himself was sidetracked by the jihad that homoeroticism has unleashed upon the cute. My intellect could have saved us, had we known me, but my ass was too great a distraction, albeit for quite understandable reasons. That's it, I guess. Oh, and a secret. I was just a straight boy who liked being rimmed and told older gay guys he was gay because his girlfriends were so prissy. I don't deserve to die gay, therefore. –from The Ash Gray Proclamation, by Dennis Cooper



Footnotes:
BEFORE LESBIAN LITERARY icon Anyda Marchant died in January, two weeks short of her 95th birthday, the author of 14 "Sarah Aldridge" novels – and a founder in 1972 of Naiad Press – paved the way for her publishing company, A&M; Books, to live on as a voice for feminist writers by arranging for Fay Jacobs, managing editor of the press, to assume ownership. "I met Anyda when she was 84 years young. For a decade she was my friend, mentor, publisher, and the most demanding boss I've ever had," said Jacobs – whose own book, As I Lay Frying: A Rehoboth Beach Memoir, a collection of humorous essays, was published last year by A&M.; "I hope I can continue to steer (the press) in the direction Anyda envisioned. A&M; Books is going to concentrate on sharing (her) legacy by keeping the Sarah Aldridge books available, and making certain that we support independent booksellers and feminist writers," she said. "That was Anyda's passion." Muriel Crawford, Marchant's partner in life and in the press – and a Naiad co-founder – becomes publisher emeritus.

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


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