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Richard Labonte | April 10, 2006

My Father's Keeper: The Story of a Gay Son and His Aging Parents, by Jonathan G. Silin. Beacon Press, 184 pages, $23.95 hardcover.

Philosophical and dispassionately analytical, emotional and passionately personal: The balanced tension implicit in these expressive extremes makes this a special book. The author, a gay man in midlife, becomes the default physical caretaker for his aging and increasingly feeble parents, because his elder brother – the successful, financially secure brother – lives abroad. It's not an easy experience. Silin's relationship, particularly with his father, is fraught with miscommunications and misunderstandings that are bound to be familiar to gay men, particularly those whose radically homosexual lives may confuse and concern parents born half a century before Stonewall; more universally, his account of coping with "the world of the frail elderly" as a caretaker is one with which any reader entering his or her own midlife will identify. My Father's Keeper is at times painful to read – particularly a coda where Silin describes the searing impact of the sudden death of his longtime partner, photographer Robert Giard. But this memoir of nurturance is also, quite wonderfully, an exaltation of family, of love, and of life.



Vampire Transgression, by Michael Schiefelbein. St. Martin's Press, 272 pages, $23.95 hardcover.

When it comes to queer vampires, there's not much new under the sun. Wait – make that under the moon. True to the mythology first crafted by Bram Stoker (absent the queer stuff), the blood-sucking fellows in Schiefelbein's third novel – after Vampire Vow and Vampire Thrall – wince at crosses, lust for the blood of beautiful people (preferably sexy young men), and crawl into their crypts before dawn, coming out to play, with hungry, erotic abandon, only after dark. Victor Decimus, the 2,000-year-old vampire whose lusty, entertaining story continues here, loves Paul, the lithe young man he has brought into the twilight world of the undead. But this breaks a rule of the "Dark Kingdom," which forbids one vampire from cohabitating with another. And this transgression bodes ill for the domineering and defiant vampire veteran who, while deeply in love with Paul, is still in thrall with Joshu – better known to the 21st century as Jesus Christ, the charismatic youngster Victor met in his pre-vampire youth.



Back Talk, by Saxon Bennett. Bella Books, 191 pages, $13.95 paper.

Hilton Withers, unhappy heir to a pickle fortune, is a semi-slacker computer whiz living with a houseful of well-pierced dyke companions. She's rolling in trust-fund dough, but, beset by ennui, can't be bothered to repair the many bathrooms in her rambling mansion – so large there's a skateboard ramp in the attic. Meanwhile, her louche lover, whom Hilton has been with since they were both passionate baby dykes, is consorting with a possessive biker chick. And her new boss, Anne Counterman, is a hard-charging, unhappily divorced radio-talk-show host whose husband, with a fine eye for design, has left her for a man. Are Hilton and Anne destined, after false starts and stabs at self-denial, to fall into bed together? Of course they are – is this a Bella Books book? There's a formulaic inevitability to its pleasant hybrid of comic novel and lusty romance, and Bennett, with a half dozen novels to her credit, is an exuberant and facile storyteller who knows how to have fun with a silly plot.



Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men, by Thomas Stevenson. Harrington Park Press, 122 pages, $14.95 paper.

Increasingly, it's not been easy to be queer and Catholic and to sit comfortably in any given cathedral's pew. For gays whose faith is a core value of their being – in a church headed by a succession of close-minded popes who have been stridently inflexible and homophobic – the question asked is, "How can you be gay and Catholic?" This slim but intensely powerful collection offers profoundly comforting answers, through the "witnessing" of 44 men, some young, some middle-aged, some elderly, but all of whom have found ways to cope with the conflict forced on them by their adherence to a church that for the most part disdains them. Stevenson feared when he started his research that tales of woe would dominate. Instead, he writes, he discovered that the "sons of the church" he encountered had found personal ways, sometimes with sincere pastoral support, to integrate their homosexuality with church teachings – though often after emotional pain and spiritual anguish. Their hope – their abiding faith – that their church will mend its ways is truly moving.



Featured Excerpt:
The afternoon before the memorial my father writes to my mother, "If the service for Bob is tomorrow, could you call Jonathan for me." I am amazed that he knows the exact day of the memorial. My mother's approach is to avoid bringing up such subjects. Of course, she follows his instructions. I am moved by his attention then and even more on my next visit when I find these words on his pad: "It was a sad day for me when I realized that Bob was gone." What more could a gay son want from his father? So close to the end of his own life, what more does he possibly have to give? –from My Father's Keeper, by Jonathan G. Silin



Footnotes:
The queer book awards season is upon us. It kicked off back in January, when the American Library Association's Stonewall Book Committee announced its winners (though the awards, now in their 35th year, won't be presented until June): Abha Dawesar, author of Babyji (Anchor Books), receives the Barbara Gittings Book Award in Literature, and Joshua Gamson, author of The Fabulous Sylvester: the Legend, the Music, the '70s in San Francisco (Henry Holt), receives the Israel Fishman Book Award for Nonfiction. In addition, the 2006 Stonewall honor books (that is to say, the runners-up) in literature are Acqua Calda, by Keith McDermott; The First Verse, by Barry McCrea; Mother of Sorrows, by Richard McCann; and The Wild Creatures: Collected Stories of Sam D'Allesandro, edited by Kevin Killian. The 2006 Stonewall honor books in nonfiction are My One Night Stand with Cancer, by Tania Katan; Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957, by Matt Houlbrook; The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde, by Neil McKenna; and The Tragedy of Today's Gays, by Larry Kramer. Winners of the 17th annual Publishing Triangle Awards, administered by the organization of gay publishing professionals, will be announced in New York on May 18; the Lambda Literary Awards, in their 18th year, will be handed out a week later at BookExpo America (BEA) in Washington, D.C.

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


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