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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | April 24, 2006

Rose of No Man's Land, by Michelle Tea. MacAdam/Cage, 306 pages, $22 hardcover.

Fourteen-year-old Trisha is an ennui-embracing loner oddly out of touch with her peers. She's saddled with a welfare mother wallowing in hypochondria and a perky sister whose goal is a role on MTV's The Real Life. Trisha subsists mostly on Ramen noodles and stolen beer. Life both bores and sucks. After her sister cajoles Trisha into working at trendy clothing store "Ohmigod," she's fired before lunch break the first day – but not before hooking up with manic misfit Rose. And before the next day's dawn, with Rose as her snarky, seen-it-all guide, Trisha has snorted her first speed, evaded the clutches of a pedophile, acquired a tattoo on her bicep, and figured out she's a lesbian. Tea recounts her hero's wild ride with gritty wit and not a single disapproving sentence: fat chance this aggressive novel about two outlaw teens will find a place on the young adult shelf of any high school library. That's too bad. There's more to growing up in grim suburbs than depicted in those Baby-sitters Club novels. This is the realistic, if hyperkinetic, flip side.



Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL, by Esera Tuaolo with John Rosengren. Sourcebooks, 281 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

To get the most out of this heartfelt memoir, it helps to know a nose guard from a tight end: half the book dwells, rather opaquely for nonfans, on the intricacies of getting a pigskin past a goal post. But Tuaolo's emotional account of coming out queer as his 9-year NFL career wound down does eventually connect one man's nose to another man's butt. Metaphorically, of course – there's more romance than raunch in this proud book's ultimately quite moving story of growing up poor (and sexually abused) as a Samoan lad in Hawaii, of displaying talent and intelligence on the football field, and finally of finding a fella to love for life. Co-author Rosengren's prose is never more than workmanlike, but the honest vulnerability and painful sincerity apparent in Tuaolo�s character helps Alone in the Trenches speed along very nicely. Particularly moving is Tuaolo's first meeting with David Kopay, the NFL pro who came out more than three decades ago.



Chasing Montana: A Love Story, by Lori Soderlind. Terrace Books, 280 pages, $22.95 paper.

It seems every third queer tome these days is a memoir of some sort. Add one more: this is yet another coming-out account. But crystalline writing, and a saucy sense of self, both help Chasing Montana stand out on the bookshelf. Soderlind's refreshing remembrance of a road trip is set a couple of decades ago, when two newspaper gals from New Jersey, yearning to escape the daily grind of spiritually deadening jobs, set out for Montana. Lori was chasing the trail of her long dead grandparents, pioneers in a tiny town that once boomed briefly but is now inhabited mostly by memories and ghosts. Her traveling companion, Madeleine, set out to revisit a slew of friends and former lovers left behind when she moved east. No surprise: Lori, not yet sure she was a lesbian, fell in love with flirtatious, free-spirited Madeleine – a love reciprocated emotionally but, to Lori�s frustration, not physically. Narratives about chasing the meaning of life down a lonesome highway are too often literary cliches. This quiet story breathes fresh air into a stale genre.



Running Dry, by M. Christian. Alyson Books, 226 pages, $13.95 paper.

Let's see. Vampire bites man. Man becomes vampire. The biter and the bitten are in love. Must be a gay vampire novel. But not just another gay vampire novel. Running Dry is, yes, about vampires. Hardcore vampires. Unless they're passing along the vampire gene, they don't just sip blood – they suck out every sweet empowering ounce of a body's bodily fluids, leaving behind but a dusty husk. Christian, author of hundreds of acclaimed short stories and editor of many fine anthologies, has crafted a brisk combo of decades-arcing romance, contemporary suspense thriller, and original horror story – Doud, the vampire longing for the lover he thinks he's lost forever, is a mysterious artist whose every painting is daubed with the blood of victims he's had to kill in order to survive, a spooky kind of homage. This is a rip-roaring read that ought to come with this warning: don't read the last page before starting the first, then devouring the rest. The book's ending is a shocker, as lives end and another begins. Enough said.



Featured Excerpt:
'What the fuck!' all the dudes screamed. I heard the words 'sick bitch' and maybe something really tired like 'slut'. And then Rose twirled the tampon around like some perverted Wild West hero. She spun it by the string, flicking blood from the drenched cotton, and she let it fly into the car. It whacked Front Passenger in the face. It bounced off his acne-speckled cheek and came to rest on his tank top. He jerked and spazzed as the blob of tampon snagged on his gold chain, as it rode up on to the skin of his clavicle and then plunged down under the shirt. 'Aaaaaaaah', the dude screamed, 'Aaaaaah, aaaaaah'. It was like he was on fire. –from Rose of No Man's Land, by Michelle Tea



Footnotes:
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Michelle Tea teams up again with her Rent Girl co-author Laurenn McCubbin for Carrier, a graphic novel about a winged, crime-fighting superhero who longs for a family of her own; it's coming from MacAdam/Cage...
YOUNG ADULT AUTHOR Marijane Meaker – who started her writing career more than five decades ago as lesbian pulp novelist Vin Packer – has sold a transgender mystery, Scott Free, to Don Weise at Carroll & Graf...
A YOUNG STAR ATHLETE comes to terms with being gay in Robin Rohrabacher's debut novel, A Secret Edge, coming next year from Kensington Books...
BRIAN J. LEUNG, author of the Lambda Literary Award fiction-finalist short-story collection, World Famous Love Acts, has sold his first novel, Lost Men, about a young half-Chinese son who, after two decades of estrangement, receives an invitation from his father to travel with him to China, where they reveal to each other their wounded histories; it's due next year from Shaye Arehart Books, an imprint of Crown Books.

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


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