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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | June 05, 2006

Now Is the Hour, by Tom Spanbauer. Houghton Mifflin, 460 pages, $26 hardcover.

It's 1967, and eternally tumescent 17-year-old Rigby John Klusener – with a flower in his hair – is hitchhiking to San Francisco. He's leaving behind an oppressively religious mother, a bigoted and embittered father, a hard, hard life on the family's Idaho farm – and the first man he's loved. That start to this coming-of-age masterpiece is also, almost, the ending. But before young Rigby is reunited with passion in the last chapter of this warm but never sentimental novel, his first-person narrative flashes back for more than 400 luminous pages. That's where Rigby recounts growing up bullied in the schoolyard, wrestling with his attraction to lithe young Mexican laborers, and finally being drawn into the messy life – and the loving bed – of "drunk queer George," a 35-year-old cross-dressing Native American. Spanbauer made his mark as a magical author 15 years ago with The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon; this alluring story, about masturbation, mysticism, and the sweet, scary mysteries of life, is even more enchanting.



Tweaked, by Patrick Moore. Kensington Books, 224 pages, $15 paper.

The medical and mental-health havoc wreaked on the queer community by crystal meth has been well documented in recent books, most notably Frank Sanello's Tweaker and Duncan Osborne's Suicide Tuesday. Useful and cautionary, both of them, but they're just second-hand accounts of meth's insidious savagery, based on brief interviews and drawn from dry statistics. Moore's engrossing memoir is the real thing: an insider's harrowing story, written with an intensity that blisters, but infused as well with a survivor's ironic good humor. The author was a lonely Iowa kid, an outsider who dabbled with drugs as an escape from sexual confusion and emotional alienation. Twenty years later, tweaked to the gills, nude and hysterical, he was hunkered down in his grungy Los Angeles apartment, convinced the noisy possum in his yard was a vengeful God. Recovery from nights of head-rush sex and days of desperate need didn't come easily. But Moore's candid tale of anguished relapses and hard-won sobriety pulses with the truth that living clean is the best of all highs.



Spirited: Affirming the Soul and Black Gay/Lesbian Identity, edited by G. Winston James and Lisa C. Moore. RedBone Press, 391 pages, $16.95 paper.

The need to confront the unsettling homophobia of most black churches toward queer African-Americans – "resident aliens in a black religious culture," Rev. Irene Monroe writes in her introduction – is the thread that ties together this meaty, spirited celebration of religion and the self. Linda Villarosa's account of being branded a sinner by sanctimonious churchgoers sums up the anger and pain of many of the 43 contributors; H.L. Sudler's account of how he learned to distinguish between a good God and a spiteful church defines the desire of many of the authors to find a safe way to faith. Some of the writers realize spiritual succor outside of Christianity, in Native American shamanism, in Caribbean voodoo, in Buddhism, in the Yoruba spirit of maternal nurturing, in Wicca, and even – for Tracee Ford – in self-defining as a heathen. The canon of books in which lesbians and gays righteously and rightfully reclaim participation in a wholesome, holy life is mightily enriched by this soulful anthology.



Gay-2-Zee: A Dictionary of Sex, Subtext, and the Sublime, by Donald F. Reuter. St. Martin's Press, 236 pages, $16.95 paper.

Blowjob, faggot, pansy, queen, sissy, troll: the words we all know and sometimes use are ably defined in Reuter's cheeky, historical, randy, saucy, up-to-date, and witty dictionary of queer argot. Some serious scholarship went into this book, to be sure; there are entries that educate and enlighten as much as they might amuse. Many will certainly bemuse. Breakthrough: "To rather indelicately (but accidentally) flatulate while having sex, especially anal intercourse." That's one way to fag up "fart." Gaelick: "Gayspeak for an Irish sissy." Always good to learn about other cultures. Lollipop stop: "A roadside rest stop where men go to have sex." Who knew? This isn't the first attempt to cull the English language for suggestive words and phrases uttered by a subculture of sexual men-ziz ("dragspeak for plural of man"). Bruce Rodgers did it back in 1972 with The Queen's Vernacular; A.D. Peterkin did it as recently as 2003 with Outbursts: A Queer Erotic Thesaurus. But Gay-2-Zee, compiled with flair and a profound sense of fun, is a fresh take on gayspeak ("aka gaylese, gaylish").



Featured Excerpt:
Under the bright light, all over on my shoulder where George's arm touches me, is a deep warm. My face up close, my nose, my lips, his starched white shirt, the smell from his armpit, buckskin and flint on the back of my throat, all the smells, that part of the tomato, Vaseline hair tonic, Old Spice, our breath, the cigarette back and forth, the circle of our talk. If this is queer, then queer is a prayer. I didn't know that men could love other men, I say. Not until Granny said it. When she said that you loved me, as soon as I heard her say it, I knew. –from Now Is the Hour, by Tom Spanbauer



Footnotes:
DENNIS COOPER, for The Sluts, and (in a tie) Abha Dawesar, for Babyji, and Helen Humphreys, for Wild Dogs, were fiction winners at the Lambda Literary Awards (the "Lammys"), handed out May 18 in Washington, D.C. Cooper's Lammy is his first, after 13 books, including eight novels and one short-story collection. Ali Leibegott won the Lesbian Debut Fiction Lammy for The Beautifully Worthless; Vestal McIntyre won the Gay Debut Fiction Lammy for You Are Not the Only One. For other Lambda winners: www.lambdaliterary.org...
IN OTHER AWARD NEWS, gay liberation pioneer and author Karla Jay was honored with the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Publishing Triangle, at a May 11 ceremony in New York, and Oscar Wilde Bookshop's Kim Brinster – the venerable Christopher Street store's new owner but longtime manager – accepted a special Leadership Award. Mack Friedman's novel, Setting the Lawn on Fire, won the first Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. For other winners: www.publishingtriangle.org...
SCIENCE FICTION WRITER Lisa A. Barnett – co-author of three novels with Melissa Scott, her partner for 27 years – died in May of cancer, at age 47. Their last book, Point of Dreams, won a Lambda Literary Award in 2002. Barnett chronicled her illness – and her love of science fiction and the theater – on her blog, www.pointsman.blogspot.com, with the last entry posted less than two weeks before her death.

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


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