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Richard Labonte | October 09, 2006

OutRageous, by Sheila Ortiz-Taylor. Spinsters Ink, 188 pages, $14.95 paper.

Faultline, published a quarter century ago, was a laugh-out-loud novel about a dyke with six children, her custody battle for those kids, and three hundred rabbits. Skip ahead a few years to OutRageous, also set in the '70s, and motorcycle-riding Latina poet Arden Benbow is relocating her kids and her partner (but not the rabbits) to Florida, where a small liberal arts college with a very conservative administration has hired her as a token twofer: she's both a woman and an ethnic. But when it's discovered that she's also a lesbian, the old-boy network goes into fulmination overdrive. Ortiz-Taylor's tale of how her earthy, earth-mother academic hero saves her job – by rallying an unlikely coalition of immigrant farm workers marching for their rights, hunky male rugby-playing students with a new-found appreciation for poetry, and a freshly liberated if somewhat ditzy Southern-belle housewife – is a delight. It can be savored on its own, but tracking down Faultine (out of print, unfortunately) and its sequel, Southbound, is worth the effort: the three books together are triple the pleasure, triple the fun.



Izzy and Eve, by Neal Drinnan. Green Candy Press, 228 pages, $14.95 paper

Eve and Izzy have lived together for years. She crafts exotic jewelry and works as a receptionist in a whorehouse, he's an erotic cartoonist with a yen for rougher sex, and they love each other deeply and mostly platonically, as a straight woman and a gay man can do. One day, Izzy disappears, as have a number of middle-aged gay men. Eve trawls the bars and sex clubs of their town – set in a politically oppressive, somewhat menacing, near-future world – searching for her friend. And it's here that this dark yet sweet – and in the end quite romantic – novel shifts atmospherically from murder mystery to metaphysical thriller. Izzy has succumbed to the lure of "silt," a hallucinatory drug that does more than alter reality: it literally relocates users into an alternate reality, a parallel world where life continues, suspended in time. Drinnan's impressively imagined plot, with its intense combination of charged erotic writing, sharp social commentary, and fully involving characters, is a real queer original.



Under the Rainbow: An Intimate Memoir of Judy Garland, Rock Hudson & My Life in Old Hollywood, by John Carlyle. Carroll & Graf, 428 pages, $26.95 hardcover.

John Carlyle, an actor once represented by the same agent as Tab Hunter and Rock Hudson, was a handsome and well-mannered fellow. Gay, too. But his long Hollywood career never amounted to much more than uncredited character-actor movie and TV roles. His claim to fame? He was a sometime lover and ardent friend of Judy Garland, a turbulent but surprisingly homey relationship recounted with charming intimacy in this posthumous autobiography, edited into publishable shape by Los Angeles writer Chris Freeman (who is working on the first authorized biography of Paul Monette). Carlyle may not be well known as an actor – but, based on these collected memories from a raffish raconteur, he knew almost everyone: he befriended Noel Coward and Lana Turner, had cocktails at home with Joan Fontaine, rented a garage from Christopher Isherwood, auditioned for Mae West, and plucked a pickled Dorothy Parker out of his neighborhood shrubbery. Carlyle's ardent involvement with Garland gives Under the Rainbow its marquee cachet, but there's much more to this bonbon of a book than candid, reverent remembrances of the legend that is Judy.



Wide Awake, by David Levithan. Knopf, 240 pages, $14.95 hardcover.

The political pendulum has somehow swung in Levithan's profoundly optimistic young adult novel, set in "the near future": queers can marry, rampant consumerism is under control, religion is primarily a power for good – and a gay Jewish man has been elected president of the United States, with a Latina woman as his vice president. High school lovers Duncan and Jimmy, along with their lesbian and straight friends, are ecstatic – until the zealous right-wing governor of Kansas, the state that put Abraham Stein over the top in the electoral as well as the popular vote, vows to press for a shady recount to overturn the election. A million pro-Stein protestors mass in Kansas, and people-power saves the day, in this adroit and – for progressives – uplifting re-imagining of what happened in Florida in 2000. Levithan's vision for America is pretty fantastical, and desirable for many. But his depiction of how the teen boyfriends deal with the stresses of young love in the midst of turbulent times is entirely down to earth.



Featured Excerpt:
My Garland times, the most heightened hours and, God knows, the heterosexual height of my life, began in earnest when I took Judy to bed. Or was it the other way around, for a lady who was accustomed to conquest? "You're not going to get rid of me." I knew she meant it, curled beside me in the Hillman Minx that had replaced my Oldsmobile, as we twisted out Sunset toward Rockingham. "Don't drive too fast, darling." That would become her whispering unnecessary entreaty whenever I was behind the wheel. The possibility of Judy getting injured while a passenger in my car terrified me – as did the thought of discovering her dead beside me in bed, which was, unfortunately, never an unlikely possibility. –from Under the Rainbow, by John Carlyle



Footnotes:
The dust jacket for John Carlyle's Under the Rainbow teases, "He sleeps with Marlon Brando and James Dean." But neither actor's name shows up in the autobiography's voluminous index, which skips from Hollywood screenwriter Charles Brackett (Sunset Boulevard) to aquatic actor Lloyd Bridges (Sea Hunt), and from Sue Davis (sister of Carlyle's surviving lover, John Paul Davis) to Mickey Deans, Garland's husband (of three months) when she died. The only reference in the book to Carlyle's supposed tumbles with the sexy duo crops up in manuscript-shaper Chris Freeman's introduction, where he writes: "There are stories about assignations with the likes of James Dean and Marlon Brando – among others – that John chose not to write about." Or was it, rather, stories that lawyers wouldn't allow? "Those passages were cut from the book by lawyers," New York Daily News gossip artistes Rush & Malloy wrote in their Sept. 9 column. Not so, says the book's editor, Don Weise, of that claim: "They got that wrong; it was never in the book. John didn't want to discuss it, thought it was inappropriate, plus Brando was still alive. But it's all true. John wasn't one to make up things like that, especially given all the guys he bedded."

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


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