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Richard Labonte | December 04, 2006

Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir, 1964 to 2006, by Gore Vidal. Doubleday, 288 pages, $26 hardcover.

This meandering but soulful sequel to Vidal's pointillist 1995 memoir, Palimpset, isn't half the book its predecessor was. It's stuffed with many of the author's oft-told tales and with several walloping dollops of deja vu – most particularly in the early chapters, where Vidal borrows liberally from his own 1992 book about film, Screening Movies, and in two of the last chapters, where he critiques books about him, by gay activist Dennis Altman and biographer Fred Kaplan. For all that, it's still a deliriously absorbing memoir; Vidal's life has been that rich, and he's matter-of-factly un-vain, though pithily gossipy. Vidal intersected over the decades with the disparate likes of Johnny Carson and John F. Kennedy on one hand and Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles on the other – though, in truth, the worlds of mainstream culture and politics and those of such queer outlaws of art weren't as far apart decades ago as they are now. Passages about the decline and death of his partner of more than 50 years, Howard Auster, are particularly majestic and poignant – as is Vidal, in his defiant elder years.



Three Sides to Every Story, by Clarence Nero. Harlem Moon/Broadway Books, 332 pages, $12.95 paper.

On one side of this lively pre-Hurricane Katrina story, set in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, there's buxom Tonya, a stripper seduced by a rapper's bling while her true love is in prison for beating up her ex-boyfriend. On another side, there's lean, muscled Johnny, one-time high school football star, a preacher's son sent up for delivering that beating. On yet another side, there's James, a spirited drag queen behind bars for petty theft. Johnny pines for Tonya while he's doing time, but he's also drawn to the masculine-feminine duality of James, who encourages him to finish his education – and to deal with his internalized homophobia. It's a fraught love triangle guaranteed to combust once the two men are back on the street. Nero's novel hums with polished pacing, as the point of view shifts nimbly from one character to another, while juggling adroitly a number of memorable subplots. This sizzling urban soap opera offers melodramatic intensity, occasional hilarity, and astute commentary on the homophobia of black churches, drag in the gay community, and the twin oppressions of racism and poverty.



We Walk Alone, by Ann Aldrich. The Feminist Press, 200 pages, $14.95 paper.

This reissue of a peppy, 50-year-old study of lesbians by the pseudonymous Aldrich – with a 2006 introduction under her real name, Marijane Meaker – is more than a trip down memory lane to the bad old days. Life's far better for lesbians in the 21st century, sure – but a chapter on bisexuals of yore echoes present-day arguments, and the fear expressed by a straight man in 1955 that rights for a "lessie" will encourage young girls to come out is certainly ongoing. Aldrich's pre-PFLAG advice to parents – don't wallow in shame or blame – has a timeless wisdom, and her state-by-state rundown of sodomy laws is a chilling reminder of how much more oppressive America once was. Reissued simultaneously is the 1958 sequel We, Too, Must Love, in which Meaker (who has also written as pulp novelist Vin Packer, in the '50s, and as young-adult novelist M.E. Kerr today) responded to hundreds of letters from lesbians about finding bars, finding jobs, and finding lovers – questions still asked today. Plus ca change.



The After-Death Room: Journey into Spiritual Activism, by Michael McColly. Transition Books, 264 pages, $15.95 paper.

Most recent books about AIDS in Africa and Asia deal with the epidemic mainly in the abstract: the cost of drugs, the need for wealthy nations to donate money, the tension around condom use, and the vast numbers of infected on the horizon. McColly's humane book, part self-reflective autobiography and part hands-on reporting, puts many memorable faces on the medical and social devastation. With his own HIV-positive status always on his mind, the author spent two years visiting AIDS groups and individuals in South Africa, Thailand, India, Vietnam, and Senegal, meeting with overworked outreach staff, male sex workers, compassionate Buddhist monks, and traditional African healers. Their stories, as humbling as they are inspirational, put a human face on the crisis – and inject some soul. Adding realistic heft to this noble book is the fact that McColly chronicles an honest ambivalence around his own sexual identity, and – abandoning the pretense of omniscient reporter – writes nakedly about the physical and emotional toll of his travels on body and spirit.



Featured Excerpt:
He had eaten most of his dinner. In front of him was a tin of some vitamin concoction that he liked. Leto said, "He just drank that drink and took a deep breath and then he – stopped." I sat in the chair opposite and did all the things that we have learned from movies to determine death. I passed a hand in front of his mouth and nose. Nothing stirred. Montaigne requires that I describe more how he looked – rather than how I felt. The eyes were open and very clear. I'd forgotten what a beautiful gray they were – illness and medicine had regularly glazed them over; now they were bright and attentive and he was watching me, consciously, through long lashes. –from Point to Point Navigation, by Gore Vidal



Footnotes:
AVID LEVITHAN, AUTHOR of the gay young adult novels Boy Meets Boy and Wide Awake, and of the polysexual poetry cycle, The Realm of Possibility, has been promoted to editorial director of Scholastic Books, among America's leading publishers of children's and young adult titles. He continues as editorial director of PUSH, a Scholastic imprint featuring work by young writers about young people, including a couple of gay-interest titles: Billy Merrell's poetry collection Talking in the Dark, which touches on being gay and coming out; and Eddie de Oliveira's Lucky, about two boys who are as attracted to other boys as they are to girls...
KEN SIMAN, author of the classic comic coming-out novel, Pizza Face – published in 1992 but long out of print – has been named publisher of the new U.S. office of Britain's Virgin Books, which plans to publish 12 books in the first year, with a focus on "discovering and nurturing writers who have something original to contribute to popular culture – be they novelists or music critics, sportswriters or humorists, bloggers, or biographers." Siman was an editor and publicist at Penguin Books, most recently working on gay activist Mel White's Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right...
MICHAEL HOLLOWAY PERRONNE'S self-published iUniverse novel, A Time Before Me, about a gay teen moving from a repressive small town in Mississippi to the gay whirl of New Orleans, has been bought by Italian publisher Playground Libra for publication next year. The book's sequel, Falling into Me, is due in January.

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


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