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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | January 15, 2007

SoMa, by Kemble Scott. Kensington Books, 320 pages, $14 paper.

Sexy but sexually ambivalent young Raphe, precipitously downsized by San Francisco's dot-com implosion, is a frustrated writer with a condo he can't afford, a menial job in a South of Market mail drop, and an apparent eye for the girls. Then he meets Baptiste, a suave Latino lawyer who courts naive Raphe with unctuous charm, sucking him into the gay world's whirl. Scott's ebulliently filthy debut novel prowls the sex clubs – gay and straight – of S.F.'s South of Market (aka SoMa) underworld, introducing a cast of hipsters and hipster-wannabes (two straight girls from the 'burbs are a hoot), all deep into mind games and sex play. The many sex-club scenes manage, somehow, to be both sordid and slapstick, which is a charm of this multi-textured book. Sex-extreme novices may squirm at some of the action, but anyone with sexual savvy will appreciate the author's sly, cock-eyed observations. SoMa takes a slick, sick twist at the end, when a raped Raphe, finally empowered, exacts extreme sexual vengeance against his tormentor. But revenge is sweet – and so, perversely, is this kinky story.



Women's Studies, by Julia Watts. Spinsters Ink, 256 pages, $14.95 paper.

This smartly soap-operatic novel is about three college-age Elizabeths whose paths cross on the first day of their "Women in Literature" class. That's when their worldly professor, well-groomed Dr. Angela Rivers, asks them to distinguish themselves so she won't become confused when calling the roll. The first Elizabeth, a perky sorority girl with a handsome boyfriend by day – and a penchant for alleyway sex with women by night – becomes Beth. The second Elizabeth, with a slacker boyfriend who isn't much in bed – and a burgeoning interest in feminism that soon takes a sapphic turn – becomes Liz. The third Elizabeth, mushily in love with her high school girlfriend – who followed her to college on a softball scholarship from their white trash, redneck small town – becomes Elisa. Watts' story, set in 1990, relates the young women's assorted academic angsts, romantic delusions, and sexual confusions with warmth and humor. Their respective happy endings are no surprise, but the emotional bumps the girls encounter along the way give this novel of self-discovery a dash of insight.



Postcards from Heartthrob Town: A Gay Man's Travel Tales, by Gerard Wozek. Southern Tier Editions, 216 pages, $17.95 paper.

These effortless short stories and engaging travel essays, spun from the memories of a restless writer whose life is in the grip of wanderlust, add up to a marvelous fusion of personality and place. Some tales tingle with erotic potential and sexual satisfaction: in the Paris of "Francois at the Toilette," Wozek savors sex amidst the urinals, and in "Pulse Point" he cruises the "honey-brown" young men loitering in a Spanish park. Some tales are informative queer travelogues: in "My Polka Kings," he captures the ambience of the medieval city of Krakow, Poland; in "Brujo," he is seized by mescal and the healing magic of Oaxaca, Mexico. Some tales shout out the glory of an innate gay spirituality: in "Ephebus," for example, he leaves Chicago, a city of concrete, to bay at the moon with radical faerie revelers on lavender-scented Tennessee land. Written with a poet's flair, Wozek's work embraces the romance, the melancholy, and the wonder of wandering the physical landscapes of the world and the inner landscapes of emotion.



Gay Art: A Historic Collection, edited by Felix Lance Falkon, with Thomas Waugh. Arsenal Pulp Press, 256 pages, $24.95 paper.

A quarter-million copies of Gay Art sold out when Greenleaf, then the prime purveyor of gay porn, published it in 1972. With a production schedule of 50 books a month (straight and gay), the publishing house never considered a reprint; the oversized paperback vanished into the hands of avid collectors. Kudos to Arsenal Pulp for bringing it back, with some illustrations dropped because of copyright issues, and – because of contemporary hostility about the depiction of adolescents – several self-censored pages: sections of drawings on pages 107, 108, and 188, for example, have been obscured. Original editor Falkon worked with queer-erotic art historian Waugh to produce this new edition, and provides a sprightly preface; original publisher Earl Kemp adds a peppy introduction that tells how the collection of wicked drawings came to be. Waugh's witty commentary for each of the 154 cartoons and other drawings – reaching back to the lusty satyrs of ancient Greece – are a zesty addition to the book, whose erotic greats include Blade, Etienne, Graewolf, and Quaintance, each artist a stimulating precursor to today's self-pleasuring DVDs.



Featured Excerpt:
The first thing Liz noted about Dr. Rivers was that she was wearing both pearls and Birkenstocks. This combination struck Liz as odd since she had always thought of pearl wearers and Birkenstock wearers as two separate groups. Barbara Bush was a pearl wearer, for instance, while the lank-haired girls in the dorm who stank of patchouli were Birkenstock wearers. If presented with a pair of Birkenstocks, Barbara Bush would no doubt wrinkle her nose in disgust and exchange them for a pair of matronly pumps. If presented with a string of pearls, the patchouli girls would pawn them and use the cash to buy weed. –from Women's Studies, by Julia Watts.



Footnotes:
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Mike Jones, the former male escort with massage skills who outed fundamentalist preacher Ted Haggard weeks before the November elections, has signed with Seven Stories Press to tell the story "of my encounters with Ted and other people who are similar,' he told the Miami Herald. Of the untitled book, due in June, Jones said, "I'm going to be explicit as far as what happened in our encounters, but not rip him apart or be mean to him. He's a man who has faults like all of us.'...
EGYPTIAN-BORN AUTHOR Andre Aciman's first novel, Call Me By Your Name, is about Elio, a sensitive and well-read 17-year-old "troublingly attracted" to breezy Oliver, the 24-year-old visiting scholar at the Italian university where Elio's father teaches; it's coming from FSG in February...
GARY INDIANA, author of the novel Do Everything in the Dark and the true-crime tale Three Month Fever, about the Andrew Cunanan crime spree, has sold an untitled work on Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup can paintings and how they changed American culture, and a volume of his selected essays and criticism, for publication by Basic Books...
KIM POWERS, author of the wrenching memoir The History of Swimming, has sold a novel, Capote in Kansas, in which Truman Capote and his pal Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) are haunted by the ghosts of the Clutters – the farm family whose murders were recounted in Capote's In Cold Blood.

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


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