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Richard Labonte | February 12, 2007

Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, by Rupert Everett. Warner Books, 416 pages, $25.99 hardcover.

Such a charming bitchy queen, this Rupert fellow, who's on a first-name basis with everybody from Warren and Sharon (Beatty and Stone) to Sean and Julia (Penn and Roberts), and dishes them all with brash but usually affectionate brio in this hyperkinetic showbiz tell-all. He knows a couple of one-name wonders too, most particularly Madonna; he met the superstar he affectionately refers to as Madge back before she traveled with a retinue, and gleefully shares the highs and lows of their tempestuous friendship. Anecdotes about the making of their disastrous movie, The Next Best Thing, include the time an aged John Schlesinger fell asleep while directing a scene. Everett, a teenage hustler before he became an actor, has no shortage of tales to tell about the men he romanced (or at least had sex with). He's had women, too, including Bob Geldof's one-time wife Patty Yates, a relationship embellished by his description of the Live Aid impresario's rather majestic endowment, seen but apparently not touched. Such juicy revelations pop up regularly in this vastly entertaining and amusingly preening autobiography.



Stray, by Sheri Joseph. MacAdam Cage, 440 pages, $25 hardcover.

Paul, a university student in his early 20s, is the uneasily kept boy of an elderly acting teacher. Kent, 30, a lackadaisical musician, has been married for a year to Maggie, a Mennonite public defender with a passion for doing good. The men were lovers (and characters in Joseph's debut novel, Bear Me Safely Over) before going their separate ways; a chance encounter resurrects the passion – and ignites a tangled triangle. Kent adores his wife, but sex with Paul excites him; Paul cares about his once charismatic mentor, but is ashamed of depending on him for financial support; Maggie is ready to build a family with Kent. Their delicate interpersonal dance explodes when Paul's sugar daddy is brutally murdered, Paul becomes the prime suspect, and Maggie takes on his legal defense. Married man with a secret, wife who doesn't suspect, needy gay man in the middle: the plot is familiar, almost trite. But Joseph's potent tale of sexual deception and emotional redemption is a seductive stew of love story and murder mystery about three fundamentally fine, and gratifyingly complex, people.



Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man's Prison, by T.J. Parsell. Carroll & Graf, 324 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

Fantasies about prison rape are a staple of gay porn. This is the real thing: the memoir of a 17-year-old white boy's journey through America's sexually predatory prison system. Turns out those fictional scenarios aren't all that implausible – though they lack the layer of emotional terror this story delivers. When Parsell was sentenced for armed robbery – he held up a drive-through photo stand with a toy gun for a few dollars – he entered a culture of omnipresent sexual violence and a hierarchy where muscle and meanness ruled. Four inmates raped him on his first day in the general population. After a coin toss, he became one seasoned convict's bitch. Parsell is raw and unsparing in recounting his harrowing prison stint as a closeted gay kid thrown into a world where man-on-man sex was a commodity. But he also recalls, with surprising affection, sex with one straight prisoner with whom he reconnects by mail 25 years later. Parsell was paroled in 1984 and became a force behind the Stop Prison Rape movement, described in an epilogue that tells how he came to thrive despite the scars of his incarceration.



Jesus in Love, by Kittredge Cherry. AndroGyne Press, 328 pages, $18.95 paper.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have told the story already: this guy in first-century Palestine went around healing the lepers, hassling the money-changers, feeding the multitudes with a loaf here and a fish there, and spending 40 inspirational days alone in the desert, before gathering around himself – or Himself – a flock of disciples. This theologically innovative novel's spin? Jesus was a man of fluid sexual appetites, aroused by John the Baptist's wiry muscles, getting off with a multi-gendered Holy Spirit, and getting down with a hot Mary Magdalene. Cherry's jaunty re-imagining of the story of Jesus casts him as a mystical erotic adventurer in the years before his crucifixion – nothing like the neutered historical Christ of fundamentalist lore. Other novelists have tinkered with the biblical depiction of Christ: in Gore Vidal's Live from Golgotha, he's a 400-pound man with a stereotypically homo-suggestive lisp. This gay-sensitive story about the Christian big boy's explicit queer incarnation is a winsome affirmation of erotic love's sacred potential. Coming next: At the Cross, the sequel.



Featured Excerpt:
The door blew open, and the Immaculate Conception was among us. She was not yet the Material Girl, nowhere near the peak of her fame. There was no bodyguard. She had parked the car herself (God help the others). But still there was an energy field around her, like a wave, that swept everyone up as it crashed into the room. She was tiny and luscious with long auburn hair, slightly curled. She sat down. Sean Penn's forget-me-not eyes watered with adoration. Hers were the palest blue, strangely wide-set, any further and she would look insane, or inbred. When she fixed you with her regard, there was a tenderness and warmth that made your skin bump, but when she looked away, it was like sunbathing on a cold day and suddenly a cloud comes. –from Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins, by Rupert Everett



Footnotes:
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Hero, a young-adult novel by Perry Moore, coming from Hyperion in August, is "your regular, ordinary coming-of-age story about the world's first gay superhero," says Moore, a producer of the film Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Like Narnia, it's also the first in a series...
ST. MARTIN'S PRESS editor Keith Kahla has acquired Joseph Olshan's novel The Conversion, about a young translator's attempt to follow the dying wishes of a famous expatriate American poet and keep problematic revelations in the man's memoir from being published. Olshan is author of the gay novels The Nightswimmer, Vanitas, and In Clara's Hands, the sequel to his 1985 debut novel, Clara's Heart, made into a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg...
MICHAEL LOWENTHAL'S novel Charity Girl, based on the hidden history of how single women were held without trial in American internment camps for allegedly consorting with army men during World War I, was named a Book Sense pick for January by the American Bookseller Association, ensuring prominent display in the nation's independent bookstores. Lowenthal is the author of the gay novels Avoidance and The Same Embrace.

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


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