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Richard Labonte | April 10, 2007

The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein, by John Lauritsen. Pagan Press, 232 pages, $16.95 paper.

According to this exercise in enthusiastic scholarship, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley didn't write Frankenstein. Her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, did – and independent scholar Lauritsen has the footnotes to prove it. The first edition of the gothic classic was published in 1818, ascribed to "Anonymous"; Mary's name popped up on a revised second edition, published in 1823, the year after the poet's death; her presumed authorship was cemented with 1831's bowdlerized edition, the one most of us have read. Lauritsen can be pedantic at times, but his spirited dissection of the "Mary Shelley myth" is convincing, as is his defense of the novel's literary virtues. But prime proof for Lauritsen that Mary isn't the author of the iconic novel stems from his well-reasoned assertion that male love is its dominant theme. Reading "gay" into the story of a monster and the man who created him isn't much of a stretch, really, and the author of this hobbyhorse study is quite limber about it.



Talking to the Moon, by Noel Alumit. Carroll & Graf, 340 pages, $14.95 paper.

Alumit's impressive fiction debut, Letters to Montgomery Clift, was a distinctly queer coming-out novel filtered through a young American-Filipino's perspective. Talking to the Moon artfully flips the emphasis: though one of the central characters is a gay man, this book is more about Filipino experience in the United States – particularly that of mailman Jory, shot by a crazed bigot, and his wife Belen, a weary nurse. Atmospheric flashbacks describe their earlier years in the Philippines, where she was an upper-class debutante and he was a poor-born seminarian, class differences that appalled Belen's parents. Thirty years later, the couple has built a life in Los Angeles, though they mourn the accidental death of their first son and are bewildered by the gay life of their second son, Emerson, who too easily bottles up his emotions. A tidy subplot focuses on Emerson's on-again, off-again romance with a Taiwanese flight attendant, but the heart of this sophomore success lies in its examination of how a quiet family copes with the sensational aftermath of a racially motivated shooting.



The Grave Tattoo, by Val McDermid. St. Martin's Minotaur, 400 pages, $24 hardcover.

Did Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian return secretly to England from his South Seas exile on Pitcairn Island, where history says he died? Did the poet William Wordsworth tell Christian's tale in a long-lost manuscript worth millions – an incentive for murder? These are the questions confronting Wordsworth scholar Jane Gresham after torrential rains unearth a desiccated body – with tattoos on its butt traceable to Christian – from the bogs of the Lake District, where she grew up. There are oodles of mesmerizing subplots and scads of complex characters in this stand-alone novel (a departure from her several series, one of which features lesbian journalist Lindsay Gordon). One of the gay characters turns out to be the story's venal villain – a nice touch; gays don't always have to be the good guys in queer fiction. Though there's a 200-year-old mystery at the center of this ambitious novel, and much blood is spilled, The Grave Tattoo is an audacious departure from an author best known for those earlier lesbian-detective tales and, more recently, for complex psychological thrillers.



All: A James Broughton Reader, edited by Jack Foley. White Crane Books, 272 pages, $18 paper.

James Broughton was a poet, filmmaker, and all-around faerie for whom effervescent joy was a way of life. More than a gay artist, he "made art gaily," as this marvelous potpourri of excerpts from his journals and reprints of his poetry attests. One chapter assesses several of his many short avant-garde films, the first of which he made in the 1940s, the last of which he made in the '70s and '80s together with Joel Singer – the man he married in 1976, way before gay marriage was in the news. Editor Foley contributes a lengthy interview with Broughton, conducted in 1997, two years before the poet's death at age 86. But the real spirit of this collection springs from the poems, which infuse whimsy with a spirited wisdom that's always playful, often intense. Broughton published more than 20 collections of verse in his lifetime; this rich sampler, smartly compiled with a caring touch, is a delicious introduction to the words of a shaman whose life, as much as his art, celebrated the necessity – and the fun – of love.



Featured excerpt:

Nipples and cocks
Nipples and cocks
Nothing tickles the palate like
Nipples and cocks...


No need to be fancy
or unorthodox
Just try a plain diet
of nipples and cocks
–from All: A James Broughton Reader, edited by Jack Foley



Footnotes:
BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Dykes to Watch Out For cartoonist Alison Bechdel is following up her highly acclaimed graphic memoir, Fun Home, with a second volume, Love Life: A Case Study, coming eventually from Houghton Mifflin – Bechdel signed a contract for the book, which she's working on, earlier this year...
GERTRUDE STEIN and Alice B. Toklas, the legendary lesbian couple whose life stories apparently haven't yet been totally told, are the subject of Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice, from Yale University Press; it's partly a biography focusing on how they survived during World War II, and partly a psychological reading of Stein's modernist masterpiece, The Making of Americans...
FORMER MTV PRODUCER Terrance Dean plans to be upfront – sort of – about the "down-low" world of closeted rap musicians and other recording and performing personalities types in Hiding in Hip-Hop: Confessions of a Down Low Brother in the Entertainment Industry. The book won't specifically name Dean's closeted industry colleagues and boyfriends, said a spokeswoman for Atria Books, which is publishing the memoir next year. "But let's put it this way – you'll know who they are," she teased. "It's a no-holds-barred look at Hollywood and hip-hop and who's living on the down-low."

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


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