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Book Marks

Richard Labonte | April 23, 2007

Androphilia: A Manifesto Rejecting the Gay Identity, Reclaiming Masculinity, by Jack Malebranche. Scapegoat Publishing, 144 pages, $12.95 paper.

It's guaranteed that anyone reading this review of Androphilia in a gay community newspaper will despise the book. The author's thesis, after all, is that there really ought not be anything like a "gay community," and if there is, he wants no part of it. Nope. He's a masculine fellow, a man's man who just happens to sleep with other men. So it's tempting to write this screed off with a gay-icon quote (he's not fond of gay adoration of divas, by the way) from, say, Bette Davis, something like, "But ya are, Blanche." But that's too simplistic a response to what is in fact a heartfelt argument that "the gay identity" is too sissy, too socialist, and way too libertine for this man-loving man. There's a history of queer intellectuals insisting that they're too masculine to represent perceived gay stereotypes: Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bawer, and Daniel Harris come to mind. Malebranche's manifesto is an extreme manifestation of their kind of stereo-phobia. Let's just hate the book, acknowledge the author's personal honesty and articulate passion, and leave it at that.

Dog Years, by Mark Doty. HarperCollins, 224 pages, $23.95 hardcover.

Got a dog in your life? Get ready, as you read, to grin with recognition and to weep in sympathy. Dogs Arden and Beau were minor characters in Heaven's Coast, Doty's elegant memoir about the AIDS death of his lover Wally more than a decade ago. This equally elegiac remembrance is all about the pooches. Memories of romps in the woods and runs on the beach, celebrating the joyous physicality of a beloved pet, are rendered with tender amusement; those moments when a dog's eyes reflect a man's soul, expressing the intricate mystery of how dog and man meet in the world, are analyzed with poetic emotion. There's no end of books about the role dogs play in our lives, about their ever-present unconditional love and their ineffable connection to our moods; Doty breaks no new ground in this joyous, heartbreaking celebration of the bond between man and mutt. The triumph of Dog Years is how Doty illuminates the lives – and the deaths – of his dogs with a lyrical and philosophical intensity that is warmly compassionate.

Voices Rising: Celebrating 20 Years of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Writing, by G. Winston James and Other Countries. RedBone Press, 586 pages, $25 paper.

Other Countries was founded 20 years ago as a collective committed to black gay male writers and writing, back when a mere handful of emerging African-American voices could be found on gay bookstore shelves. This hefty collection of more than 100 contributions from more than 60 writers expands on Other Countries' original focus on men to include essays, short stories, poems, interviews, and play excerpts from lesbians as well as bisexual and transgender writers. The result is a rich and hefty reader, and a generous testament to black literary accomplishment. Established authors like Jewelle Gomez, Marvin K. White, Cheryl Clarke, Reginald Shepherd, Letta Neely, and Samuel R. Delany stand out – but dozens of younger, newer voices also "rise" in this historic anthology, so many so good that singling out even a few would do a disservice to the rest. Voices Rising is a hymn to the power of words to build community, express emotion, realize dreams, and explore the complexities of identity.

The Target, by Gerri Hill. Bella Books, 276 pages, $13.95 paper.

The formula for your typical Bella Books romance – in this case, a romance-adventure mix – doesn't change much from book to book: two lesbians who don't want to fall in love do, after many misunderstandings. What sets Hill's fiction apart from that formula is the quality of her plots and her prose. The lesbians destined for love in this well-crafted novel are women's-self-help guru Sara, estranged daughter of a virulently homophobic presidential candidate, and Colorado homicide detective Jessica, assigned by mysterious federal agents to shadow Sara on a two-week mountain hike. Their inevitable romance evolves from prickly to passionate around evening campfires, and the adventure kicks in when a sniper hired by equally mysterious meanies starts picking off women on the hike. The race to safe haven that follows is brisk and thrilling, and Hill's account of how the mystery of both the shadowy federal agents and the thuggish killers unravels is nicely unpredictable. The Target isn't literary art, but it hits the entertainment spot.

Featured excerpt:

I have my face down against that smooth muzzle, the ears that still smell, as they have all his life, of corn muffins. Paul's holding him from the other side, so that we can both be in his gaze. We each speak to him quietly. First, there's a shot to relax him, to make sure the second shot will work, and I don't think he even feels it. And then we ease him out of that worn-out body with a kiss, and he's gone like a whisper, the easiest breath. –from Dog Years, by Mark Doty

LESBIAN AUTHOR JANE RULE was inducted earlier this year as a member of the Order of Canada, established in 1967 to recognize outstanding Canadian achievement and service; it's the country's highest honor for lifetime achievement. Rule, who emigrated from the United States to Canada in 1956, is author of a dozen books, including the classic Desert of the Heart and Memory Board. "I am often dubious about awards. I think they are often given and withheld for the wrong reason," the author told Vancouver's Xtra West. "But this particular one touches me. I've had a wonderfully productive and happy life here," where "openly gay people are acknowledged." Rule will receive her honor later this year in a ceremony presided over by Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Canada, along with another of the 89 recipients, lesbian musician Connie Kaldor. Rule was also a recipient in January of this year's Alice B. Medal, awarded to outstanding writers of lesbian fiction, along with Alison Bechdel, Gerri Hill, Lori L. Lake, Lee Lynch, and Marijane Meaker...
NOVELISTS DOROTHY ALLISON and Jim Grimsley are recipients of a new Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists' Prize, which comes with a $5,000 cash grant endowed by retired San Francisco State University professor Jim Duggins. The prizes will be awarded May 13 at the closing ceremonies of the fifth annual Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans. Info: www.sasfest.org.

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

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