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Richard Labonte | May 07, 2007

Jacko, His Rise and Fall: The Social and Sexual History of Michael Jackson, by Darwin Porter, Blood Moon Productions, 542 pages, $27.95 hardcover.

Who'd have thought that there was one single gossipy rock yet to be turned over in the microscopically scrutinized life of the dependably eccentric Michael Jackson? Porter's exhaustive hybrid of celebrity bio and solid reporting, based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, proves otherwise. It's all here: the abuse Jackson suffered as a boy from the fists of his father; rough early years on the "chitlin' circuit" with his philandering older brothers; his rocky relationship with Diana Ross and his quirky relationship with Liz Taylor; his sham marriages and his oddly conceived children; unflagging rumors of his homosexuality; and his scandalous affection for generations of adolescent boys. Jacko is so up-to-date that it ends with Jackson's "fan appreciation" events in Japan in January, where he charged squealing true believers more than $3,000 for 30 seconds of face time with him. This is definitely a guilty-pleasure page-turner. But don't turn the pages too quickly – every chapter contains a fascinating, if not unsettling, revelation.



Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys: True Tales of Love, Lust, and Friendship Between Straight Women and Gay Men, edited by Melissa de la Cruz and Tom Dolby, Dutton Books, 304 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

The fact of "fag hags" is a hoary homosexual cliche with a vaunted history, even though the term itself may have fallen into a grumpy "politically incorrect" disfavor. But smart editing by Dolby and de la Cruz, a fag and a hag respectively for more than decade, and good writing both by ladies with gay friends and by gays with lady friends, nicely trump correctness and cliche. Some essays merely skim the topic of gal-gay friendships: Gigi Levangie Grazer (wife of movie producer Brian) writes about a fey waiter she didn't really know well but misses since his death, and Dolby's own candid entry is about a woman psychic who doesn't seem to have had any particular affinity for homos. Others, such as the contribution from Barneys creative director Simon Doonan, are old-school giggly about the phenomenon. But most of the contributors – equitably including 13 women and 15 men – write with engaging depth and much humor about the instinctive, emotional, and sometimes sexual bonds between straight women and gay men.



Always, by Nicola Griffith, Riverhead Books, 480 pages, $26.95 hardcover.

Griffith's third slam-bang mystery featuring Aud Torvingen finds the 6-foot lesbian ex-cop turned self-defense teacher leaving Atlanta – and trying to escape the grief of her lover's death – to visit Seattle, where a shady real-estate manager is mishandling property she inherited from her father. It's a troubled trip, not least because Aud is meeting her ambassador mother's new husband for the first time. While in town, she's sexually intrigued by a onetime stuntwoman; alas, her friend and traveling companion Matthew finds the same woman attractive. The action swings into violent overdrive when political smarminess and environmental skullduggery draw the kick-ass sleuth to the soundstage of an independent film production, where everyone nearly dies after downing coffee laced with a malicious infusion of Ecstasy, speed, magic mushrooms, and angel dust. Brutal physicality powers the novel, as with the earlier The Blue Place and Stay, but Griffith, who gets better book by book, balances that intensity with sensual reflections on the emotional fragility and vulnerable desire beneath Aud's steely outer shell.



Drop...Dead: The DJ Murders, by Tonne Serah, Southern Tier Editions, 222 pages, $12.95 paper.

Circuit boyz, underground klubs, Azian fags – this wicked romp through San Francisco's ferociously hip party scene challenges spelling orthodoxy, but all those z's do add extra zip to a campy contemporary mystery. DJs are dropping dead – literally, from their overhead booth onto the sweaty kidz, or kids, on Klub Galaxy's dance floor below. The process of ferreting out "whodunit," amusing if not always logical, involves drug enforcement agents doing drugs, a transgender cop investigating the city's sleazy mayor, imperious drag queens, and Joey De Vera – nice Filipino boy by day, tweaked-up scenester by night. The novel�s genesis was a series of weekly e-mails to the author's real-life fellow club-goers, so most chapters are just two or three pages, a format that speeds the plot right along; 16 color illustrations are an ingenious addition. And though the surface story is engagingly frothy, Serah, himself a club kid, has serious things to say about unsafe sex, harm reduction, the hypocrisy of the war on drugs, and – most interestingly – the queer lives of young Asian men.



Featured excerpt:

Save for my husband, I scare men. Straight men, anyway. They never seem to get me – and I'm not saying that just because a few of my past boyfriends have actually said, "I don't get you." But the gays, they're another story. From the time I was in nursery school, I have been something of a fag hag. The little boy I told my mother I'd marry when I was five? Gay. Growing up, my best guy friend, the one I'd sit with on my front lawn, watching all the neighborhood guys play football as we quietly provided critical commentary on their choice of wardrobe? Gay. The first boy I kissed with tongue, the summer before sixth grade? Gay. –from "Shop Girls," by Karen Robinovitz, in Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, edited by Melissa de la Cruz and Tom Dolby



Footnotes:
FEARS THAT CHICAGO'S 28-year-old Women & Children First Bookstore could close by summer's end have eased, after news of the store's plight hit MySpace. Co-owners Anne Christopherson and Linda Bubon posted a blog entry, "How You Can Help Insure the Future of Feminist Bookselling in Chicago," in which they confirmed rumors of declining sales and asked customers to "show their love" by shopping at the store. The response was immediate: Weekend business was busier than Christmas, local groups offered to host fundraisers, and Internet sales "went through the roof," said Bubon. "What it ultimately comes down to is whether people in the community, and the city as a whole, decide it matters enough that we exist, and then make their shopping decisions based on that," Christophersen said. The store's financial woes aren't unique among independent stores: Query, the gay bookstore that opened in Minneapolis two years ago, closed in February...
NOVELIST MARIJANE MEAKER and historian Martin Duberman are recipients of the 2007 Pioneer Award from the Lambda Literary Foundation. Meaker is author of more than 40 books over a career spanning more than 50 years – including young adult novels under the pseudonym M.E. Kerr and lesbian pulp fiction written as Vin Packer. Her most recent novel is the transsexual-sleuth mystery Scott Free, from Carroll & Graf. Duberman, a long-time historian and academic activist, is author of more than two dozen books, including Stonewall and Midlife Queer; his most recent is The Worlds of Lincoln Kirsten, from Knopf. They'll be feted May 31 at the 19th Annual Lambda Awards ceremony, in New York City this year.

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


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