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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | May 21, 2007

Blind Curves, by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Marshall. Bold Strokes Books, 264 pages, $15.95 paper.

The catfight setting for this intricate mystery is the world of lesbian magazine publishing – and because half the writing team (Diane) is the current editor of Curve, the plot has a patina of possibility. Some action is set in a park; that the other half of the writing team is a former park ranger adds nicely to the authenticity. The dead body that causes mayhem belongs to lesbian publisher Rosemary Finney, loathed by her overworked and underpaid staff (real-world Curve's work environment is surely more pleasant). One early suspect is Velvet Erickson, her former partner in founding Womyn, squeezed out when the magazine's feminist ideals were sacrificed for corporate profits. The sleuths are grown-up poster children for affirmative action: Yoshi, the blind Asian lesbian who inherited her late father's Blind Eye Detective Agency, and her sole field investigator, Bud, a cantankerous, straight white former cop paralyzed from the waist down. With help from their dorky but able-bodied office assistant, the dogged duo clear sundry suspects before the killer – not, thanks to clever plotting, too obvious – is fingered.



Dark Reflections, by Samuel R. Delany. Carroll & Graf, 304 pages, $15.95 paper.

In the first section of this mournful, reflective novel, which reels back in time from its central character's creaky old age to his promisingly virile youth, Arnold Hawley is a black gay poet in his 60s, mired in professional obscurity and self-imposed celibacy after a lifetime of modest literary success and furtive sexual encounters. That's an inversion of Delany's own life. His many queer novels celebrate the erotic with hardcore exuberance, after all, which gives this tripartite tale a might-have-been quality. It's as if Delany, who has mined his own sexual persona for several memoirs (and who began his literary career as a poet), were writing about an alternative life. The final section depicts Hawley's college days, when great writing seemed possible, but self-degrading shame nixed sex with men; the central section recounts Hawley's crazed one-day marriage to a suicidal woman and his fraught flirtation with a street hustler. The three stories form a haunting study of a lonely man who sacrificed himself for scant literary or romantic rewards – but nonetheless achieved an honest internal nobility.



The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman, edited by Stephen Pascal. Alfred A. Knopf, 680 pages, $37.50 hardcover.

For more than 50 years, Leo Lerman collected notable boldface names the way some people collect colorful butterflies. Edward Albee, Woody Allen, W. H. Auden, Maria Callas, Truman Capote, Noel Coward...Tina Turner, John Updike, Carl Van Vechten, Tennessee Williams, Franco Zeffirelli: he wrote about these celebrities, and hundreds more, for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Mademoiselle, or Harper's Bazaar. He befriended everyone who was anyone, and they came to his weekly salons and regular parties, first in the one-bedroom walk-up and then in the more expansive apartment he shared for decades with his lover, artist Gray Foy. After Lerman's death in 1994, long-time assistant Pascal discovered hundreds of notebooks squirreled away in desk drawers and stored boxes. Together with dozens of letters and scraps of a memoir never finished, he has shaped Lerman's gossipy late-night jottings and astute morning-after reflections into a Forrest Gump box of irresistible anecdotal bonbons about New York's cultural demimonde, Lerman´┐Żs gay circle of friends, and his years as Conde Nast editorial director, when he was a center around which revolved epochs of glitter and glam.



Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets, edited by John Barton and Billeh Nickerson. Arsenal Pulp Press, 368 pages, $21.95 paper.

It's probably safe to say that, of the 57 queer poets collected in this authoritative anthology, the names of fewer than a dozen will be recognized by any but the most fervent poetry readers beyond Canada's borders. Among those who might be known: the late Edward A. Lacey, published by and a translator for Gay Sunshine Press, and Brion Gysin, a Beat compatriot of William Burroughs; and the still-living Ian Young, a pioneer of Canada's gay publishing scene; bill bissett, whose experimental style has foreign followers; and George Stanley, who was born American and consorted poetically in San Francisco with the likes of Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer before moving to Canada in 1971. Younger writers with a body of recognizable work include erotic and literary fiction author Andy Quan; playwright, performer, and novelist Sky Gilbert; filmmaker Ian Iqbal Rashid; and David Watmough, author of 11 semi-autobiographical novels. As for the rest? They may be unknown outside Canada, but their presence in this volume provides solid proof that the country has a substantial queer poetic canon all its own.



Featured excerpt:

February 7, 1971: Lennie Bernstein, standing in the middle of his sitting room. Encased in a dark blue, lavishly embroidered in off-white, Hungarian shepherd's coat. He stood there, clasping Adolph (Green) and repeating, loudly, "I've had affairs with every man in this room, well at least mentally, but not Adolph," and Adolph had prompted this outburst by sadly saying, "I'm the only one that never gets kissed" – by the boys, he meant. And of course this was true about both Lennie and Adolph. Lennie to his littlest daughter: "Isn't Mr. Lerman sexier? Isn't he? He's the sexiest man." The child – not even ten – looked bewildered and then agreed, while Lennie pinched my ass a lot. –from The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman, edited by Stephen Pascal



Footnotes:
FRENCH NOVELIST MICHEL TOURNIER, 82, is one of 15 writers nominated for the second Booker International Prize for fiction, awarded – along with $120,000 – for an author's lifetime body of work. Most of his 15 published books are available in English translation, including Gemini, about the incestuous romance between two hauntingly beautiful male twins; the novel was number 82 on the Publishing Triangle's "100 Best Lesbian and Gay Novels" list, compiled about a decade ago. Judges for the prestigious award are Irish gay novelist Colm Toibin, South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, and American academic Elaine Showalter. The winner will be announced in June...
GORE VIDAL, author most recently of the memoir Point to Point Navigation, is recipient of the inaugural PEN/Borders Literary Service Award, given to "a truly distinguished American writer whose critically acclaimed work helps us to understand the human condition in original and powerful ways." Vidal, 81, was cited for "the breadth and depth of his brilliant work, his courage in speaking out, even at times when free speech has been at risk in our country, and his lifelong commitment to democracy, justice, reason, and common sense."

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


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