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Richard Labonte | July 16, 2007

The Child, by Sarah Schulman. Carroll & Graf, 286 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

In a culture where "save the children" has become a highly politicized and often mindless mantra, kudos to Schulman for writing a novel in which a 15-year-old boy is not the victim – though he's in a sexual relationship with an older man. Stew is a screwed-up lonely kid, sure, but his hectoring and homophobic Catholic parents can be blamed for that – not the mild-mannered fellow the kid meets on the Internet. Lacking affection and emotional support at home, Stew, who knows he's gay, has found it elsewhere. The controversial issue of what constitutes molestation takes center stage in this powerful story, and Schulman tackles the topic with her typical blunt and uncompromising candor. She's equally forceful in a parallel story involving one of the lawyers defending the adult accused of being a pedophile: conflicted about defending him, Eva is also confronting the implosion of her relationship with a frustrated lesbian playwright – and the scare of breast cancer without adequate health care, a timely bit of potent political commentary.



The Beloved Son, by Jay Quinn. Alyson Books, 302 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

More ably than most any contemporary queer writer, Jay Quinn is crafting novels that neatly integrate gay lives with straight lives. In last year's The Good Neighbor, he focused on a gay couple residing in mostly nongay suburbia; here, he inverts the structure smartly, focusing on the travails of 52-year-old Karl Preston, a straight man, and his fraught relationship with the rest of his family: his dying mother, his cantankerous and emotionally distant father, and his down-to-earth gay brother – who, in a twist that feels wholly true, is the beloved son, favored far more by their aged parents than is Karl. The gay brother is by no means incidental, but Quinn universalizes this tale of middle-age angst, domestic trauma, and eventual familial reconciliation by making the straight brother (and his wife and daughter) the central characters around whom the rest revolve. Lyrical prose propels Quinn's novel, rich with profound truths about the delicate balance between grudgingly accepting obligation and willingly assuming responsibility.



Between Men: Original Fiction by Today's Best Writers, edited by Richard Canning. Carroll & Graf, 336 pages, $15.95 paper.

Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, Ethan Mordden, and Bruce Benderson are the grand old men of this vital new collection. Mack Friedman, Alistair McCartney, Vestal McIntyre, and Tennessee Jones are among the blazing young guns. These and 10 other contributors certainly aren't the only "best writers" at work today – there's a lot of quality literary fiction out there – but Canning's cross-section of writing styles and authorial generations is pretty exciting. And eclectic – from the intricate, lunatic landscape of Wayne Koestenbaum's "Diary of a Quack," to the straightforward comic complications of Patrick Ryan's "Pretend I'm Here," to the philosophical mashup of aging and eroticism in Robert Gluck's "Bisexual Pussy Boy." There hasn't been an anthology of gay men's short fiction as canny as Between Men since 1986, when George Stambolian launched the legendary (deservedly so) Men on Men series. In a snappy introduction that doubles as a smart mini-history of the anthology genre, Canning pays thoughtful homage to those glory days.



Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, by C. J. Pascoe. University of California Press, 240 pages, $19.95 paper.

For 18 months, Pascoe prowled the halls of "River High," a racially diverse working-class high school somewhere in California. With the permission of school officials, she listened in on conversations, sat in on classes, scouted out tomboys and cheerleaders, went to sports events and dance rehearsals, and interviewed macho athletes and the school's few "out" gay boys. The result of her ethnographic fieldwork is an incisive assessment of teenage masculinity, gender conformity, and sexual confusion – and a revealing examination of the rampant but not surprising homophobic teasing to which gay students (or indeed any considered uncool) are subjected. Pascoe considers why hormonal schoolboys use "fag" as an all-purpose epithet, and through her interviews learns how the real fags – and the dykes and transgender students, too – cope with such pervasive homophobia. Her analysis is academic but accessible; the book is most lively when she quotes students at length. Transcriptions of their boasts, their fears, their triumphs, and their desires – cocky straights and cowed gays alike – illuminate the intricacy of surviving adolescence in a hostile environment.



Featured excerpt:

Ricky assumed (rightly so in this context) that other people immediately identified him with his sexuality. He told me that when he first met people, "they'll be like, 'Can I ask you a personal question?' and I'm like, 'Sure.' And they say, 'Are you gay?' And I'm like, 'Yeeeaahh.' 'Okay, can I ask you another question?' And I'm like, 'Sure.' And they'll go, 'Does it hurt?' It always goes..." He rolled his eyes dismissively, telling me, "� they go straight up to the most personal question! They skip everything else. They go straight to that." –from Dude, You're a Fag, by C.J. Pascoe



Footnotes:

BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Cynthia Carr has received a Guggenheim Fellowship to support work on a biography of East Village artist and writer David Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992 at age 37. Carr met the artist when she was an arts writer for the Village Voice; the biography is scheduled for 2009...
A 17-YEAR-OLD high school student's world turns topsy turvy when he discovers that his best – and only real – friend is gay; his emotional turbulence is recounted to comic effect in the intriguingly titled novel Two Parties, One Prom, and a Five-Paragraph Essay On the Letter "Q", by Stephen Goldman, coming from Bloomsbury in 2008...
PROLIFIC EDITOR and author Lawrence Schimel has revived A Midsummer Night's Press, founded in 1991 but on hiatus since 1993, with plans to publish chapbooks under three imprints. The first, Fabula Rasa, focuses on mythology, and released Schimel's own Fairy Tales for Writers in June. A collection of poetry by lesbian author Achy Obejas is forthcoming from the second imprint, Body Language, which explores sexual identity; the third imprint, Funny Bones, is devoted to humor and light verse.

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


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