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Book Marks


Richard Labonte | August 27, 2007

Dahlia Season: Stories and a Novella, by Myriam Gurba. Manic D Press, 192 pages, $14.95 paper.

Desiree Garcia, star of the novella-length title tale, is an endearingly weird 15-year-old Chicana dyke when "Dahlia Season" opens. Her Mexican-born parents are suburban California academics and intellectuals who send her to a strict Catholic school – but she nonetheless hangs with a punk-goth crowd. She's being pursued, romantically and relentlessly, by a Mexican cousin who is five years older, with a serious limp and a sad stutter. And her friends cope better than she does with her undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder – and, for that matter, with her sadsack stalker. By the end of the story, she's come to terms with her brain chemistry, has a solid teaching job, and has found true love – but she's still an endearingly weird young lesbian, and a delightful avatar for contemporary queer heroines in immigrant-nation America. Four shorter stories are equally fresh, particularly "White Girl," about a Chicana chick's first white-girl romance, and �Just Drift,� about wooing an object of desire with flan. Gurba's debut collection is caustic, observant, and a comic dazzler.



Hotel Theory, by Wayne Koestenbaum. Soft Skull, 180 pages, $16 paper.

Down the left side of the page: a lighthearted yet insightful and instructive dissertation on the cultural, philosophical, and sociological import of hotels and hotel living. Down the right side of the page (sometimes clumsily, more often cleverly, without using "a," "an," or "the"): pulp-era short story about flirtatious Lana Turner, tumescent Liberace, escaping world-weariness in refuge of 1940s-yet-timeless Hollywood hotel, trashy dime-store novel. As tempting (and logical) as it is to read Koestenbaum's eyes-left meditation on the meaning of hotels first from start to end, and then to turn eyes-right to the novel, this twinned exercise in parallel-structured fact and fiction is best read side by side, as the author (and his publisher) intended. This will take getting used to. Persevere. Incorporate the intersection of hotel theory and hotel fantasy into the reading experience; it's a mind-bending but rewarding challenge, spun from an engaging author's enigmatic and provocative queer mind. You�ll learn about books and movies about hotels on one side of the page, and about Liberace's penis on the other – and the overlap of ideas, the intertwining of prose, works.



Homo Domesticus: Notes from a Same-Sex Marriage, by David Valdes Greenwood. Da Capo Lifelong, 214 pages, $22 hardcover.

In retail marketing jargon, David and Jason Valdes Greenwood are called "early adopters": They had a wedding ceremony a decade before Massachusetts legalized gay marriages, and barely a year after they met. And when it was legal, they got married again – but we're getting ahead of the story. David Valdes met Jason Greenwood when both were college students. It was love at, well, second or third sight. Theirs was an intense, sometimes bumpy courtship. Hispanic David, a self-described chubby fellow, was exuberantly romantic; white-bread Jason, lean and athletic, was hard-pressed to express his emotions. But love is love: They launched modest but fruitful careers, bought a starter home, separated for a spell, experimented sexually, and – as told in the most poignant passages of the book – adopted a child, a long-held dream realized. David and Jason aren't celebrities. They're just two ordinary gay guys. But the arc of their relationship, recounted with charming humor and candid passion, makes for an extraordinarily memorable memoir.



Entangled Lives: Memoirs of 7 Top Erotica Writers, edited by Marilyn Jaye Lewis. Alyson Books, 234 pages, $15.95 paper.

Editor Lewis craves being bound and disciplined. Greg Wharton and Ian Philips savor a passionate sexual (and intellectual) three-way with another writer. Rachel Kramer Bussell is a spankaholic. Bill Brent weaves crystal addiction, abuse as a youth, and the challenging miracle of recovery through his sometimes dark sexual history. Amie M. Evans is addicted to sex in public. And Rob Stephenson writes of the disquieting disintegration of first love. This isn't a how-to manual by porn writers. This is an intelligent "our lives" memoir – and, it must be said, a sizzling treat for literary voyeurs. Each of the seven contributors (or eight, if the pseudonymous third man, "Adam Greenway" in "Threeway," by Wharton and Philips, is included) writes with astonishing intimacy about his or her sexual life. How much real life do writers of erotica incorporate into their porn stories, and how much spills from smart imaginations? This confessional compendium gives glimpses of the sometimes vaporous boundary between the real life of a few writers and their evocative writerly fantasies.



Featured excerpt:

At 34, it finally felt like everything had come together: a good marriage, a decent home (complete with adorable pet), a new job that I loved at Tufts University, and a great community of friends. Every weekend, we'd invite people over to dinner, gathering around our dining-room table in cold weather and surrounding a rickety picnic table in the backyard on warm nights. Our lives simply couldn't have been more domestic if we'd tried. In a movie, any scene of easy bliss is sure to presage some terrible threat. Considering what a film buff I am, perhaps I should have been on alert for signs of danger. –from Homo Domesticus, by David Valdes Greenwood



Footnotes:

BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Two forthcoming books tackle the topic of gays and religion – and both advocate for a place for queers in the pews. Jonathan Dudley's The Bible, Biology, and Boundaries: An Evangelical Bioethicist Challenges Dogma on Evolution, Abortion, and Homosexuality argues that fundamentalist arguments condemning all three subjects are "logically and ethically flawed." In Grand Theft Jesus, Robert McElvaine laments the "de-Jesus-ification" of modern Christianity, arguing that Jesus would have supported poverty programs, peace activists, and tolerance toward gays. Both books will be published next year, Dudley's science-based work by Doubleday, and McElvaine's more spiritual work by Crown...
MIKE DAWSON'S GRAPHIC MEMOIR, Freddie & Me, coming from Bloomsbury next year, details the author's life-long obsession with gay rock singer Freddie Mercury and the band Queen, starting with the author's childhood in Britain, his high school years in New Jersey, and into adulthood in the '90s...
MYSTERY AND EROTIC writer (and Harrington Park Press editor) Greg Herren's post-Katrina novel, Murder in the Rue Chartres, is scheduled for September from Alyson Books. Herren was recently elected to the board of directors for the National Stonewall Democrats, a network of national gay and lesbian Democratic clubs, founded in 1998 by Congressman Barney Frank.

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


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