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Richard Labonte | October 22, 2007

Other Men's Sons, by Michael Rowe. Cormorant Books, 262 pages, $18 paper.

There is much to praise in this collection of celebrity interviews, culture criticism, and odds and ends culled from a journalism career, including a profile of gay horror novelist Clive Barker, a riff on the value of Christianity, and portraits of performers Peter Paige (gay) and Gale Harold (not gay) from Queer as Folk. But Rowe's mellifluous writing is at its most moving in two pieces about the intersection of gay and nongay. The title essay, "Other Men's Son's," is a rich, emotional account of how he and his husband mentored a young straight man Rowe met at the gym in 1994, an aspiring model who soon became something of a surrogate son. In "Eloise on Church Street," he writes about how the daughter of a straight couple whose popular Church Street restaurant in Toronto – think Castro Street or West Hollywood – was essentially raised by an adoring gay community as much as by her parents. There isn't a clunker here – even a thoughtful speech Rowe wrote for a library conference makes for a great read.



The Indian Clerk, by David Leavitt. Bloomsbury USA, 496 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

Several years ago, Leavitt drew on the life of the late British poet Stephen Spender for the novel While England Slept (Spender sued him over being cast as gay). In his 12th novel, he draws again from the real-life well for this story about closeted gay British mathematician G. H. Hardy (who died in 1947) and Indian clerk Srinivasa Ramanujan, revealed as a math genius when he mailed Hardy a letter packed with startling prime-number theorems. For gay readers, Hardy's struggle with his repressed homosexuality – expressed most poignantly in his conversations with the ghost of a dead lover – will resonate, as will cameos by the likes of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and D.H. Lawrence. But the real focus in Leavitt's latest is the intensity of intellectual discovery; forays into the erudite world of composite numbers math may be dry, but this ambitious novel about two pioneers of the numbers game adds up to an unusually intelligent read.



When You Don't See Me, by Timothy James Beck. Kensington Books, 304 pages, $15 paper.

Nineteen-year-old Nick is a Midwestern kid who left his disapproving family behind for a stab at finding himself in Manhattan. He lived with a loving gay uncle for a while, but has moved into a grungy apartment with three other misfits. He dropped out of a New York college program for aspiring artists, and is cleaning houses for a living – until one sleazy client comes on to him. He relishes the anonymity of the city streets while working through post-9/11 emotions. He lusts after one friend who's oblivious to his passion, while another close friend sero-converts. The fifth novel from "Beck" (a group of writers with a remarkably seamless style) tackles a lot of intense topics, yet it's a nimble story, balancing an underachiever's serious coming-of-age angst with flashes of thoughtful insight and moments of delicious wit – scenes with his housemates are a hoot. By story's end, Nick has more of a handle on life, on love, and on how much family – the one he's born into, and that one he's found – matters.



Crossdressing: Erotic Stories, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel. Cleis Press, 216 pages, $14.95 paper.

Bears and daddies and trannies, fratboys and first-timers and country boys, cowboys and truckers and hot cops, butches and femmes and bi's: is there anything new when it comes to queer erotica? This collection of fiction about fishnet stockings, silk panties, and strapon dildos is raunchy proof that the answer is a titillating and insightful yes. Most queer erotica is about either girls or boys – sex and gender don't mix. But Bussel's book breaks down that barrier with panache. From the woman who gets off on donning a British Beefeater's uniform, to the man whose Brooks Brother shirt covers a white satin bra, to the fratboy (yes, the genres do overlap) who thrills that his female drag turns on the straight boys – the perverts in Crossdressing bring fascinating sexual fluidity to their kink. And, as one character in Tulsa's Brown's deeply emotional "Temporary" says, it's about more than fantasy: for the drag queen in her story, crossdressing "was my deepest truth" – wise words for a porn collection.



Featured excerpt:

When I was 19, I craved the attention of older men, not necessarily sexually, although I often appreciated their skilled sexual authority, and indeed often found them attractive lovers. What I desired most was the protective neutrality of an older, wiser man who could act 'in loco parentis' in matters of the new world that had opened up in front of me. The ideal would have been a happy gay couple who would revel in my youth, listen to me, indulge me, take me seriously as a burgeoning adult, and never breach that perimeter that would make us sexual partners in any capacity. –from Other Men's Sons, by Michael Rowe



Footnotes:

"THERE WAS A TIME when I actually thought my mother might want to give me a hand job," says San Diego music journalist Troy Johnson, author of the June 2008 memoir Family Outing (Arcade), a darkly humorous account of being raised by a lesbian mother in the age of Reagan. "Crazy and delusional, but true. Back then, there was little to no degree of 'cool' associated with homos," Johnson wrote on a San Diego CityBeat blog. "Judging by what I heard from the media and even family members, it was hard not to believe I was being raised by a woman who had gotten caught in the psychological wood-chipper and come out a pervert." The author, now a self-described "card-carrying friend of gays," wrote that he was a homophobic young adult – "a real asshole and a massive bigot...pretty pissed off for a long time" about his mother's sexuality...
NANCY GARDEN'S CLASSIC novel of lesbian adolescence, Annie on My Mind – almost continuously in print since it was published a quarter-century ago – will be available next year for queer listening pleasure, from Random House Audio...
MOVIE RIGHTS HAVE BEEN sold to Vancouver-based Screen Siren Pictures for Nina Shengold's Lammy-nominated novel, Clearcut, about two Pacific northwest loggers who become lovers after falling for the same eccentric woman...
JOE KEENAN'S novel My Lucky Star is the winner of the 2007 Thurber Prize for American Humor.

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


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