July 11, 2014

‘Haffling’ by Caleb James

Posted on July 8, 2014 by in Fiction, Young Adult

Sixteen-year-old Alex Nevus lives in the East Village with his family, attends Stuyvesant High School, and generally tries to keep his world from falling apart. Admirably, he has succeeded in doing so—until the morning his schizophrenic mother goes AWOL and misses her annual redetermination review with the Department of Social Services; unless he can find her, and convince the review board that she is at least minimally functional, both he and his younger sister Alice will be taken from her custody and placed back into foster care. Using the GPS on his cell phone, he tracks her to Fort Tyson, in the northernmost remote corner of Manhattan—and finds himself in another place altogether. And then Alex’s life really implodes. (more…)

‘Pissing in a River’ by Lorrie Sprecher

Posted on July 6, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

Amanda, the narrator of Lorrie Sprecher’s Pissing in a River, is a sort of human radio. The station format? Mostly British punk, with a little airspace left for guiltier pleasures such as Heart and Oasis. She interprets her life through lyrics—a Patti Smith song supplies the book’s title–and can barely go a full conversation without name-dropping a band or album title. We meet her as a college student on a study-abroad year in Exeter and check in with her periodically as she embarks on a career as an AIDS activist and Ph.D. student. (more…)

‘A Room in Chelsea Square’ by Michael Nelson

Posted on June 26, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

A Room in Chelsea Square by Michael Nelson was first published anonymously in 1958. It was reprinted in 1986 by Gay Modern Classics and is now being re-introduced by Gregory Woods in a very recent—and very handsome!—reprint from Valancourt Books. All in all, a nice package: a contemporary gay poet who hails from across the pond introducing a novel by a bygone gay Brit. (more…)

‘Corona’ by Bushra Rehman

Posted on June 23, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

In her 2014 Lambda Literary Award nominated debut novel Corona, Bushra Rehman describes a life in vignettes; a young second-generation Pakistani woman named Razia Mirza, who is passionate, drifting, bright, and unshakably resilient. In a fine rebuke of linear chronology, Razia’s tales dart back and forth from her childhood in Corona, Queens to a wild tapestry of locations, all filled with characters both odd and entirely believable. Her adventures find her hitchhiking through Florida, navigating the Bhangra scene of New York City, working as a tour guide in a Massachusetts Puritan Colony, living with drunk anarchist Italians, and falling in love with unlikely people and places. (more…)

‘Wonderland’ by Stacey D’Erasmo

Posted on June 14, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

I’m of the mind that pretty much everything in life is better with a soundtrack, and that includes books. I tend to make my own, because, despite the fact that novels often contain more rich themes and images to be paired with bits of musical genius than films and TV shows, paperback playlists are not a common phenomenon. So, when Stacey D’Erasmo’s fourth novel, Wonderland (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), arrived with a press kit filled with a pre-assembled list of songs—many of which I enjoy—well, let’s just say a chord within me was struck. (more…)

‘Who the Hell is Rachel Wells?’ by J.R. Greenwell

Posted on June 12, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

There is an abundance of down-home charm in this new collection of Southern-themed stories by J.R. Greenwell, Who the Hell is Rachel Wells? It is rare to come across such rich layers of humanity in contemporary literature. Here, Greenwell serves as a tour guide, taking his readers on a love-fueled ride through the back roads and highways of his beloved Kentucky, making certain to stop along the way just long enough to shine a heartfelt light on moments that resonate with a simple beckon for true compassion. (more…)

‘Last Words from Montmartre’ by Qiu Miaojin

Posted on June 8, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

Miaojin,

I know this letter will reach you too late. Almost 20 years too late, since you died at the age of 26 in 1995. This is the first of your novels to be translated into English, and before reading it, I hadn’t known of your influence on the gay and lesbian culture in Taiwan and in the Chinese-speaking world at large. I wonder what you would have thought of the ascendency of the Internet and the instant globalization of art, literature, ideas. (more…)

‘The Snow Queen’ by Michael Cunningham

Posted on May 18, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

How do you categorize the relationships in Michael Cunningham’s novels? Is a brother just a brother or is something more implied? What about the husband and wife with their intimate circle of friends: is the pairing more significant than the group or is it the other way around? If every writer has an obsession, that one thing he goes back to time after time, you only need look at Cunningham’s gorgeous first (and under-appreciated) novel, A Home at the End of the World, to get a sense of what fascinates him. Two young men, one straight (Bobby) and one gay (Jonathan), form a relationship with the bohemian Claire, with whom Jonathan has planned to raise a child, but it is Claire’s sexual relationship with Bobby that results in her pregnancy. In Cunningham’s last book, the 2010 By Nightfall, a heterosexual couple’s marriage is jeopardized when the husband is seduced by the wife’s much younger brother in a way that can’t be explained by sexuality alone. (Flashbacks to the husband and his gay brother, who died of AIDS, highlight another relationship that rejects easy definition.) And now we have The Snow Queen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), one of Cunningham’s best, in which Beth and Tyler share their lives with Tyler’s younger gay brother, Barrett. Or is it Beth who shares her life with Barrett and Tyler? (more…)

‘Ruby’ by Cynthia Bond

Posted on May 11, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

“Ruby had felt it then. The audacious hope of rooted things. The innocent anticipation of the shooting stalks, the quivering stillness of the watching trees.” –Cynthia Bond, Ruby

Ruby Bell, the beautiful and bizarre protagonist in Cynthia Bond’s new work Ruby (Hogarth), has been to hell and back. Raised in a small Southern town where the women of her family have made history for their beauty and tragedies, this story follows the audacious hopes of Ruby, who has had the odds stacked against her since before birth. Surviving unspeakable trauma, navigating the many people in love with her, and going to New York to locate her elusive mother, this book follows Ruby through her (seemingly damned) life. When the death of one of her dearest friends lands her back in her small hometown of Liberty Township, she finds herself reliving her past trauma, and being confronted with her demons, both literally and metaphorically. (more…)

‘Limiters’ by Christopher Stoddard

Posted on May 9, 2014 by in Fiction, Reviews

Of Christopher Stoddard‘s second novel Limiters (ITNA Press), Kevin Killian blurbed “…a Last Exit to Brooklyn, but for kids.” It’s an interesting comparison, depending on the extent to which one takes Killian literally. Stoddard’s book does share some of the transgressive character of the novel by Hubert Selby, Jr. that described harsher aspects of lower-class life in 1950s Brooklyn. Limiters, however (written in a much more conventional grammatical style than Last Exit, by the way) might be best put in the hands of adolescents only with some complementary resources. (more…)