Book Marks: Spanking New, Robin and Ruby, Ganymede Stories One

by Richard Labonte

"Spanking New," by Clifford Henderson. Bold Strokes Books, 288 pages, $16.95 paper.

Spanky, the narrator of this delicious novel, is an unborn baby who can flit from one character's thoughts and emotions to another's - a storytelling perspective that, from a less able author, might have come off as a diaper-load of a gimmick. But Henderson, in only her second book, handles the unorthodox point of view with inventive style and charm. Spanky's parents-to-be are Nina, an aspiring actress without a role in sight, and Rick, a musician paying the rent changing tires in a garage. Nina's circle of friends include fag florist Pablo and dyke diva Dink - who harbors an unrequited lust for Nina, and who eventually serves as Rick's best man at a hilarious "Love Happening" wedding, standing in for his best friend Howie, killed in Iraq. These are just a few of a fabulous novel's well-rounded characters, which also include Rick's right-wing father, Nina's censorious sister - and a queer dog. And, of course, Spanky - who thinks she's going to be born a boy. Already a "best" of 2010.

"Robin and Ruby," by K.M. Soehnlein. Kensington Books, 284 pages, $24 hardcover.

Robin, the sexually precocious teen theater queen from "The World of Normal Boys," returns in this semi-sequel as a 20-year-old bunking for the summer in urban-blight Philadelphia with his boyhood - and black - best friend George. The novel is set in the mid-1980s, and AIDS hovers, as it should. But Soehnlein's focus is broader than post-adolescent queer self-discovery in a fraught era. Though Robin is dumped by his older boyfriend and rebounds into bed with George - their unacknowledged lust expressed at last, with love perhaps following - this is as much his younger sister Ruby's story. The morning after Robin and George do the dirty, they're on the way to the Jersey shore, summoned by a phone message from Goth-garbed Ruby's trust-fund boyfriend, concerned that she has disappeared from a rowdy party house in pursuit of a young man she met years before at a Christian camp - in her pre-atheist period. Compressed into one roller-coaster emotional weekend, Soehnlein's third novel brings a fresh, eloquent perspective to the oft-writ story of sexual and romantic coming of age.

"Ganymede Stories One," edited by John Stahle. Lulu.com, 207 pages, $13.95 ($7 download).

Editor Stahle has embraced the publish-on-demand era with real style, first with "Ganymede," an exciting new literary journal, and now with a second book (after an anthology of poetry) drawn from the magazine's stellar first six issues. At a time when gay short stories are equated in queer publishing almost entirely with gay erotica - though good writers work in the genre, including several represented here - and when there's a dearth of outlets for well-crafted queer literary fiction, this collection is a true treasure. Public-domain fiction by Oscar Wilde and, curiously, Robert Louis Stevenson honor the gay-prose past nicely. But writing from the anthology's high-caliber authors - most of them relative newcomers - indicates that today's queer short fiction is alive and vibrant, even without an earlier generation of anthologies such as "Men on Men" and "Best American Gay Fiction" to nurture it. Younger contributors include Eric Karl Anderson, Sam J. Miller, Marc Andreottola, Cyrus Cassells, Ryan Doyle May, Ennis Smith, Charlie Vasquez and Stahle himself, their prose nicely illustrated by thematic photos. For ordering information: www. ganymedestories.blogspot.com.

"Miles to Go," by Amy Dawson Robertson. Bella Books, 228 pages, $14.95 paper.

The misty-eyed lesbian romance gets a roughy-tough-tough makeover in this muscular novel about FBI operative Rennie Vogel, the lone woman - and, need it be said, a lesbian - among a cadre of super-fit, mucho-macho and supremely intolerant members of a covert counterterrorism squad. After making it through weeks of grueling training - and much harassment - to become a member of the elite team, Vogel parachutes with five men into the middle of Muslim territory. Their super-secret mission is to assassinate an anti-American terrorist, something Americans don't do. Yeah, right. Intrepid Rennie is the only survivor when all goes awry, but she presses on, determined to prove her mettle to the military leaders in America who doubt her - even when, with the terrorist in her sniper-rifle sight, she spots an American woman kidnapped two years earlier and thought dead. Save the woman? Shoot the terrorist leader? Do both, of course, and give her male superiors the finger. This is one for fans of fierce-lesbian genre thrillers, with every indication a sequel is in the works.

Featured Excerpt

Richard Hale, thrilled that Rick has at least one male friend, stands up to greet Pablo. "At last!" he says. "I was starting to wonder if my son was some kind of pansy." No one laughs. Pablo's jaw tightens. He's determined not to do the old shrug and smile, but can't very well say: "Actually, I am a pansy, Mr. Hale." He reminds himself that this is Nina and Rick's day and he shouldn't upstage them. A rascally smile breaks across his face. "Oh, I can assure you, sir, your son is no pansy. Believe me, I know a pansy when I see one."

-from "Spanking New ," by Clifford Henderson

Footnotes

Michael Nava, since 1999 a judicial staff attorney for the California Supreme Court - and also the author of seven acclaimed gay mystery novels - is appealing to the queer literary community for support in his campaign for a seat on the San Francisco Superior Court. "Many of you know me as the author of the Henry Rios novels, published between 1988 and 2000, which won a total of six Lambda Literary Awards. These books traced the life and the cases of a gay Latino criminal defense lawyer, Henry Rios, through the dark days of the AIDS epidemic," Nava wrote in his fundraising appeal. "When I retired Rios in the last novel, "Rag & Bone," I made him a judge... now, I am trying to see if life will imitate art." His Republican opponent, appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, did not work or live in San Francisco before his donning his judicial robes, and has "a long record of supporting conservative cause," says Nava, an attorney for almost 30 years who has lived in San Francisco for more than two decades. "This is going to be a tough race because of my opponent's deep pockets." Though his last novel was published in 2000, Nava said in a recent interview that he's working on a historical novel set in Mexico and Arizona. For information on the candidate and his campaign: http://www.navaforjudge.com; for a more personal look at his thinking, go to his blog, "The Year of Judicious Living," at http://www.michaelnava.blogspot.com.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-'70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.

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