Book Marks: Like Me, The Lost Library, One Bloody Thing After Another

By Richard Labonte

"Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer," by Chely Wright. Pantheon Books, 288 pages, $25.95 hardcover.

If you're a country music fan, this is something of a big-deal coming-out memoir, akin to what it meant for queer swimmers and divers to learn that Greg Louganis was a sister back in the '90s. If you're not a country music fan, and don't have any idea who Chely Wright is - well, this is still quite a coming-out achievement, more poignant than self-pitying, sometimes appealingly candid (the author calls out Brad Paisley for his callousness) and infused overall with both grace and humility. Wright didn't start telling friends and family she was a lesbian until just a few years ago, though she'd had an emotionally bumptious, soul-destroying relationship with another closeted woman for many years. About half the memoir dwells on the pain of hiding and the relief of revelation, but Wright's accounts of her small-town upbringing, her first brushes with Sapphic passion, her early years as a country starlet, and her trips to the Middle East to entertain the troops, are forthright and appealingly unaffected.

"The Lost Library: Gay Fiction Rediscovered," edited by Tom Cardamone. Haiduk Press, 232 pages, $19 paper.

This is a book of wondrous ghosts. Many of the writers whose out-of-print books are remembered and celebrated are still alive, of course: Rabih Alameddine ("The Perv: Stories") and Bruce Benderson ("User"), James McCourt ("Time Remaining ") and Douglas Sadownick ("Sacred Lips of the Bronx"), most with new work in recent years. Many more are dead - too many of those too young - among them Allen Barnett and Christopher Coe, Melvin Dixon and Robert Ferro, Michael Grumley and Paul Reed. Their literary art lives on in these illuminating critical and biographical essays - and in many cases, where the essayists knew their subjects, so do the writers. Bill Brent evokes the late Paul Reed's passion for understanding the havoc of AIDS in his reflections on "Longing"; Victor Bumbalo, who 20 years after his friend George Whitmore died still misses his phone calls, recalls the "secret cowboy" inside the pacifist author of "Nebraska." Cardamone's collection is part book review, part social history, part literary excavation and, in summation, a loving memorial for queer writing and writers.

"One Bloody Thing After Another," by Joey Comeau. ECW Press, 168 pages, $14.95 paper.

For a zombie novel featuring a monstrously ravenous mother chained in the basement who won't eat dead food - so her daughter steals live kittens for her to gnaw on - this is a remarkably tender novel. Canadian novelist and cartoonist Comeau turns traditional horror storytelling on its head here (though there is a bloody, headless ghost haunting its pages), leavening intermittent gore with understated humor and emotional mayhem with eccentric characters. Among them are an addled and grumpy senior citizen with an old dog who pees when he's excited; both are the bane of an equally cantankerous woman sharing their retirement home. Teen Jackie is infatuated with her best friend Ann, but Ann - and her younger sister Margaret - have that zombie mom to worry about, so Jackie's nascent lesbian crush amounts to unrequited longing. Quirky to a marvelous fault, Comeau's fourth book is an intricate exercise in offbeat storytelling. It's not as queer as his first novel, "Lockpick Pornography," a self-published "genderqueer adventure story" whose sequel, "We All Got It Coming," is available online at asofterworld.com/lp2.html. But it's queerly weird.

"Mute," by Raymond Luczak. A Midsummer Night's Press, 64 pages, $11.95 paper.

There's a double sense of the interior in Luczak's slim, handsome collection of 29 poems. Much poetry verbalizes internal emotion. But the author, a deaf man, navigates a second level of distance here - starting with the first piece, the poetic "How to Fall for a Deaf Man," which instructs the hearing-abled, "Do not be startled by how/ much eye contact he requires." The same refrain - of translating deaf for the hearing - runs through many of the poems; so does the reality of rejection, as in "Pitch": "...a half-hearted promise to keep in touch/ and a day wasted wondering why I even bother." The book's midsection is a litany of memorialization, with several poems dedicated to the dead: "I wish more than anything to see you wink just one more time" is a line for John "Buzzy" Bautista Conterio. And there is, as there ought to be in every life, rapture: "My fingers tremble against your chest/ Your sighs are a hymn in rhyme," reports "Homily." Joy and fear, passion and humility, reflection and recrimination: Luczak renders many moods.

Featured Excerpt

If you were to ask a fan why they love country singers, their answer would likely be "Because they are so real." Every time I heard a fan say that about me - and I did so often - it made me sick to my stomach. I was hiding a big part of myself from my fans, and I feared that most of them would not understand or approve of who I really was. I have no idea if or how many of my fans will support me in my journey from this point forward, and I have no idea where I might find my audience... I don't know what will happen, but I am at peace with the uncertainty of it all.

-from "Like Me," by Chely Wright

Footnotes

Author and activist Larry Kramer, one of the night's two Pioneer Award recipients, spoke movingly about how much writing means to him, praised editors who have helped shape his prose, and told an audience of more than 300 people at the 22nd Lambda Literary Awards on May 27 that his next novel - which he's been working on since 1978 - has reached about 4,000 manuscript pages. Comedian and activist Kate Clinton, the other Pioneer, was true to her craft, keeping attendees in stitches while recounting a brief history of her career and thanking her queer peers for being a literate lot. As is the tradition at the Lammys - as the awards are known - not many winners were present. Among those who were on hand, Rakesh Satyal - an editor at HarperCollins by day, a sometime cabaret singer by night - sang his thanks for winning the Gay Debut Fiction category, for "Blue Boy," from Kensington Books; Mart Crowley, author of the 1960s play "The Boys in the Band," bounced to the stage to accept the LGBT Drama award for "The Collected Plays of Mart Crowley," from Alyson Books, noting that it was his first award in a long career, and sure to be an inspiration; and Lynn Breedlove, the Transgender winner for "Lynnee Breedlove's One Freak Show," from Manic D Press, tenderly thanked her mother, recovering from a stroke. Another finalist in the Transgender category, Adam Lowe, author of "Troglodyte Rose," claimed the honor of nominee attending from farthest away - he lives in England. For a list of winners in all 23 categories: http://www.lambdaliterary.org.

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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