Book Marks: I Came Out for This?, Krakow Melt, Cockeyed

by Richard Labonte

"I Came Out for This?," by Lisa Gitlin. Bywater Books, 294 pages, $14.95 paper.

Love comes late for Joanna Kane, who denied her sexual self well into her 40s. For a spell, newfound lesbian love is a luscious experience, after Joanna is introduced to Terri Rubin, a visitor to town. And then it vanishes, when Ms. Right returns home - and moves on to other women. Devastated, Joanna does the non-sensible thing - she uproots herself from dowdy Cleveland and relocates to Washington, D.C., where the object of her denied desire lives, and where she knows not a single other soul. Oops. Multiple heartbreaks, moments of hilarity, and a perceptive take on lesbian life ensue. Joanna settles into a gay flophouse with a cast of kooky characters, receives mixed signals from the woman she yearns to love, and gradually forges new friendships - and, potentially, a new romance. Debut novelist Gitlin's breezy story is told through freelance writer Kane's sometimes manic, sometimes maudlin, and sometimes simply wonderful journal entries, a narrative point of view that propels the tale with enchanting wit.

"Krakow Melt," by Daniel Allen Cox. Arsenal Pulp Press, 152 pages, $15.95 paper.

It's quite likely that Cox's second novel, after his stellar hustler-in-New York debut, "Shuck," qualifies as the most original queer story of the year. Take a deep breath: It's about Radek Tomaszewski, a mostly-gay, sometimes-bisexual parkour-loving pyromaniac whose artistry consists of building scale models of the world's major cities - London of 1666, Chicago of 1871, San Francisco of 1906 - before setting them afire at his art openings. Set in Krakow - where the author lived for a while - it's also about Poland's repressive homophobia, marked by the government banning a gay pride march. And it's about a nation gripped by the looming death of Polish-born Pope John Paul II. Even more, it's about Tomaszewski's romance with a young woman, fellow pyromaniac Dorta, who shares his passion for sexual insurrection, Pink Floyd, and setting the world on fire with his art and their rage. Cox's fiery mix of activist anger, sexual heat and transgressive humor is a tonic for a tired reader's eyes. (And for another literary treat, search out the author's outrageous 2006 novella, "Tattoo This Madness In").

"Cockeyed," by Richard Stevenson. MLR Press, 228 pages, $14.99 paper.

There's not much mystery in Stevenson's 11th novel featuring Albany, N.Y., private investigator Don Strachey. But there are a lot of laughs. In something of a departure from a norm of addressing serious issues with dashes of humor - past books have handled forced outing, religious oppression and aversion therapy - this book is about the turmoil that descends on a campy gay household when one man wins a billion-(as in B)-dollar lottery. Hunny Van Horne, a working-class queer who puts the "flame" in flamboyant, has led - along with his partner - a somewhat active, even salacious, sex life. As soon as his winnings are announced, a bevy of former beaus (and boys) threaten blackmail, and so Strachey is hired to modulate their demands. That's pretty much the extent of his sleuthing, however. Stevenson's screwball comedy is mostly about how the world at large - straight-laced gay as much as simply straight - handles Hunny's lurid, over-the-top lifestyle, in a story that scales cheerful height of hyperbole.

"Hollywood Babylon Strikes Again!," by Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince. 282 pages, $25.95 hardcover.

Superman Christopher Reeve had a fling with gay porn star Cal Culver. Kirk Douglas, Humphrey Bogart, Tony Curtis and of course Rock Hudson frequented Hollywood's Finlandia Baths. Walt Disney (Walt Disney!) hired hustlers for $100

blowjobs, but asked them to keep their clothes on. These and hundreds of other snippets of "hot, unauthorized, and unapologetic" titillations pepper the tabloid pages of this second volume of the contemporary "Hollywood Babylon" series - no connection to Kenneth Anger's two dirt-digging tomes of 1965 and 1984. The kink here isn't all queer - pinup queen Bettie Page's "tragic" life is profiled, and Mario Lanza is depicted as "a mess addicted to food, wine, and women." Two of the rowdiest chapters focus on body parts: "Hollywood Bazooms" is a 34-page pictorial showcasing the upfront charms of actresses from Ann-Marget to Raquel Welch; "Hollywood Shortcomings" is about actors, including Fred Astaire, Clark Gable and Liberace, who were reportedly "losers in the battle of the bulge." Veracity? Hardly relevant. Half the fun of this book is its authors' "snap, girlfriend" style.

Featured Excerpt

Karol, a hunk from my building, spent whole summers tempting me, walking around in a cut-off T-shirt that showed off his glorious armpit hair. Those puffs of pheromone candy beckoning me to sniff. We would do it in the dark. He would be sitting with his back against the wall, his long, hairy legs splayed out in front of him. I would be sitting on his knees, slobbering over him, tasting the stinging sweat on his shoulders and hurting my lips on his stubble, jerking him off with one hand and swirling his spaghetti hair with the other. Somewhere in my sexual history, I had conceived the idea of giving my lovers a multimedia experience.

-from "Krakow Melt," by Daniel Allen Cox

Footnotes

As Alyson Books' half-year publishing hiatus continues, a victim of owner Here Media's financial woes, editor Don Weise is said to be trying to buy the business - essentially for its debt of unpaid advances for books under contract, and of unpaid royalties for book sales - and regroup as a standalone venture. "There are some exciting developments with Alyson and Here, and I hope to be able to comment on them within the next couple of weeks," Weise told "Publishers Weekly" in a late-August interview. The lead book on the Spring 2010 list, Paul Russell's novel "The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov" has been withdrawn by the author, and more than a dozen eclectic titles scheduled for this year are in limbo, among them "The Complete Guide to Anal Sex for Men," "Captain Harding's Six-Day War" by Elliott Mackle, "Chaos" by Edmund White, "Chulito" by Charles Rice-Gonzalez, "Crossfire" by Staceyann Chin, "Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back" by Michael Musto, "Gay is Good: The Collected Writings of Frank Kameny," "Gendered Hearts" edited by Morty Diamond, "Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Equality" by Mel White, "The Weaklings" by Dennis Cooper, "Spreadeagle" by Kevin Killian, and "Men Outdoors: Twenty-Five Years of the Male Nude" - edited by the staff of "Men Magazine," which Here Media closed last year. In addition to Alyson's low cash flow, freelancers who write for "Out" and "The Advocate," two other Here properties, have reported months-delayed or nonexistent payments.

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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