Initially, I felt this story of a fourteen-year-old girl name June befriending the lover of her beloved uncle following the latter's death from AIDS i...moreInitially, I felt this story of a fourteen-year-old girl name June befriending the lover of her beloved uncle following the latter's death from AIDS in the late 80s a bit maudlin. By the end though, I was fighting back the tears and completely wrapped up in this tale of friendship, love, and forgiveness. The setting of New York City and Westchester County in 1987 provides an important backdrop for the history of homophobia in both June's family and the nation as the then unknown disease was pushing people toward hatred and intolerance. June's mother is struggling with her brother's success pursuing a life she always wanted to live, and her older sister is faltering under the weight of the extreme expectations places upon her. June meanwhile is left to soldier on alone when the uncle she shared a personal, private, and special relationship with passes away of the deadly and terrifying disease. The relationship that then secretly buds between June and the partner her uncle left behind is at times both touching and uncomfortable, but the final destination shows the power of acceptance to transcend all else.(less)
This was the selection for the first ever Family Week parents' book club. (Family Week is a celebration of gay families in Provincetown, MA, sponsored...moreThis was the selection for the first ever Family Week parents' book club. (Family Week is a celebration of gay families in Provincetown, MA, sponsored by the Family Equality Council.) There is something for everyone in this book, as Bucatinsky's wit makes for an entertaining read whether you're gay or straight and whether you have children or not.
The book club event I attended was a gathering of about a dozen mostly gay parents. (There were also a few childless interns there, as well as a straight woman!) We were in agreement that the book is a terrific parenting manual, and it displays the universality of the experience of raising children. What's even better here though is that Bucatinsky adds the gay perspective to show that additional layer of challenge in our particular families. At one point, he writes, "I have no real interest in being a political activist. It's a lot of work and sounds like that could cut into my TV time. That being said, my life is political by its very nature, and I have to be ready to families that aren't out marching on the front lines of the gay rights movement are by their very existence in public making a political statement. While his book is inherently comedic, there are moments like this that really speak to the truths of what it's like to be a parent, what it's like to be a gay man, what it's like to be a spouse, and more. He even points out a particularly poignant moment that my husband and I (both adoptive parents) remember vividly: "the happiest moment in one couple's lives is quite possibly the saddest in that mother's [life]".
The honesty and insight Bucatinsky offers here are well wroth the quick read!(less)
I picked this up in my ongoing quest to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction and drama, and I finished it just over an hour. This is a br...more
I picked this up in my ongoing quest to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction and drama, and I finished it just over an hour. This is a brilliant piece of postmodern drama that chronicles the life of famed German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. I hadn’t heard of von Mahlsdorf prior to reading this play, but I was in high school when she came to fame after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Wright has created an important piece detailing an fascinating component of often unheard of gay history.
Wright’s introduction to the play is rather imperative if you haven’t seen it performed (and I haven’t). The script for this one-man show is written as a typical multi-person cast show with lots of dialogue and multiple characters have lengthy conversations with one another. The introduction details the extensive process WRIGHT underwent to craft the piece, including extensive interviews with von Mahlsdorf herself in Germany over several years. He says that as his relationship with her became deeper and a true friendship blossomed he had a hard time deciding how to convey an accurate—yet dramatic—version of her figure without offending his new friend. As the script took shape thanks to help from actor Jefferson Mays and playwright/director Moisés Kaufman, the latter having previously taken the interview-transcript-as-theater to a new level with The Laramie Project. The result is what appears to be an amazing piece of theater and important historical artifact. I was so intrigued by how one actor could possible pull off this script that I found myself looking up clips on You Tube; what little exists from the professional productions over the past ten years suggests that this must have been a really captivating night at the theater!
Wright openly admits his bias in providing this biography of von Mahlsdorf; he details in the play a letter he wrote to her after their initial meeting in which he told her, “I grew up gay in the Bible Belt; I can only imagine what it must have been like during the Third Reich” (19). His introduction details how he suggests that her story extended his “casual interest in gay history” and that “her quiet heroism—maintaining an unwavering sense of herself during such repressive times—could be a boon to gay men and women everywhere” (xi). Wright even incorporates himself as an integral character in the play; his interviews with von Mahlsdorf provide the structure of the piece, and near the end of the play in bit of meta-theatricality his character tells a friend, “I’m curating her now, and I don’t have the faintest idea what to edit and what to preserve” (76). The irony here is that in reality he has already created the exhibition, and it’s beautiful. In the final pages when Wright’s character describes a photograph—one that opens the print version of the book—of von Mahlsdorf as a young boy at the zoo with two lion cubs, I was moved by the emotional impact of the entire story in my own history as a gay man. This is the type of story that is important to reshape our collective consciousness around gender identity and sexuality, since as Wright points out in the introduction, we live in “an age where politicians still routinely decry homosexuality on the evening news and ‘fag’ remains the most stinging of all playground epithets” (xi). And I’m certain this is why the play won the Pulitzer Prize. With luck though, the importance of work like this that herald the unsung components of a marginalized people will fade as we diversify our social awareness. (less)
I'm a big fan of Dan Savage's straight (but gay) talk on subjects across the spectrum of the political field, even when I don't agree with him 100%. T...moreI'm a big fan of Dan Savage's straight (but gay) talk on subjects across the spectrum of the political field, even when I don't agree with him 100%. This latest collection of his musings on everything from monogamy to parenting to to gun control to Rick Santorum follows his other writings, including his syndicated sex advice column, by combining his pragmatic logic with his humorous wit.
Early on the book, he tackles monogamy, something Savage has written about in his column extensively, and while I agree with his assertion that "we should place a higher value on marital stability than we place on marital monogamy" (31), as a man coming up on ten years married to my partner, I had a hard time agreeing with every argument he throws out. (However, perhaps my feelings are wrapped up in the heteronormative Puritanical culture in which I was raised. That's the argument I imagine Dan Savage making if I ever discussed the topic with him personally at least.)
Much of the rest of the book involved him making arguments for causes I already believe in, which is precisely the way I like my political reading. He suggests "arguing that gay people shouldn't complain about discrimination because we can 'choose to be straight' is like arguing that Jewish people shouldn't complain about anti-Semitism because they can 'choose to be baptized'" (69). My favorite analogy he makes though comes in regard to parenting: "Having a child is like having a heroin problem. When you're high, man, you've never been so high. When you're high, maaaaaan, all you want is more children. But when you're low, fuck, you have never been so low. When you're low, fuuuuuuuck, you regret ever picking that first needle up" (87). While the comparison is somewhat flawed in that heroin is inherently bad for your body and brain in a way that parenting never will be, the feelings and thoughts associated with his ideas are spot on (at least as far as I've experienced them in being home all summer with a five and six year old). Another of my favorite points is his response to the heterosexual idea that gays are okay so long as they keep it in the bedroom. To that passively anti-gay sentiment, Savage says, "Straight people flaunt their sexualities in a million ways, large and small--kissing in ballparks, public marriage proposals, holding hands in grocery stores, bachelor and bachelorette parties, ruinously expensive weddings, baby showers, birth announcements, etc." (123).
He's also quite knowledgeable about the intricacies of his subjects. He clearly outlines that "sexual orientation is one thing; sexual identity--real, perceived, or asserted--is another" (153), and he provides several obvious examples to illustrate his point.
Savage is probably best known for his muck-raking ways when it comes to the political right. He says upfront that he is "sick and tired of hearing such goddamn demeaning, degrading bullshit about me and my friends" (167) and astutely marks the ways in which the media often do not hold conservatives to the same degree of fact when it comes to issues of sexuality. For example, he focuses in on Elizabeth Santorum's suggestion that she has many gay friends who would vote for her father Rick, and Savage rightly declares to the press, "Your interview subject has made an astonishing claim, a claim that must be verified before you publish it. Your response should be a demand for the names and phone numbers of these 'gay friends.' You can offer to quote them anonymously to protect their privacy and to shield them from the social consequences of their stupidity" (198).
While I'm certainly an audience that agrees with almost everything Savage has to say, hearing my minority voice echoed by someone with the power of a major publisher behind him certainly helps with the day to day tribulations of living the life he so nicely details.(less)
This is one of those adult-oriented graphic novels that explores some pretty mature themes, particularly the way our parents totally screw us up. Bech...moreThis is one of those adult-oriented graphic novels that explores some pretty mature themes, particularly the way our parents totally screw us up. Bechdel creates a complex book, weaving together abstract dream sequences, difficult childhood flashbacks, and explorations of problematic adult interactions--all the while quoting behavioral and development theorists and coupling them with Virginia Woolf. It's not necessarily an easy read, and at times I wondered whether I liked the book purely because it made me feel smarter for figuring it all out instead of just being annoyed with what could be interpreted as a self-indulgent exploration of Bechdel's own eccentricities. I'm pretty sure on reflection that the latter is too simple a critique though, and while I definitely feel quite brilliant for having enjoyed this book while reading it, there is a lot here about the ways in which we are conditioned to love--and not all of them are positive.(less)
I describe Last Night in Twisted River as Irving's "greatest hits" (in a very disappointing way), and I'm not quite sure why In One Person doesn't feel the same way. It's set in Vermont in the mid-twentieth century at all-boys boarding school, there's an absentee father, the protagonist takes a foray into Europe, and wrestling plays a large role. Even still, there is something fresh here, and it's probably due in large part to the exploration of sexuality here. Irving is obviously no stranger to such an exploration, and there's plenty of sexual content here, but with a protagonist who is staunchly bisexual, one who enjoys relations with both men and women, including transsexual men, Irving provides a new perspective on his pseudo-memoir style.
As a gay man myself, I found much of the protagonist's struggle entirely true. From the hindsight of old age, Billy comments that "it's all too common for gay men of [his] generation to say how much easier it is to 'come out' as a teenager"; however, he quickly follows this with the assertion that, "at that age, it's never easy" (117). Even Irving's depiction of Billy's "crushes on the wrong people" (29), including a strapping Stradlater-type, so reminded me of my own struggles that I was amused to see this point of view. (Speaking of Stradlater, there's lots to pair with The Catcher in the Rye here, almost an alternate universe where Holden is allowed the opportunity to explore his attractions to other boys and women's clothing).
The early portions of the novel obviously focus on Billy's maturation in adolescents, a process that is paralleled with his exploration of great literature, spanning from Ibsen to Shakespeare, Bronte to Baldwin. Works like Madame Bovary are featured prominently here, both as a literal part of the story and as major symbolism for the events and characters that propel the story forward. As an English teacher, this furthered my affection for the book. I relished reading these early chapters and was reminded of why I liked Irving's books so much fifteen years ago, just a few years after coming out myself.
The middle portions of the book were interesting from a historic perspective as Billy watches many of his closest friends succumb to the AIDS virus of the 1980s. The voices offered to the early victims of that terrible disease here are poignant and moving.
Later in the novel though, the plot veers a bit off course, especially when Billy takes a rather anti-climatic, and even unnecessary, trip to Europe as an older man. Billy's final place in the world, a sort of return home, establishes a great equilibrium for the story, but the last chapter is sort off-kilter and the ending rather abrupt. At more than 400 pages, this is a fairly weighty text, but the story would have fared better with an Owen Meany-length treatment. Had Irving provided me with a few hundred more pages, I might have been moved to subway-riding tears.(less)
This book doesn't sound very appealing in summary: a young and homeless sex offender, referred to only as "the Kid," is befriended by an obese profess...moreThis book doesn't sound very appealing in summary: a young and homeless sex offender, referred to only as "the Kid," is befriended by an obese professor with possible suspicious predilections of his own. However, what unfolds is a story that kept me completely engaged and rooting for the most unlikely of candidates.
Banks poses some important questions, and he excruciatingly refuses to answer them. The Professor (the major players here are unnamed) "believes that one's sexual identity is shaped by one's self-perceived social identity, that pedophilia, rightly understood is about not sex, but power. More precisely, it's about one's personal perception of one's power" (159). He attempts to socialize the Kid is predicated on the theory that "society commodifies its children by making them into a consumer group, dehumanizing them by converting them into a crucial, locked-in segment of the economy, and then proceeds to eroticize its products in order to sell them, [causing] the children [to] gradually come to be perceived by the rest of the community and by the children themselves as sexual objects. And on the ladder of power, where power is construed sexually instead of economically, the children end up at the bottom rung" (161). That may all sound like a mouthful, but within the narrative, it's easily digested; the theory is often paired with plot-driven elements like the intriguing history of the Kid's upbringing, a background that seems to have inevitably led him to his current plight as an ostracized pariah where his punishment far outweighs his crime.
While I flew through the book, upon reflection parts of it proved uneven. The theories about the culpability of our own society in cultivating sexual deviants is derailed somewhat by the fairly innocuous crime the Kid is revealed to have committed, and the fate of a key character lies in the realm of implausibility merely because, as one character puts it, "If you don't believe anything is true simply because you can't logically prove what's true, you won't do anything. You won't be anything" (398).
From a literary perspective, there is a lot to absorb here. There are a few dream-like sequences, including one that compares the Kid to the doomed indigenous people of Florida, where the novel is set, and there is some significant symbolism in the animals with which the Kid surrounds himself and the weather that drives various characters to and from the brink of disaster.
I enjoyed reading this book, but I think what I'll enjoy most about it is discussing it with others who have read it.(less)
The three central figures of Carol Anshaw's Carry the One are a set of three siblings, two sisters and one brother, attempting to function through a s...moreThe three central figures of Carol Anshaw's Carry the One are a set of three siblings, two sisters and one brother, attempting to function through a systematic dysfunction that began long before tragedy strikes at the eldest sister's impromptu wedding. Very early in the book, the three are enmeshed in a car accident that leads to the death of a young girl, and the frail holds each has on life begin to loosen.
The book is a collection of snapshots that span the decades following the accident, chronological glimpses into the futures of these characters that occasional link back to the weak foundation of their childhood with an abusive and controlling father and an ineffective and submissive mother. At times, it's hard to tell which has been the more lasting impact on their adults lives: the troubled childhood or the car accident. Carmen, the oldest sister, wonders early on if marriage is merely "a groove already worn for you. You had a place now. The music had stopped and you'd gotten a chair" (10). This constant questioning of life's tenets plagues each character in various ways: Alice, the younger sister, struggles with failed sexual relationships, and Nick, the brother, is marked by their father as a failure long before he becomes an adult addict.
Anshaw captures so much of life accurately here, life that is thrown into a sharp focus by the tragedy that opens the story and propels it forward, yet her prose is at times imprecise and even misleading. Still I found myself moved to tears at various moments as the characters' experiences echoed my own, like the girls' attempts to love and care for their brother, struggling with terrible thoughts like the idea that each time they went to his apartment, "they thought it would be the time they'd find him dead" (217).
I don't want to make this book sound like it was painful to endure. The valleys here are deep, but Anshaw does lift the reader up throughout so that the novel doesn't send you into a downward spiral (in the way a book like Angela's Ashes does). It's a fine read, and definitely something that sparks some interesting contemplation about how frail our life trajectories really are.(less)
I had such high expectations for this National Book Award-winner. The concept sounded exciting: a young African-Americna girl named Esch, barely a tee...moreI had such high expectations for this National Book Award-winner. The concept sounded exciting: a young African-Americna girl named Esch, barely a teenager, living with her widowed father and three brothers in the poverty-stricken coastal area of Mississippi discovers she's pregnant a few days before Hurricane Katrina strikes. The looming hurricane provides for some nice dramatic irony as the characters are sure this is just another storm like all the others they've lived through, but there's not a whole lot to propel the story forward otherwise. The story symbolically revolves around the gleaming white pit bull on the novel's cover. She's a new mother named China who is thrown back into the dogfighting ring while still nursing her struggling pups. A stand in for Esch's mother, the dog begins as a quiet metaphor for everything this family wishes it had and ends as a heavy-handed clunker, especially due to Ward's constant references to her gleaming white coat (my Kindle found a hundred matches for the word, nearly one on every other page).
There are some great passages here in spite of the tedium that pervades most of the narrative, and since what I've read about Ward and her craft intrigues me, I'll probably pick up another of her books at some point. I'll probably just need to wait a while to get the taste of China's "white, so white" fur out of my mouth (171).(less)
I first encountered Henry James a few months ago when reading Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw in preparation for teaching them to my high schoo...moreI first encountered Henry James a few months ago when reading Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw in preparation for teaching them to my high school sophomores. I loved both, and when a friend mentioned that Colm Toibin had written a novel featuring James as its protagonist, I knew I had to read it. What little I've read about James biographical information is fascinating: his early introduction to the expatriate life, his contradictory American-European identity, his struggles with his sexuality. Through his quietly brilliant narrative, Toibin explores the possible lifestyle of this "master" of a novelist.
While elements of the book are reminiscent of Michael Cunningham's own masterpiece The Hours, the structure of The Master is actually less intricate than Cunningham's postmodern fragmentation of Virginia Woolf's life and the women she inspires throughout the last century. That's not to say that The Master is any less complicated in its structure, focusing on James's later years living in the quiet British town of Rye beyond the reaches of metropolitan London while peppering the story with flashbacks throughout to ruminate on the protagonist's inspiration and characterization. The style itself contributes to the complexities of the text, Toibin admitting himself in the acknowledgements that close the book that he has "peppered the text with phrases and sentences from the writing of Henry James and his family."
And that style is what whispers its way into your heart. While there isn't much to propel the plot forward here other than a careful character development, the silent suffering that is evidenced in the subtle narratives depicting imagined elements of James's life. This comes out most poignantly in a scene after the suicide of a friend and fellow writer Constance Fenimore Woolson. Toibin imagines James disposing of Woolson's clothing in a particular spot in the Venetian Lagoon where she would escape the city. James and a fellow mourner watch as at first each dress sinks, only to float "to the surface again like black balloons, evidence of the strange sea burial they had just enacted, their arms and bellies bloated with water." The scenario is a result of Woolson's grieving family leaving James with the responsibility of disposing of her worldly possessions, something he must do virtually alone. This solitary existence and the way in which he is forced to face his loss with the return of the clothing to the surface of the water becomes a metaphor for James's very life. His companions are fleeting, many speaking with a raised brow about his bachelorhood, utilizing innuendo and euphemism to make him feel all the less comfortable with himself. This reflected in the few potential relationships he encounters in the narrative, one unspoken evening of physical passion with a Civil War hero in America and another prolonged yet unconsummated relationship with the sculptor Hendrik Andersen.
Toibin himself is openly gay, so it makes sense that he would focus on this historic figure and imagine the ways in which his struggles would influence his work. The end result is certainly touching and sad, but well worth the read.(less)
This came highly recommended from a few friends, and I tried to look beyond the atrocious cover artwork that suggested it was a pathetic self-publishe...moreThis came highly recommended from a few friends, and I tried to look beyond the atrocious cover artwork that suggested it was a pathetic self-published e-book and have an open mind. I had heard as well that a willing suspension of all disbelief is required to truly enjoy the book, as the protagonist literally throws her life away to transport a ten-year-old boy she hardly knows across state lines when he runs away from home. These trappings are typically the type of thing that makes me roll my eyes through a book, but there certainly is a lot of heart to this novel.
The book doesn't do much to hide the author's agenda here. Lucy, a twenty-six year old daughter of Russian immigrants who takes a job as in the children's section of the public library in Hannibal, Missouri, is struggling to find her place in the world. She took the job on a whim, partly to escape her pseudo-mafia father, and she quickly becomes far too focused on a ten-year-old boy named Ian who she discovers is likely being sent to a religious conversion camp for potentially gay children where they are conditioned to heterosexuality. Lucy is aghast, as Makkai expects the reader to be, and when Ian runs away, she takes the opportunity to run away with him.
The plot devices here are a bit clunky and overly convenient. After leaving town with only the clothes on her back, Lucy has conveniently left her passport at her parents house in Chicago. (view spoiler)[Also, Lucy had a gay friend in high school who committed suicide (hide spoiler)] and she feels somewhat guilty over the incident. Her snippets of the backstory that are peppered throughout the book though hold true to the difficulties good kids face when encountering homophobia and other bullying in schools though: she writes at one point that the (view spoiler)[death "had been my fault, as much as anybody's, and there were things I could have said, and when Brian Willis made a joke in Calculus about how Darren was late because somebody dropped their soap in the locker room shower, I could have stood up and punched him in his swollen, freckled face." (hide spoiler)] While wholly true and realistic, all of this is never sufficiently developed to provide the basis for her cross-country road trip and kidnapping. Similarly we never really discover why exactly Ian runs away; it's hard to believe that a ten-year-old who clearly doesn't understand his own sexual identity yet is escaping a camp where they teach the Bible and how much God wants the boys to act like manly men. There are hints of some psychological abuse, but again, is a ten-year-old really capable of breaking the cycle of such subtle oppression?
Aside from the various elements of absurdity, the basis here is a great idea and I wonder if a more gifted writer would have created something truly special. As it is, I didn't hate the read, but I do worry that it is for sexuality what some view To Kill a Mockingbird is for race. Some argue that the problem with Harper Lee's masterpiece is that contemporary white readers identify wholly with Atticus when the reality is that in the circumstances very few people would have the strength and fortitude to do what he does. Then with so many self-identified Atticus Finches running around, we all start to think race is no longer a problem. I worry that people read books like this and identify with Lucy while never realizing how flawed she is. Without addressing those flaws within ourselves and standing up to the Brian Willises in the world well in advance of needing to kidnap a child to protect his sexual identity, not a whole lot will change.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
This is my first Louise Erdrich book, and I was definitely expecting more. I've only ever seen interviews with the author and loved her insight and pe...moreThis is my first Louise Erdrich book, and I was definitely expecting more. I've only ever seen interviews with the author and loved her insight and perspective (especially as part of Bill Gates's Faces of American on PBS), so I was eager to enjoy her fiction. The Plague of Doves, however, should perhaps have been titled The Plague of Random Narratives. The story unfolds through a series of characters' perspectives, all centered on the town of Pluto, North Dakota, and loosely orbiting the unsolved mystery of a family's brutal murder in the early twentieth century. The central conflict however is so peripheral that when Erdrich returns to it at various points of the novel, I often had forgotten the pieces of the puzzles she had already given me. The disjointed narration too never fully comes together in a meaningful way, especially in the final chapter which didactically makes the connections that were missing in the early portions of the book. I respect the themes of lost history and struggles for identity that are present in the novel, especially in relation to the author's Native American perspective, but in the end the piece just doesn't work as a novel.(less)
I've loved Portia de Rossi for many years now; as an openly gay actor on some of my favorite television shows (especially Arrested Development) who we...moreI've loved Portia de Rossi for many years now; as an openly gay actor on some of my favorite television shows (especially Arrested Development) who went on to wed one of my other favorite lesbians, she could do no wrong. I've always thought she was incredibly gorgeous too, so this memoir's focus on her eating disorder was truly shocking. I had no idea that her anorexia was so prominent, especially because according to this book, her weight varied drastically exactly during the time that I watched her every week on television. In this heartbreaking memoir, de Rossi conveys the psyche of a young actress with a severe eating disorder, an issue only complicated by her fear and shame over her hidden sexuality. She details with difficult precision the thoughts and feelings that led her to virtually starve herself on a diet of 300 calories a day, regularly binge and purge, exercise almost every waking hour of the day, and eventually drop to a mind-numbing 83 pounds. She narrates from the perspective of the moment, characterizing the debilitating elation of her lowest weights and the omnipotent and degrading voices in her mind steering her down the path that nearly led to her death. Reading this book made my heart ache for her and only solidified my hope that she has found true happiness in her new life.(less)
Oh man this one was good too! In this book, Dan Savage devotes a lot more time to research on his subject than he did in The Kid, which was more more...moreOh man this one was good too! In this book, Dan Savage devotes a lot more time to research on his subject than he did in The Kid, which was more more a personal narrative than this one. This one is still a memoir, telling the tale of the gay marriage issue in his relationship, but I loved how he actually brings in lots of quotes and references to other sources. Most of it is still ridiculously funny, but I found myself crying a lot reading this book! It's a great read!(less)
Oh my god this book was so good! :) For obvious reasons, I found this book totally endearing...mostly because it's EXACTLY my life story with Todd and...moreOh my god this book was so good! :) For obvious reasons, I found this book totally endearing...mostly because it's EXACTLY my life story with Todd and our adoption of Cassie. If anyone wants to know what our process was like, read this book! Not only is it totally true to life, it's a really terrific, funny, and touching read! Can you tell I loved it?!?! :)(less)