I finished Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann. Yes, I read this book yesterday (the Kindle edition. I'm still waiting for the print editI finished Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann. Yes, I read this book yesterday (the Kindle edition. I'm still waiting for the print edition to arrive so I can pet the gorgeous cover, but couldn't wait to read it), and it was worth it.
The other novellas that I read during the week were also by Jeff Mann. I re-read some the short stories from his Lambda Award winning collection A History of Barbed Wire, and read his novella "Camp Allegheny" from the anthology History's Passions edited by Richard Labonte which I've had ever since it released back in November 2011. Reading both the novella and re-reading some of the short stories served as a refresher in Mann's style before reading his latest release, Purgatory.
Purgatory: A Novel of the Civil War (Bear Bones Books, 2012) turned out to be terrific blend of historical fiction and BDSM erotic romance. Jeff Mann has studied American Civil War history -- I think he eats it for breakfast, lunch and dinner along with some of that excellent Southern cooking he loves -- and in Purgatory the reader can smell and taste war, as well as the hatred, desperation, hunger, and even the ambivalence that the soldiers in this story experience in camp or on the run as they march toward Purgatory Mountain.
I love that aspect of Mann's writing, just as I absolutely appreciate the fact that he is the one author that can really make me understand why his characters need to be part of the gay BDSM bear sub-culture. He is part of this community, and his own passion and understanding for it comes forth clearly and powerfully through the pages of this novel, as well as to all his previous works. I love the unabashed passion he conveys for both the gay bear sub-culture and for his Southern roots.
But coming back to Purgatory, Mann blends aspects of BDSM seamlessly in this novel. I wondered how he would approach it in a realistic way because of the historical setting and was not disappointed. Instead of forcing the issue, Mann beautifully uses the historical setting as a platform to develop this aspect of the story. He does a terrific job of separating and showing the reader the differences between torture and the passionate, erotic, and loving aspects of BDSM. I was particularly taken with his rendering of the captive's character. Understanding his motivations as the submissive in this story is key and Mann makes certain this is unquestionably clear to the reader. Kudos all around.
Besides the highly recommended Purgatory, and the other stories I mention above, if you're interested in reading and understanding a bit more about Jeff Mann and his writings, I strongly recommend that you also read Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South.
ETA: If you are squeamish, this book is not for you.
He Will Laugh by Douglas Ray begins with the end. After reading that first gripping poem I dare anyone not to keep reading, as it is almost immediatelHe Will Laugh by Douglas Ray begins with the end. After reading that first gripping poem I dare anyone not to keep reading, as it is almost immediately apparent that this little book is more than a poetry collection, it is a contemporary story of love found and lost written in prose.
In the aftermath of his lover Issac's suicide the narrator takes the reader through a journey. From that first meeting to its tragic conclusion, through prose, Ray is relentless in wringing out emotion from the reader. He does so magnificently by conveying grief, the devastation of loss, sensuality, joy, frustration, and finally bittersweet understanding and closure.
This 82 page collection is divided into three sections, Now, Then and Time Unredeemable. Each section is introduced by a poem that sets the tone for that particular section. A hunting, sorrowful poem that in the end also brings closure, "November 8" serves as the perfect introduction to the first section, Now.
Now recounts the present events and the grief and loss that the narrator experiences after his young lover dies. "Salo" is one of the most gripping poems in this section, as the narrator recalls Isaac's appreciation for Pasolini's film Salò and begins by describing the scene at the end of the film and ends the poem by describing Isaac's suicide and the narrator's regrets. However, from "Get that in Writing," to "How We Grieve," and from "Still" to "You say, There's nothing special about 20", [...Call me Hadrian. Antinous, his lover, died at 20, and Hadrian deified him a daemon of arts, like Pan and Bacchus...], the poetry in this first section makes a deep, strong impact on the reader.
Then begins with a poem that says it all with its title, "Find the Precedent in Childhood." This section addresses the past, the joy of that first meeting, the sensuality, passion and yearning of a lover, as well as the frustrations that came with the long term relationship between the narrator and young, troubled Isaac. Some of my favorite poems are found in this section, as our narrator goes from sublime happiness to depths of despair as the relationship's reaches its inevitable conclusion.
In Time Unredeemable the poet ends with one single poem that captures the present, the past and the "what ifs," or all those possibilities that will never be realized, "Chaconne for Neuroses." And yet, at this time, at the end, I returned to the beginning and ended my reading experience with the first poem, "November 8." I kept coming back to that one poem, possibly because I find it to be such a complete piece.
One of the most interesting aspects of Ray's prose in He Will Laugh is that it is both distinctly contemporary and yet it manages to convey the rather timeless flavor found in works by poets throughout the ages. He uses musical and religious allegations, Greek and Roman historical figures, and often cites the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca, while mixing popular figures like John Waters and other cinematographic figures and classic films in his poetry. His prose is lyrical and prosaic, contemporary and classic, quite an arresting combination. Certainly the timeless yearning, joy and grief that comes of love found and lost are well rendered.
The outcome is that I cried and grieved with this lover who lost, felt his immense joy at finding love, as well as his anger and frustration, and yes... fell a little in love with Isaac too. He Will Laugh is a magnificent debut by Douglas Ray and this poetry collection with it's particularly poignant and relevant view of the contemporary gay man's experience is a must read. Highly recommended.
The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce is an American gay gothic historical mystery with a romance. We've all read gothic historicals before, right? PieThe Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce is an American gay gothic historical mystery with a romance. We've all read gothic historicals before, right? Pierce reeled me with great atmosphere, a multi-layered mystery and some excellent characters.
Let's begin with the setting. Our main character Andrew travels from New York City to an unnamed place up the Atlantic Coast to Seacliff, a doom and gloom estate that just reeks with atmosphere and a personality all of its own. As soon as the place is described you just know the place is either full of ghosts or something awful is going to happen.
Then there are the characters. There's the young and naive young hero, the handsome and brooding master of the household, and what I thought was a rather large cast of characters for a gothic. Pierce works them all into the mystery, and either uses them as red herrings to throw off the reader or incorporates them into the story to give it depth. The characterization is excellent and I came away from the book thinking of all these characters as having quite distinct personalities. Well done!
There's Duncan, the unhappy, unconventional master rumored to have killed his father to gain access to the business, and young Timothy, born out of wedlock, is a terror with no manners. Then there are brother and sister Leo and Elena from the neighboring estate who initially seem to be a breath of fresh air, but are they really Duncan's friends or is there something else going on? And then there's the staff who range from the downright creepy to those with tragic histories and/or secrets.
The story is definitely traditional gothic historical mystery. Our young and very naive hero is talented but poor Andrew Wyndham. He dreams of going to Paris to paint but lacks funds, so he secures a temporary three-month position at Seacliff as tutor to Timothy, son to the Duncan Stewart, Master of Seacliff. Seacliff and its inhabitants, however, are about to make those three months tough for young Andrew.
Secrets abound at Seacliff, and as Andrew begins to unravel them danger lurks everywhere, and to top it all off sensual undercurrents and confusing feelings place him in an awkward position. Who is the murderer? Who can he trust? As the bodies begin to pile up, Andrew can't decide and he needs to find out fast or he might be the next victim. Pierce leads the reader all over the place with this story, it's great! I can tell you that I guessed and changed my mind numerous times along the way and was never certain who did it until the very end.
Although the mystery in The Master of Seacliff definitely takes precedence over the romance and you won't find explicit sexual scenes, there is plenty of sexual tension between our central characters -- especially when our yet-to-become sexually aware Andrew becomes a bone of contention between brooding Duncan and sexy Leo. The romance between our two protagonists is developed slowly throughout the story and woven quite well with the mystery. I particularly like that when it comes to the romance Pierce went along with tradition and Andrew, although young, is not easy and in the end holds out for true love.
It has been a while since I read a gothic historical mystery, and frankly I enjoyed The Master of Seacliff. The American setting and the great atmosphere were both a plus for me as was the excellent characterization. And even though in some levels I found this to be a standard gothic historical, the male perspective gave this story a fresh feel, and the multi-layered mystery with its great twists was a joy to read as was the happy ending to the romance....more
Nominated for a Lambda Literary Award, The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) is Jan Steckel's first full-length poetry collection. I found SteckNominated for a Lambda Literary Award, The Horizontal Poet (Zeitgeist Press, 2011) is Jan Steckel's first full-length poetry collection. I found Steckel's poetry to be personal and quite intimate, and the collection as a whole ambitious in its undertaking.
While reading The Horizontal Poet I found that Jan Steckel is passionate about her poetry, but through her poetry it's obvious that there is more. Steckel is a retired doctor suffering from a disability, an activist for bisexual and disability rights, and a writer. Steckel's personal experiences and interests are reflected in her poetry, and she weaves in medicine, social issues and concerns, as well as personal and relationship experiences, all in a rich, sensual, down to earth style.
I loved that this collection is not divided into sections and that her poems are interwoven. Both the intimacy of Steckel's poetry and the format serve to make that all-important connection between the reader and poet. It's almost as if the reader were looking through a window into the poet's life and thoughts as events take place, life evolves, and her memories come to life. For example, you will find a love poem "The History of Our Love" next to one filled with her social concerns, "The Wind and the Boy," or another where she bears her soul about losing a patient, "Swallowing Flies," alongside a poem where she indulges her love of hanging out in strip joints, "The Naked and the Dread."
Steckel's prose throughout this 57 poetry collection is both lyrical and direct as she uses a mixture of both the narrative form of verse and rich poetic metaphors. While you will find that in some of her poems Steckel uses medical terminology in a rather unique way, it is her compassionate and haunting poems depicting experiences during her medical career -- "Swallowing Flies,""Charity and the Hurricane," and "The Underwater Hospital," and others depicting her own personal, physical pain --""Halloween Wedding,""Nightkeeper"-- that impacted me the most.
There are whole poems in this collection that left an impression, and then there are others where only certain lines stayed with me. I read and re-read this book a few times before reviewing it. The bottom line is that Steckel's poetry is distinctive in that it can be read from her perspective as the bisexual poet, the disabled poet, the medical poet, or for its social content. In The Horizontal Poet you get it all, and in the end I found that reading Jan Steckel's poetry from the woman's perspective as a whole, this collection makes an even stronger statement.
I love Chris Owen's writing and own this series. Unfortunately, I "DNF" (did not finish) this book the first time I tried reading it, but I tried agaiI love Chris Owen's writing and own this series. Unfortunately, I "DNF" (did not finish) this book the first time I tried reading it, but I tried again. Frankly, for the most part the book seems rather clinical and flat, lacking real emotion and passion. At least that's the way it read to me. I didn't connect with the characters at all. However, this time I continued to the end. There seems to be a bit more of an emotional connection between the characters on that last third of the book. ...more
There are two mystery/suspense/romance novellas in this book -- one by Lanyon and one by Castillo Price. The suspense/mysteries are well done in bothThere are two mystery/suspense/romance novellas in this book -- one by Lanyon and one by Castillo Price. The suspense/mysteries are well done in both stories. I enjoyed both of them. ...more
I enjoyed this gay romance for its point of view! Al's simplicity of thought and uneducated background expose the truth behind people's cruelties andI enjoyed this gay romance for its point of view! Al's simplicity of thought and uneducated background expose the truth behind people's cruelties and flaws. There's more to him that what's obvious at first glance. There's a great lesson here -- treat people for who they are, not "what" they are or appear to be. I love that Larry truly sees and loves Al. ...more
I was able to finish reading one book while surrounded by stressful family situations, mainly because that book just wouldn't let me go even through aI was able to finish reading one book while surrounded by stressful family situations, mainly because that book just wouldn't let me go even through all my worries and stress. That says something about a book, yes? Of course, this is by no means a perfect book, plot-wise there are a couple of questions that are not answered by the end, but this is a minimal complaint from me compared to what it offered.
That book is Chulito by Charles Rice-González. This author co-edited and included a story in the From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction anthology that I also reviewed. However, Chulito is not a pure fiction read, although the excellent writing and the in-depth exploration of characters and their motivations certainly places it in that category. Chulito takes center stage in this story as he comes to terms with his sexuality and his developing romance with childhood friend Carlos. So there's a coming-out story with a romance between two young adults -- sixteen and seventeen years of age -- with sexual content and mild violence included. How the author goes about telling his story? Well, that's what this is all about.
There are quite a few aspects of the book that grabbed me from the beginning. Rice-González develops the romance and especially Chulito's slow journey toward coming to terms with his sexuality by using the South Bronx as the backdrop for his story, so his characters are for the most part Puerto Rican kids from a Latino neighborhood. First, he really captures the neighborhood's atmosphere -- both the sense of belonging and the claustrophobia felt by the residents of Hunt's Point. Second, his focus and grasp of Latino macho culture is excellent. The author depicts how the extreme macho Latino's attitude manifests itself toward women. However where the author really succeeds is in his main focus which is in showing how the gay sub-culture is viewed and the effects that macho attitude has on gay Latinos.
Rice-González explores this macho culture from the inside out by making Chulito a Latino "thug in the making," one who has to make a decision between being what it's expected of him in front of his "boys," or being true to himself and his very confusing feelings for his childhood friend Carlos. As you can well imagine, this is not an easy decision for Chulito to make, not when he has been brought up to believe that being a "pato" means rejection and possible violence from the very people that mean so much to him.
Carlos represents the smart, educated Latino young man who left the neighborhood to go to college. He's also gay, out, proud and ready to leave the neighborhood, except that he himself is pulled back not only because his mother and Chulito live there, but also because of that sense of belonging. Carlos is an admirable character in this story, not only because he is 'out' in the neighborhood and doesn't care what anyone thinks of him, but because he refuses to compromise his beliefs. Interestingly enough, to a certain degree even Carlos can't help but be attracted to and admire the beauty of Latino men. The macho attitude is a big turn-on for him, Chulito's in particular.
There's a section in the book where Chulito is dreaming and Rice-González conducts an in-depth exploration of the different degrees on the "macho" scale. This is also where the author begins to bring some balance to the equation.
Then they had a quote from the woman who invented the Macho Meter:
"All men have macho in them. Even gay ones, but there are varying degrees, and while most forms of macho are lethal to the progression of the world and society, there are some acceptable levels, very low levels, that can sometimes be useful."
There are female characters included in the story and Rice-González mixes it up by portraying sad, dysfunctional and healthy relationships between men and women to round up this story. There are also examples of different types of males used across the board. From the drug dealer Kamikaze and the would-be macho thugs hanging on the corner, to ex-convicts and the hard working men who populate the neighborhood.
Also key to this story are the gay characters that live in the neighborhood: Julio or La Julia owns the local travel agency and serves as an example and mentor to the younger men. Puti is the sad and lonely local drag queen. Lee from the Chinese restaurant, and one of the best characters in this story, Brick. Brick is a tough ex-drug dealer who got out of the game and whose best friend is Julio. He's flawed with positive and negative sides to his character, but serves as a great example of the Latino uber macho whose masculinity is not threatened by his close friendship with a gay man. Overall there's a wonderful mixture of characters.
Rice-González takes his time developing this story. Chulito's background, feelings, the challenges he faces on a daily basis are all explored in-depth. His life in the neighborhood as a runner for Kamikaze, the local drug dealer and Chulito's mentor. The relationship he has with his "boys" from the neighborhood. The deep love he shares with his mother Carmen and the resentment and indifference he feels for his dead father. Coming to terms with his sexuality is not an easy step or a ride in the park, and his romance with Carlos is riddled with deep disappointments, betrayal, tenderness, passion, yearning (like you wouldn't believe), angst, and deep love.
Ever since I read From Macho to Mariposa I've been looking for other books to read by gay Latino writers and well... I thought this book might be the perfect beginning. It was. Chulito is a great mixture of gay fiction and romance with a focus on the gay Latino experience. I highly enjoyed Charles Rice-González's writing style and his down to earth, no holds barred depiction of characters, culture, sub-culture, circumstances and setting in Chulito. I will keep my eye on this writer, hopefully there will be more books like this one from him in the future.