To those who might not be familiar with Cape Breton Island, here is a brief orientation via Wikipedia:
Cape Breton Island is part of the province of Nova Scotia, Canada. The 10,311 km2 (3,981 sq mi) island accounts for 18.7% of the total area of Nova Scotia. Although physically separated from the Nova Scotia peninsula by the Strait of Canso, it is artificially connected to mainland Nova Scotia by the 1,385 m (4,544 ft) long rock-fill Canso Causeway. The island is located east-northeast of the mainland with its northern and western coasts fronting on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence; its western coast also forming the eastern limits of the Northumberland Strait. The eastern and southern coasts front the Atlantic Ocean; its eastern coast also forming the western limits of the Cabot Strait. Its landmass slopes upward from south to north, culminating in the highlands of its northern cape. One of the world’s larger salt water lakes, Bras d’Or (“Arm of Gold” in French), dominates the centre of the island.
To Everything Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story, by Alistair MacLeod [McClelland & Stewart, 2012] harkens back to the 1940s, but like most rural communities, including the Ontario one in which I grew up, its roots go back to a much earlier time. Indeed, in Cape Breton, its roots go back to a time when:
“…the English set out to destroy the clans of Scotland, [and] the most independent of the Highlanders left their homes with the pipes playing laments on the decks of their ships. They crossed the ocean and the pipes played again when they waded ashore on the rocky coast of Cape Breton Island.”– Hugh Mclennan
In the 1940s, rural communities were predominantly ‘closed’ communities with a proud, self-sufficient way of life, i.e.
“Most of the families, if they did not live in the town or work in the mines, would have a small farm where cows and sheep and pigs and hens and a small garden provided a living. Things would be easier with the help of the wages of a husband or son who worked on the fishing boats or in the woods or, like young Neil in the story, on “the lake boats” in Ontario.”
There were few indulgences, therefore, except for Hallowe’en and Christmas, and MacLeod—in his flawless and evocative style—has captured this anticipation in the voice of an eleven-year-old boy.
“We have been waiting now, it seems, forever. Actually, it has been most intense since Hallowe’en when the first snow fell upon us as we moved like muffled mummers upon darkened country roads.”
Indeed, this entire story is a collection of evocative memories, seemingly random at times, but always moving the story forward at the same time.
“The ocean is flat and calm and along the coast, in the scooped-out coves, has turned to an icy slush. The brook that flows past our house is almost totally frozen and there is only a small channel of rushing water that flows openly at its very centre. When we let the cattle out to drink, we chop holes with the axe at the brook’s edge so that they can drink without venturing onto the ice.
“The sheep move in and out of their lean-to shelter, restlessly stamping their feet or huddling together in tightly packed groups. A conspiracy of wool against the cold. The hens perch high on their roosts with their feathers fluffed out about them, hardly feeling it worthwhile to descend to the floor for their few scant kernels of grain. The pig, who has little time before his butchering, squeals his displeasure to the cold and with his snout tosses his wooden trough high in the icy air. The splendid young horse paws the planking of his stall and gnaws the wooden cribwork of his manger.”
For those of us who grew up on a family farm one can almost hear, feel and smell these scenes, and for those who didn’t it is a wonderful glimpse of a simpler time, when Christmas meant more than frantic trips to Walmart.
And if this isn’t enough, it is generously illustrated with the marvellous sketches of Peter Rankin—of the same Rankin clan as the world-renowned “Rankin Family” musicians.
This is a short story (only 47 pages long) that you will want to make part of your Christmas tradition. Five bees....more
Like millions of others around the world, I have always been—well, for seventy-five years, anyway—a fan of the Arthurian legend and the outrageously fictional Camelot. Moreover, I suppose I could say that during that time I have been brainwashed into believing that the ‘bastard son,’ Mordred, was the worm in the apple. Imagine the audacity of Douglas Clegg, therefore, to challenge that idea with his revisionist novel Mordred, Bastard Son [Aylson Books, 2007].
However, that’s the fun of writing a story about a story; there’s always the other side, and after 600 years I suppose Mordred was due for some favourable press.
Judging from the reviews, it seems that a lot of other people had the same difficulty adjusting to this radical idea as well. It is a story that you either like or not, but having said that: I liked it. In my opinion it is a tour-de-force of fantasy, and although I had difficulty grasping the story at first, once I got into it I was hooked.
The difficulty, I think, is with the myriad of gods and goddesses, plus Celtic festivals, i.e. Beltane and Samhain (pronounced “sah-vwin,” by the way) that must be introduced in the first chapter, and this is quite a mouthful to digest all at once. Also the transition between the third-person opening, and the first person flashback was a bit awkward. However, as I have already said, once I got passed this the rest of the story ultimately made up for it.
There are some quite interesting innovations, too. For example, the idea that Arthur raped his half sister, Morgan-of-the-Fay, runs amok with the Arthurian legend built upon his infallible character. Likewise, the idea that Arthur ‘stole’ the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake doesn’t exactly show his good side. Nevertheless, Mordred is divided in his feelings (at least in this first book of the series) toward his father—hate, on one hand, and an odd sort of affinity on the other.
Morgan le Fay remains Morgana, darkly beautiful with sinister edges, although she is unusually cast as a victim in this story. The ‘heavy’ on the distaff side is her sister Morgause, who turns into something of a ‘Malificent’ [Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”] in the latter part of the story. In fact these two, plus Viviane (the “crone”) makes the society within which Mordred is raised a sort of matriarchracy.
On the other hand there is Merlin who, as in all of his other reincarnations, is timeless. He is also omniscient, and having apparently given up on Arthur, has taken Mordred under his wing as a student of the “magick.” This sort of thing opens the doors wide to a flight of fancy, and Clegg takes full advantage of it; a real virtuoso rendering of imagination if ever there was one. Principally however, Merlin teaches Mordred the art of “ravelling” and “unravelling” (the mentally sharing of memories, feelings, etc., with another, and, of course, retrieving memories in the same manner). Also, “vesseling,” i.e. mental telepathy–sort of the cell phone of Arthurian times.
Another departure from traditional Arthurian legend is found in Clegg’s depiction of Lancelot as a hermit, and also gay—or at least bisexual. In one version of Arthur, however, Lancelot is deceived by the Fisher King’s daughter into thinking that she is Guinevere, and the resulting liaison results in another bastard, i.e. Galahad. Hearing of this, Guinevere banishes Lancelot, and he is said to have lost his wits and wandered in the wilderness. So, perhaps the hermit characterization is not so removed from the original.
Apart from these innovations, one of the most refreshing departures from the usual GLBT story for me is that, while it is a sexy enough, there is not one really explicit sex scene throughout. It is therefore a love story between men that relies on sentiment and plot to make it happen. Bravo! Five stars. ...more
In Strings Attached [AmazonEncore, 2010] Nick Nolan weaves a complex tale from the prologue on. Seventeen-year-old Jeremy Tyler moves from a cramped aIn Strings Attached [AmazonEncore, 2010] Nick Nolan weaves a complex tale from the prologue on. Seventeen-year-old Jeremy Tyler moves from a cramped and grubby hovel in Fresno, California, to the opulent—with a capital “O”—setting of Balena Beach. Although he descends from a wealthy family, he has never known wealth, himself; however, he is blessed with exceptional good looks and an innate talent for swimming.
Suddenly immersed in privilege, including a “Mr. Belvedere”-type butler to smooth the way, Jeremy quickly adapts to his new social strata; and even develops a fondness for it. However—and this is where the “strings” come in—nothing is without a cost. As a result, he soon discovers this truism when his demanding aunt Katherine begins to dictate nearly every aspect of his life, from his ‘respectable’ shoes to a preppy hairstyle. Feeling like a puppet, therefore, he accepts this as the price to fit in, and even takes it one step further by dating one of most popular girls in the high school; this, in order to counter his growing attraction to boys—especially hunky Coby Carson. Coincidentally, he also forms a friendship with a very ‘out’ homosexual by the name of Carlo.
Another element is added at this point when he receives an unexpected telephone call from his institutionalized mother, who intimates that the death of his father may not have been an accident.
Up to this point we have learned very little about his so-called “uncle,” Bill Mortson; who, as we discover, is as shadowy as he has remained thus far. With his ‘fleshing-out’ a new and somewhat sinister twist is introduced, and becomes a sub-plot while Jeremy sorts out his sexual identity. There are other shadowy elements as well. One of these involves the twin stars Castor and Pollux, and a star known as the “Father Star;” with an obvious connection to Jeremy’s situation.
Everything is resolved in the end, which contains some unexpected surprises as the complete story is finally revealed.
Strings Attached is an admirable start for a first-time novelist—as Nick Nolan was at the time. The writing style—that is the journalism—is top-notch, the pace is brisk, and it reads effortlessly. The characters are all interesting, well-developed for the most part, and remain relatively consistent throughout. Moreover, the highest compliment I can give it is that it has made me curious to read his second novel, i.e. Double Bound.
Having said that, however, I had some trouble connecting with all the characters at the start—including Jeremy, and it wasn’t until Chapter twenty-one that the younger ones really came together as real. In fact, the weekend episode at the mountain retreat was my favourite read of any of the chapters. The action and interaction between the four characters, while complex, was both human and entirely believable.
Overall, it is one of the better coming-out stories I have read, and it is highly recommended for anyone facing that situation; young or old. It is also recommended as a darned good read.
This is the first Lee Rowan work I have read, but after reading Ransom [Bristlecone Pine Press, 2009] it won’t be my last.
Indeed, it takes only a paraThis is the first Lee Rowan work I have read, but after reading Ransom [Bristlecone Pine Press, 2009] it won’t be my last.
Indeed, it takes only a paragraph or two is get the impression that this author is very much in control; both of the story and of the reader’s interest. That’s a good thing, too, because most of the tale involves some fairly complex and prolonged suspense that could very well become unravelled if it were not for Ms Rowan’s masterful writing skill.
The same is true regarding David’s and Michael’s developing romance, which evolves from devoted friends to lovers throughout the first two-thirds of the novel. Consequently, without the strong, guiding hand of the author this gradual pace might have become frustratingly lethargic. Coquettish. As it is, however, apart from a few too many apologies between them, the pace seems quite credible for two navy lads of the eighteenth-century.
The balance of characters is nicely thought-out, as well. Captain Smith, being the most senior in rank, age and experience, represents a “stiff upper lip” example for the two younger lads to emulate, and the somewhat psychotic, pirate captain is the antithesis of Smith and the morality of the day. He is also ‘deliciously’ sinister, and a nice foil for the other characters.
Put all this against a background of intrigue and mystery that is exacerbated by the mounting sexual sadism of the pirate captain, the unfolding escape plans by Davy and Michael, as well as Captain Smith, and the brilliant sleuthing on the part of Lieutenant Drinkwater, and it makes for a page-turner for certain.
Having said all that I felt the story should have ended two chapters earlier than it did. I found the final two chapters anticlimactic, and almost an afterthought to include some graphic sex for the one-handed readers.
I am happy to say, however, that this is only a minor quibble—perhaps not even shared with readers of homoerotic fiction—and otherwise it is an outstanding example of 18th-century, naval historical fiction. Four and one-half stars.
Every once in a while I get a yen to read a gothic tale—something like the compulsion for a decaGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
Every once in a while I get a yen to read a gothic tale—something like the compulsion for a decadent dessert—so when I came across one in the gay genre I just had to order a serving.
The Master of Seacliff by Max Pierce [Lethe Press, 2012] is a gothic novel written in the classical style, with a quintessential brooding mansion atop a seaside cliff; a cast of eccentric servants; a young innocent (male); and a darkly-handsome master with a slightly sinister reputation.
Young Andrew Wyndham, driven by his ambition to study art in Paris, takes a position as tutor to the son of a wealthy, hardnosed businessman, Duncan Stewart. He therefore travels from his modest home in Manhattan to take up residence at “Seacliff,” Stewart’s remote seaside estate on the Atlantic Coast.
His arrival is none too encouraging when the first person he encounters is a grizzled man who warns him to flee for his life—and his soul. He nonetheless carries on, and eventually hears that Duncan is rumoured to have shot his father and his father’s friend in order to gain control of the family business.
However, this is not the only mystery hanging over Seacliff Manor, for Duncan’s protégé (and secret lover), pianist Steven Charles, disappeared a year before Andrew’s arrival and his absence has cast further suspicion on Duncan. But Duncan is a man who can be disarmingly charming, as well as irascible, and so Andrew is more intrigued by him than frightened.
Other characters populate this story, as well: The dour and suspicious butler; the (gay) brother and sister who own the neighbouring estate; Duncan’s son, Timothy; and the mute son of the housekeeper’s daughter (who leaped from the cliff when she found her lover had been murdered.)
All is revealed in the end, but in the meantime it is a fun read, almost reminiscent of suspects ‘popping in and out of doors’ in an Agatha Christie novel. Highly recommended. Four bees....more
I had previously passed on Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for lonI had previously passed on Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for long (male) ‘horns,’ but seeing the reaction it has received from so many readers, my curiosity finally got the better of me.
What I found was a pulp-style western, written (for the most part) in the classic vernacular. These are both good features from this reader’s point of view. Moreover, Victor Banis has also done quite a good job of capturing the atmosphere and camaraderie of a 19th-century cattle roundup; ruggedly independent men, interacting man-to-man, and free from the disruptive influence of women.
And, yes, there was sex between some of them [see: Queer Cowboys by Chris Pickard]. It was common for men in early Western America to relate to one another in pairs or in larger homo-social group settings. At times, they may have competed for the attention of women but more often two cowboys organized themselves into a partnership resembling a heterosexual marriage. This is reflected in a poem by the renowned cowboy poet, Charles Badger Clark, i.e.
We loved each other in the way men do And never spoke about it, Al and me, But we both knowed, and knowin’ it so true Was more than any woman’s kiss could be. We knowed–and if the way was smooth or rough, The weather shine or pour, While I had him the rest seemed good enough– But he ain’t here no more! The range is empty and the trails are blind, And I don’t seem but half myself today. I wait to hear him ridin’ up behind And feel his knee rub mine the good old way He’s dead–and what that means no man kin tell. Some call it “gone before.” Where? I don’t know, but God! I know so well That he ain’t here no more!
However, as can be seen from the above, it was seldom if ever overt, and this is where the story lost credibility with me. Buck was just a bit too out to be believable—or to have even survived, for that matter. Moreover, as several other reviewers have already noted, his fellow cowhands were also incredibly accepting of a way of life that was still considered “unspeakable.”
These are not fatal flaws, just niggling drawbacks, so I want to stress that this is an enjoyable story with some really strong writing, and a bang-on style. In fact, the style is every bit as authentic as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Three and one-half bees....more
Masterfully written 'prattle.' I use the term “prattle” in a positive way. It is a literary device that can be very effective when used by a master ‘wMasterfully written 'prattle.' I use the term “prattle” in a positive way. It is a literary device that can be very effective when used by a master ‘wordsmith’ like Peter Cameron; a form of improvisation that I envy. However, when it gets too-clever-by-half it can be become oppressive. That is the situation with “Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You” (Picador; Reprint edition April 28, 2009.)
On the positive side the characters are all well developed in such a way as to be ‘interesting’; like green hair. James is precocious, brilliant and cynical. We never do find out what he likes—except Anthony Trollope, his co-worker, John, and his grandmother Nanette—but we do find out what he doesn’t like: people his own age; nearly everything about modern society; and college because of the previous reasons.
His family, e.g. mother, father and sister, are a pretentious lot, and a thinly-veiled representation of “Yuppy” society. His mother, thrice married, has picked another ‘winner’ and ends the marriage before the honeymoon is over. His father, the senior partner of a Manhattan law firm, eats steak because it is a sign of success, and his sister is cynical but without James’ smarts to make it meaningful.
However, the plot is a bit more difficult to nail down, precisely. One gets the feeling of tagging along with James with no particular destination in mind. We tag along to his mother’s art gallery where the featured exhibition is a collection garbage cans with no name (“art should speak for itself”), and peer over his shoulder while he ‘sabotages’ John’s attempt to find a mate on the “Gents4Gents” website.
We also accompany him on a particularly ‘awful’ workshop, known as “The American Classroom” in Washington DC, and sit with him while he undergoes therapy. However, none of the foregoing ever seems to get resolved. It just meanders, and this is where the “prattle” becomes just that.
Nonetheless James is a likable kid, and from his point of view it all makes sense. Moreover, there is much about this story that resonates long after one puts it down. Cameron raises some very thought provoking notions, and for this reason it gets my recommendation.
While my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around foWhile my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around for a while, “Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in nineteenth-century American literature” by Chris Packard (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) is one such work.
The stated objective of this thesis is to explore the “bonds that hold … [same-sex partners, i.e. ‘sidekicks’] together, particularly the erotic affection that undergirds their friendship.” To do this it painstakingly explores the “originary” texts of seminal, nineteenth-century writers who, individually and collectively, created the prevailing stereotype of the devoted same-sex partners. Moreover, the author undertakes to “teach readers how to recognize homoerotic affection in a historical discourse that was free from the derogatory meanings associated with post-1900 evaluations of male-male erotic friendships”—a not overly presumptuous ambition, given that Packard teaches literature and writing at New York University and New School University.
Okay, I am one such hypothetical reader, so let’s see how well Professor Packard achieved his objectives.
At the risk of oversimplifying Packard’s thesis, it starts with an underlying premise that before 1900—i.e. before “the modern invention of the ‘homosexual’ as a social pariah”—cowboy relationships were freely represented as quite a bit more affectionate than they are after that date. Moreover, although the stereotypes generally depicted ethnic warfare; citing the threat of “savagery” as justification for ethnic slaughter, and the freeing-up of territory to make way for European homesteaders, writers like James Fennimore Cooper wrote about friendships, “even marriage rituals,” between members of warring groups based on shared values. In addition friendships between young whites and natives were quite common. These mixed friendships usually had the natives tutoring the boys in the primitive ways of the wilderness, and included rituals of brotherhood, i.e. exchanging blood, and other physical, nuptial-like rites.
Notably absent from this literary same-sex scenario is any role for femininity, which is described by one quoted authority, Walter Benn Michaels, as “…the problem of heterosexuality.” The ‘problem’ being the threat of reproduction in a period when fear of mixed-ethnicity through sex or marriage was keen in American culture. Moreover, femininity and reproduction ran contrary to the strong, independent, and particularly ‘free’ nature of the cowboy characters.
“Within canonical as well as ignored literature, high culture as well as low, homoerotic intimacy is not only present, but it is thematic in works produced before the modern want him to be queer. America’s official emblem of masculinity is not one who settles down after he conquests … rather, he moves on, perpetually conquering, and repeatedly affirming his ties to the wilderness and his male partner.”
Having thus stated his hypotheses, Packard then goes on to support these with an anthology of mostly “canonical” writings—i.e. Cooper’s “The Leatherstocking Tales,” Owen Wister’s “The Virginian,” and Walt Whitman’s poetry. He also introduces some lesser known examples, such as Claude Hartland’s “The Story of a Life,” Frank Harris’s “My Reminiscences as a Cowboy,” and Frederick Loring’s “Two College Friends.”
While circumstantial, when read from a homoerotic perspective Packard makes a very compelling case, over all. There are no ‘smoking-gun’ examples, of course, because such blatancies would have been considered excessive by Eastern readers—meaning east of the Mississippi, but it is evident that the implication was there just below the surface. Consequently, he has also taught us how to recognize homoerotic affection in “historic discourse.”
To get to that level of edification, however, the reader has had to wade through an Introduction that I found to be a jumble of complex ideas, confusingly presented and fraught with academic jargon—i.e. “nexus,” “praxis,” “lingua franca,” and so forth. A case on point:
“Given the instant and undying popularity of cowboys in U.S. popular culture during a period of rapid national expansion, to identify a homoerotic core in its myth about the supremacy of white American masculinity is to imply that American audiences want their frontiersmen to practice nonnormative desires as part of their roles in nation building. In other words, if there is something national about the cowboy (and other frontier heroes of his ilk), and if there is something homoerotic about American national identity as it is conceived in the American West.”
Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake, but I didn’t find the “In other words” any more elucidating than the original statement.
Happily, once he launches into the body of the argument his tone becomes somewhat less esoteric, and apart from belabouring some points—giving a new dimension to the term ‘moot point’—he presents a very interesting and informative perspective on nineteenth-century thought.
Those looking for titillating erotica, however, are bound to be disappointed but well-informed after reading this work.
My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waitingGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered, and River Thieves by Michael Crummey [Anchor Canada, 2009] is a case on point.
The Beothuk (pronounced “beo-thuk”) people of Newfoundland, a.k.a. “The Red Indians” because of the red ochre they smeared on their bodies, are truly one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of it. They are referred to as a “population isolate” because they developed their unique culture in total isolation, starting around 1 A.D. until—with the death of Shanawdithit (“Nancy April”) in1829—they were declared officially extinct.
Part of the extinction process was as a result of being retreated into areas that could not sustain them; European diseases (particularly tuberculoses) for which they had no immunity; and anecdotes of genocide in which they were hunted like wolves. Indeed, the extinction of such a shy, peaceful and unique people is a black mark in Canadian history.
All of this Michael Crummey has captured with remarkable insight, and a superb sense of time and place. His approach of fictionalizing historical events and persons (while not unique) is certainly affective in making them come to life in the context in which they existed, i.e. the rugged and austere wilderness of Newfoundland in the early nineteenth century.
British naval officer, James Buchan, [a real historical figure] is sent to the British Colony of Newfoundland to establish productive relations with the mysterious aboriginals. In order to accomplish this mission he recruits the help of the Peyton family—a sort of backwoods aristocracy led by the tough-minded John Peyton Sr., a ruthless Beothuk persecutor [yet another real individual and fact]. However, his son, John Jr., although dominated by his father, is also vested with a conscience and becomes Buchan’s ally.
Rounding off this complex household is Cassie Jure, the enigmatic housekeeper, who is surprisingly independent for a female servant of the 19th-century, but she nonetheless adds a feminine perspective to a dominant cast of men.
Crummey’s poetic style is a real boon here, for the setting is very much part of the story—both the harshness and austere beauty of its topography and climate. He has therefore woven it into tapestry as though it were one of the characters, emphasizing the hardy resilience of its occupants—like Joseph Reilly, a transported (“exiled”) Irish thief turned trapper. Likewise, his research and portrayal of 19th-century mores and terms gives it a solid credibility that invests the reader from beginning to end. For all these reasons, it is highly recommended. Five bees.
One of the historical events portrayed in this story is “The stealing of Demasduit (“Mary March”).
Demasduit was a Beothuk woman who is thought to have been about 23 years old when she was captured near Red Indian Lake in March 1819.
The governor of Newfoundland, although seeking to encourage trade and end hostilities between the Beothuk and the English, had approved an expedition led by captain David Buchan to recover a boat and other fishing gear which had been stolen by the Beothuk. A group from this expedition was led by John Peyton Jr. whose father John Peyton Sr. was a salmon fisherman known for his hostility towards the small tribe. On a raid, they killed Demasduit’s husband Nonosbawsut, then ran her down in the snow. She pleaded for her life, baring her breasts to show she was a nursing mother. They took Demasduit to Twillingate and Peyton earned a bounty on her. The baby died. Peyton was later appointed Justice of the Peace at Twillingate, Newfoundland.
The British called Demasduit Mary March after the month when she was taken. Later bringing her to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the colonial government wanted to give Desmaduit comfort and friendly treatment while she was with the English, hoping she might one day be a bridge between them and the Beothuk. Demasduit learned some English and taught the settlers about 200 words of Beothuk language. However, in January 1820 while making the trip back to Notre Dame Bay Demasduit died of tuberculosis before reaching her kin. Source: Wikipedia....more
In my choice of Adagio by Chris Owen [Casperian Books LLC, September 21, 2012] as my featured novel this week, three tGerry B's Book Reviews
In my choice of Adagio by Chris Owen [Casperian Books LLC, September 21, 2012] as my featured novel this week, three things caught my notice. First, it is about two Canadian boys, written by a Canadian author, and set in Australia.
I don’t know why I like Australia as I do (I love the accents), but for whatever reason it has a certain romance to it. Therefore, it is the perfect setting for a romance of this nature.
There is very little about Canada, or even Canadian content in this story, but that’s alright. The Australian outback makes up for it, and I think that the author has done a credible job of making it part of the story. Certainly I felt it’s vastness, and what better way to cleanse the soul than by a ‘walkabout.’
I liked the two main characters, the scarred but compassionate Jason, and the wide-eyed Ryan. They both compliment and contrast one another to produce a nice balance. I think one is more drawn to Ryan as the ingénue, but Jason is also travelling a road of discovery.
I also like the unhurried pace that allowed the two boys to get to know one another before their first sexual experience. The sex scenes were also well handled—which is ironic for me to say because I once criticized Ms Owen’s work for being a bit too ‘generous’ with her couplings. Therefore, I am happy to take that criticism back with this novel.
The quibbles I have are few. A few loose threads (meaning plot lines that either disappear or aren’t fully exploited later on). I, for one, like to see unexpected references to previous events, even if they are minor, because they are like grace notes that add a touch of brilliance to a story. It is the little touches like this that can make a good story outstanding.
Altogether, it is a heart warming romance in the classic style, nicely written, and set in a equally romantic locale. Four bees....more
Given the current debate regarding the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy, Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force Academy” by Reichen Lehmkuhl [Da Capo Press, 2007] is a timely topic. Regretfully those that need to read it most—the religious fundamentalists and dogmatic, small-c conservatives–will probably never see it.
Lehmkuhl’s story relates his troubled childhood; the breakup of his parents’ marriage, the feeling of not being wanted, and the psychological impact of all this. His feelings of inadequacy are also exacerbated by the stigma of living in a trailer park—i.e. the perception of being “trailer trash.” However, apart from being Lehmkuhl’s own story there is nothing unique about this. Nor is there anything about it that would necessarily be deleterious to a person’s later life. Therefore, I question the author’s choice of devoting 50% of the book to the telling of it when a quarter of the 368 pages would have said it all quite nicely.
Fortunately the second 50% somewhat redeems the prosaic first part, and finally gets down to the business of his coming out and the U.S. Air Force Academy, as stated in the title.
Although I was vaguely familiar with the discipline of a military academy, the pseudo-sadistic hazing rituals, etc., Lehmkuhl’s intimate knowledge of such has revealed much I didn’t know. For example, I knew nothing about the demeaning practice of running the “strip” [see photo to the left], which Basic Recruits are required to do between classes, or the memorizing of meaningless passages for the sake of being able to spout them on demand. It all seems rather mindless, but it is something that has worked to develop men for decades, and in the case of Westpoint Military Academy has worked since the time of Thomas Jefferson.
More odious is the systematic scourging of homosexuals at the official level; a point that ’Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ doesn’t address. This umbrella approach does not preclude being investigated or ‘outed’ by someone else. It also doesn’t preclude significant numbers of raunchy, virile young lads from indulging in ‘extra-curricular activities’ in spite of the risk.
To counteract this ever-present risk, Lemhkuhl describes how he founded an ad hoc brother and sisterhood, referred to as the “family,” which operated on the pragmatic basis of you lie and we’ll all swear to it, in order to protect one anothers’ asses. While one might argue the ethics of such a principle, Lemhkuhl makes a compelling argument for its validation on the basis of counteracting an even greater injustice.
Overall I found this story to be a worthwhile read on account of its look behind the anachronism of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy. Three and one-half stars.
I love a plot-driven story, especially if the plot is as meaty as “Fortunes of War,” by Mel Keegan [Dreamcraft, 2005]: the intrigue-ridden court of ElI love a plot-driven story, especially if the plot is as meaty as “Fortunes of War,” by Mel Keegan [Dreamcraft, 2005]: the intrigue-ridden court of Elizabeth I, war and rumours of war, likable lovers and pirates. It has them all.
The story is written in two parts; the first part being an introduction, and here Keegan has done a masterful job of introducing the main characters while capturing the conspiratorial nature of the Elizabethan court. The two main characters, Robin and Dermot, are ably supported by a cast of interesting personalities—the cold-hearted Earl of Blackstead (Robin’s father), the aging Spanish ambassador and Dermot’s uncle, and the villainous Earl of Bothwell, to name a few.
The underlying conspiracies are interesting, as well; Catholics against Protestants, England against Spain, and foe against foe, all cleverly woven into the fabric of the story.
Five stars for the first part, therefore.
However the second part starts out rather slowly, almost cumbersome in spots, and for a brief while the story looses its momentum. Another minor drawback in second part is with the characters—Guillaume in particular—who come across as rather stereotypical. These are not major blemishes, but they are enough to detract from what would otherwise be a five-star achievement.
Nevertheless this is a superbly written, intriguing and captivating story that will have you turning pages to discover what will happen next.
“The Early Journals of Will Barnett” by the prolific pen of Ronald L. Donaghe (Two Brothers Press, 2004) is a series of three stories under one cover;“The Early Journals of Will Barnett” by the prolific pen of Ronald L. Donaghe (Two Brothers Press, 2004) is a series of three stories under one cover; therefore, I will review each one in the order that they are presented. However, over all, it is a compelling story about a naïve teenager growing up in a remote part of New Mexico, and the sometimes painful evolution he undergoes from the time he first discovers his burgeoning physical attraction to his “pretty” Uncle Sean, until his eventual maturity–both sexually and as a man.
Therefore, the reader is drawn into the story at a very early stage–appropriately told in Will’s `transcribed’ words, and is then swept along as Will moves from one stage of his development to another.
These developments the author unfolds with insight and understanding, as well as some unexpected twists along the way.
This is the first of Will Barnett’s journals, and the author has cleverly opened it with a credible (…or perhaps true) account of how he found these `scribblings’ in a derelict barn. Donaghe then takes on the voice of a unsophisticated, fourteen-year-old farm boy, to relate his awe and wonderment regarding his somewhat older uncle, Sean–recently returned from active duty in Vietnam.
Thereafter, Will’s fascination deepens as he tries to fathom this exceptionally handsome, but otherwise complex and troubled man, and his confused feelings toward him. In this regard, the author has awakened within all of us that wonderment over an older boy next door, or down the street, or perhaps a relative when we were Will’s age–I know it resonated with me.
“Lance” (The second in the series)
At the opening of this particular novel, the author conjures up a meeting with the real(?) Will Barnett–now in his early forties. This meeting auspiciously provides the material for this and the concluding novel as well.
Now, somewhat aware of his sexuality, Will encounters a boy his own age with a deeply troubled background. Lance is an abused youth with an abusive stepfather and condescending mother. Therefore, Will and Lance form a bond against the abuses of the world, and this bond gradually deepens into an abiding love
This is a recurring theme in the four Ronald L. Donaghe novels I have read to date, and I commend him for that. An author’s job is not just to tell a story. It sometimes involves holding up a mirror to society with a carefully crafted message attached. In this regard Ronald L. Donaghe has done both. He has not only vividly described the shortcomings readily apparent in our society, i.e., bigotry, intolerance, religious fundamentalism, bullying, child abuse, etc., but he has also dramatized the harm these intolerances cause to innocent youths already struggling to understand their own complex sexuality.
“All over him”
At the opening of this novel, Will and Lance have temporarily separated in order to attend different universities–Lance in San Francisco, and Will in Austin, Texas, to live with his Uncle Sean as well. It is a poignant separation, but they both vow to remain faithful for the two years that it will take Lance to graduate. Of course, the question is: Will they be able to honour their vows in spite of overwhelming temptation?
For obvious reasons I’m not going to answer that question, except to say that this is the final stage in Will’s evolution from boy to man.
Once again the author has captured the experience of every farm boy who migrates from farm to city, and the cultural shock that sometimes accompanies such a move. He certainly captured it for me.
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, dramaGerry B's Book Reviews
A true Canadian story that proves once and for all time that Canada has a history equal to any in the world for colour, drama and interest.
Considering that my next novel is partially set in the same district of British Columbia as Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson Jr. [McClelland & Stewart, 1978], I can hardly believe I hadn’t found it until now.
In my own story (based on an actual cattle drive from Hanceville, B.C. to Teslin, Yukon, in 1898), one of the things I worried about was that people wouldn’t believe 10-foot snowfalls—on the flat—and surviving minus-forty degree temperatures, but those are really rather tame compared to what Hobson and his partner endured in real life.
The first thing to emphasize about this story is that it is true pioneer history--with allowances for the cowboy's tendency to exaggerate--made at a time when there was still room for a man to shape his destiny with courage, hard work and determination. That is to say, it probably wouldn’t be possible today, given all the emasculating government rules and regulations. For one thing, you’d probably need a building permit to build a simple shelter.
In addition, adventurers like Hobson, Stanley Blum, and ‘Panhandle’ Phillips, are harder to find these days, as is their ability to withstand hardship—the rougher the better. As they say, “They just don’t make them like they used to.”
The basic tale is about Hobson and Panhandle setting out from Wyoming to the wilds of British Columbia to find a goldmine in “Free grass reachin’ north into unknown country. Land— lots of it— untouched— just waitin’ for hungry cows, and some buckaroos that can ride and have guts enough to put her over.”
So with little more than that, they head for Canada in an obsolete panel delivery Ford, distinguished by large printed letters across its body, “BOLOGNA— BLOATERS— BLOOD SAUSAGES.”
Across the border they followed the “Old Cariboo Trail' (the ' Trail of '98'), which:
Wound its way for more than a hundred miles along the face of a cliff, with the Fraser River twisting like a tiny thread through the rocky gorge a thousand feet below. In places small slides blocked the highway, and we shovelled enough rock out of the way to carry on. Once a driver, whom we nearly pushed over the bank, found it necessary to back up a hundred yards to a place in the road where we could squeeze by him. We thanked him.
“That’s all right,” he said, “but watch it ahead— the road narrows up.”
That was merely the beginning!
Following that they endured frost bitten feet; warded off giant, killer black wolves circling the camp; survived when the waters under the frozen ice sucked them and their cattle and horses down into the freezing deep hole; stared a Grizzly down; and gambled the horses and cattle could make it across ice encrusted snow 20-feet deep below.
It should also be added that there are no offensive bits to navigate, and so it is appropriate for children—in fact I encourage you to share the history with them. Let them know that Canada has a history equal to any in the world in colour and drama. Five (solid) bees.
If I were asked to design a definitive course on the history of Gays and Lesbians in North AmeriGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
If I were asked to design a definitive course on the history of Gays and Lesbians in North America, I would include three books as required reading: Gay American History, by Jonathon Katz; From the Closet to the Courtroom, by Carlos Ball; and Coming out Under Fire, by Allan Bérubé [Free Press, 1990]. Moreover, I think the students would thank me afterward for choosing books that are authoritative, informative and relatively easy to read.
For me personally, Allan Bérubé’s seminal work represents an eye-opener like few others I have read. Indeed, I was moved from profound sadness to outright rage when I learned the systematic persecution that these innocent men and women had to endure in the service of their country. That, perhaps, is the greatest benefit that this retrospective can provide, for those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The following is a précis of Bérubé’s thesis, but it is by no means complete or in depth. To really appreciate the full story of coming out under fire I urge you to read the original.
When the war clouds started to descend over Europe in the 1930s the United States military did not exceed two hundred thousand soldiers, and so to overcome this Congress passed the nation’s first peacetime conscription act. Consequently, conscripts began to fill the Army’s ranks in astonishing numbers (16 million in 1940-41).
With so many men available, the armed forces decided to exclude certain groups, including women, blacks, and—following the advice of psychiatrists—homosexuals (although this term was not yet widely used). Traditionally the military had never officially excluded homosexuals, but in Word War II a dramatic change occurred. Seeing a chance to advance their prestige, influence, and legitimacy of their profession, psychiatrists promoted screening as a means of reducing psychiatric casualties before they became military responsibilities.
In 1941, therefore, the Army issued a directive which disqualified “homosexual proclivities” as a “psychopathic personality disorder.” This was in keeping with the prevailing belief that homosexuality was a neurological disorder—i.e. the first signs of a brain-disease caused by heredity, trauma, or bad habits such as masturbation, drunkenness and drug addiction.
Moreover, the military encased this idea in “characteristics that were considered inferior or “degenerative” by virtue of their deviation from the generally white, middle-class, and native-born norm.” (Location 536).
“The framers of the Army’s interwar physical standards listed feminine characteristics among the “stigmata of degeneration” that made a man unfit for military service. Males with a “degenerative physique,” the regulation explained, “may present the general body conformation of the opposite sex, with sloping narrow shoulders, broad hips, excessive pectoral and public adipose [fat] deposits, with lack of masculine hirsute [hair] and muscular markings.”” (Location 536).
Bérubé then goes on to explain, “The reason for excluding these as psychopaths was that, like other men in this “wastebasket” category, they were considered to be irresponsible troublemakers who were unable to control their desires or learn from their mistakes and thus threatened the other men.” (Location 568).
To make matters worse, this sort of quackery was widely promulgated in training seminars for recruiters and physicians throughout the United States, and even published in medical journals for wider distribution.
On the other hand, because of women’s marginal status in the military prior to WWII, neither the Army nor the Navy had developed policies and procedures concerning lesbians. Therefore, women recruits were never asked the homosexual question, and were therefore able to enter the military undetected.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, however, the rules were relaxed to accommodate the demands of war, and the military was forced to accept and integrate most gay selectees. In fact, it was privately acknowledged that gay men had become vital members of the armed forces. Moreover, the gay recruits found ways to fit in and even to form close and lasting relationships with “buddies.”
Sexual activity was at a minimum until the recruits learned the rules, and then discrete opportunities could be found where there was a will.
“Not all trainees who approached other men for sex were gay. Heterosexual recruits who had had the most sexual experience with women or who felt strong sex drives could initiate sex without being afraid that they were queer, especially if their partner was gay and played the “passive” role. Teenage recruits who were just fooling around with each other, especially if they had been drinking, found themselves unexpectedly becoming sexual. Some older soldiers with more sexual experience in the military taught younger men how to have sex without getting caught. On the other hand, recruits who knew they were gay before entering the service were sometimes the most reluctant to have sex.” (Location 1103).
Meanwhile, Army and Navy officials struggled with how to manage the homosexual behaviour, and several approaches were developed. When challenged from the outside, particularly by concerned parents or clergy, their public stance was to condemn behaviour considered to be immoral in the wider culture, including profanity, drunkenness, erotic pictures, extramarital sex, lesbianism, homosexuality, and prostitution. Within the organization, however, military officials took a more understanding approach—forced into it by the need to hang onto trained personnel.
Trainees usually learned on their own how to put up with one another’s differences in order to get through basic training. They also received pleas for tolerance from the war propaganda which portrayed American soldiers as defending the ideals of democracy, equality, and freedom against the totalitarian Axis. But inspired more by necessity than idealism, male trainees responded to the demands of basic training by developing their own pragmatic ethic of tolerance: “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me.”
One of the areas where blatant effeminacy was tolerated—even applauded—was in the “all-soldier variety show.” These began as a diversion, but soon became a popular form of frontline entertainment even under fire. These were all-male shows for each other that almost always featured female impersonation, and coincidentally provided a temporary refuge for gay males to let their hair down and entertain their fellows.
“The impulse to put on shows and perform in dressed generally came from the men themselves—soldiers without women, as well as gay men, had long traditions of spontaneously dressing up in women’s clothes. But during World War II, the military officials, pressured by GIs, their own morale personnel, and leaders in the civilian theatre world …found themselves not only tolerating makeshift drag but officially promoting female impersonation.” (Location 1677).
In 1941, strained by the demands of a massive war mobilization that included a large influx of gay soldiers, the military could no longer handle its homosexual discipline problems by sending all offenders to prison as required by the Articles of War. Therefore, based on the belief that homosexuality was a mental illness, there was a concerted effort to discharge homosexuals without trial while retaining those whose services were deemed essential. However, this policy ran contrary to the common law that held homosexuality as “an infamous and unspeakable crime against nature,” and that the military had a responsibility “to prevent such crimes with severe punishment and to protect the morals of the nation’s young people under their jurisdiction.”
Underlying all this was a sort of political upmanship among various factions of the military bureaucracy. For example, having sodomites released into the care of psychiatrists would greatly enhance the standing of psychiatry as a legitimate science, and for their part the generals resented the interference of the legals in the Judge Advocate’s office. Therefore, the unfortunate men and women awaiting jusice were helplessly caught somewhere in the middle.
There was also the question of what sort of discharge would apply–i.e. honourable medical discharge or dishonourable? An honourable discharge, it was argued, might lead to homosexual activity or declaration in order to escape compulsory service. Dishonourable discharge (so-called “section eights” or “blue cards”), on the other hand, were used only for men who had been convicted of a crime and who had served their sentences. These had been used successfully to eliminate social misfits–alcoholics, chronic liars, drug addicts, men who antagonised everyone—but technically did not include homosexuals. In the end (1943), however, the military issued a directive that steered a compromise inasmuch as sodomy was still deemed a criminal offence, but allowed for an exception where force or violence had not been used. These individuals would be examined by a board of officers ”with the purpose of discharge under the provisions of Section Eight.
It was intended as a more humane way of dealing with “offenders” but, as gay men and women would soon find out, it was fraught with difficulties of its own.
As officers began to discharge homosexuals as undesirables, the gay GIs who were their targets had to learn how to defend themselves in psychiatrists’ offices, discharge hearing rooms, hospital wards, and in “queer stockades.” There they were interrogated about their sex lives, locked up, physically abused, and subjected to systematic humiliations in front of other soldiers.
“The discharge system could drag any GI whose homosexuality became known or even suspected into seemingly endless maze of unexpected humiliations and punishments. Some gay male and lesbian GIs first entered the maze when they voluntarily declared their homosexuality, fully expecting to be hospitalized and discharged. But others, following the advice in basic training lectures to talk over their problems with a doctor, psychiatrist, or chaplain, were shocked when medical officers betrayed their confidences by reporting them for punitive action ad “self-confessed” homosexuals, or were disappointed and frustrated when more sympathetic psychiatrists could not help them at all. Caught during their processing for discharge in battles between friendly and hostile officers, they found themselves thrown around like footballs in a game over which they had no control.” (Location 4442).
Nor were things to improve when they were returned home to civilian life. Gay veterans with “blue” or undesirable discharges where stripped of his service medals, rank, and uniform, then given a one-way ticket home where they had to report to their draft board to present their discharge papers. The stigma attached to these discharges was not an accident. Rather, it was intended to punish homosexuals and prevent malingering, and requirement that the GI report to his draft board ensured that his community would find out the nature of his discharge. Therefore, they were forced to come out to their families and communities. Wherever blue-discharge veterans lived, employers, schools, insurance companies, veterans’ organizations, and other institutions could use their bad discharge papers to discriminate against them.
One of the most vindictive punishments meted out to these veterans was the denial of GI benefits that included federally subsidized home loans; college loans with allowances for subsistence, tuition, and books; unemployment allowances; job training and placement programs; disability pensions and hospital care. Top officials at the Veterans Administration were responsible for this denial, contrary to Army policy and Congress, but nonetheless the VA refused to drop its anti-homosexual prohibition. Consequently, many blue-discharge veterans found it difficult (impossible) to find employment, but when they applied for unemployment insurance, or small business loans, or college assistance, they were denied in a Catch-22 situation.
One of the side effects of this discrimination was that having survived fear and death on the battlefield, some gay combat veterans began to cast off the veil of secrecy that so seriously constrained their lives. For them, “coming out” to family and friends was not nearly as terrifying as facing the enemy in battle. Moreover, the popular press began to take notice of the blue-ticket discharges, and their plight, and started to publish columns on the “Homosexual Minorities,” characterizing them as “anther minority which suffers from its position in society in somewhat the same way as the Jews and Negroes.”
Unfortunately, this period of ‘liberal’ attitude was short-lived, for in the late 1940s a preoccupation with conformity came a fearful scapegoating of those who deviated from a narrow idea of the nuclear family and the American way of life. However, you will have to read this most remarkable book to learn the outcome of this. ...more
Although I can’t remember being a star struck fan of Tab Hunter (being “star struck” was a condiGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.worpress.com
Although I can’t remember being a star struck fan of Tab Hunter (being “star struck” was a condition limited to “bobby soxers” in 1950s’ Pefferlaw), at 74 I am of the right generation to appreciate an autobiography like this one, i.e. “Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Move Star” by Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller [Algonquin Books, 2006].
For one thing I much prefer a behind-the-scenes view of things, which is especially justified after reading about some of the unadulterated hype generated by the Hollywood PR mills in Hunter’s case. Admittedly I’ve never understood the type of mass hysteria demonstrated by “fans” of anyone, be it Elvis, The Beatles, or Will and Kate. Therefore, the first good thing I’ll say about Tab Hunter’s biography is that he didn’t start believing his own press releases. Consequently, we do get a pretty fair glimpse of the man behind the image.
Beyond that I would say that this story will be of interest mainly to people of my generation, movie buffs, and modern historians (apologies for the term, Tab). However, for those of us who qualify it is a delightful walk down Memory Lane. For example, remember this:
“The Arlington Theatre, home of all my film-infused fantasies was now the neighbourhood’s big make-out. I figured I should get in on the action, be like the guys, even though I had little in common with them. [My experience as well].
“Four or five guys, cruising in a pack, would surround one of the local girls. They’d guide her to the back of the theatre, the way animals isolated and heard one of their own. They’d take turns nuzzling her and fondling her breasts.
“I did it too—even though I was always afraid the girl would call the police on me, the way Lois had [A false complaint]. As I copped a few sheepish feels, my brain disconnected. I should be out at the barn, with the horses! That’s where I belong!
“The guys ribbed me, of course, for my lack of enthusiasm. I didn’t care. I didn’t want any part of it.30-31.”
And that first time:
“One of those nights at the Arlington, as I was sitting alone in the dark, a man swooped down into the seat beside me … This guy knew exactly what he was doing.
“I let him do it. Hard to say why—I was scared, stupid, and excited. When he was finished, he gave me a dollar and wrote his phone number on a card. “If you every want to do it again,” he said, “call me.”
“No chance of that, I told myself, buckling up. But despite the shame already suffocating me, I tucked his card inside my little rawhide-stitched wallet.”32
“I entered the anonymous confines of the dark confessional, my heart pouding. Because of my acute claustrophobia, confession was already difficult for me. I thought I’d die as I haltingly explained to the priest what had happened. Saying the words was torture, but confessing was the only way I could go on living with myself.
“I never finished. Through the latticework boomed the priest’s voice, branding me the most despicable creature in the world. I was unfit to receive God’s forgiveness, unfit to set foot in His house, unfit to live. On and on this “man of God” went, mercilessly, until I ran shaking from the confessional. Instead of offering sanctuary, the church I loved now felt hateful and oppressive.”32-33
I think those passages speak for themselves about how it was to be a gay teenager in the 1950s, so perhaps the reading list should be expanded to include those supporters of DOMA, etc., who want to return to the bad old days.
For those who have an interest, however, I highly recommend this story as a fascinating look at an era through the eyes of someone who saw if from the mountain. Five stars. ...more
I doubt there is a gay person out there who can not relate to Mark Tewksbury’s autobiography, “Inside out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock” [Wiley, 1 edition, 2007]. That is, until he was propelled into international prominence with his 1992, Olympic gold medal performance in Barcelona, Spain; one of only seven gold medals awarded to a Canadian athlete that year.
Until then, however, his story is almost pro forma. Included are his family and his generally unhappy childhood, his early same-sex infatuations, the prevailing fear of exposure—yet being centred-out as gay, anyway; proving, I suppose, that the ‘closet’ has see-through walls at times—and the mindless abuse he suffered on account of it. Through it all, however, his will to achieve never faltered, and it is this that makes his story truly inspirational.
Another inspirational aspect is his steadfast ability to remain true to himself, i.e.
“I gazed around the room slowly. The best swimmers from Russia, Cuba, the United States, Spain, Germany and France were in front of me. And I was different. I was the fag. And in that moment I owned my truth completely. I thought, `If these guys knew how hard it was for me to get here, they wouldn’t believe it. They have no bloody clue what I have been through. Or how strong I am.’”
Having said that, however, the second half of the story is both informative and redundant respecting the International Olympic Committee and its politics; given what was known about it even when the story was first published in 2007. Likewise, the discord with the Gay Olympics, GayGames & OutGames came as no surprise. Sexual orientation does not preclude ideological differences, personal agendas, pecuniary influence, and rabid infighting. In this respect it conforms quite congruently with the wider community.
Albeit, that is the reality of Mark Tewksbury’s experience, and for his part he can only be faulted for trying to crowd all of this into one story. Nonetheless, I can enthusiastically recommend this story as an inspiration for aspiring, gay athletes, and a challenge to similarly oriented, marquee athletes to do the same. Four stars.
The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colGerry B's Book Reviews - www.gerrycan.wordpress.com
The adventures of (Sir) Sam Steele should definitely put to rest any notion that Canada lacks a colourful history, or, indeed, real life adventurers the equal to Pat Garrett and Davy Crockett. Moreover, Holly Quan’s brief biography, Sam Steele: The Wild West Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie (Altitude Publishing Canada Ltd., 2003) makes a good appetizer for larger and more detailed biographies, including Sam Steele’s own autobiography: Forty years in Canada: reminiscences of the great north-west (sadly not listed for sale on Amazon.ca).
Samuel Benfield Steele was born on the family farm in 1851 in Simcoe County, Upper Canada (now Ontario), and spent much of his youth in the nearby Town of Orillia learning to ride and other useful skills that would serve him well in his later life. At age 14-years he enlisted in the militia formed to guard against Fenian cross-border raids, and from there he volunteered for the federal militia called together to restore order with the Métis in what is now Manitoba.
“The journey was an exercise in endurance,” writes Quan: “The troops marched across southern Ontario to Sault Ste. Marie, where they boarded ships bound across Lake Superior to what is now Thunder Bay. That was the easy part. From the lakehead, 965 kilometres (600 miles) of rock, rivers, muskeg, and heavy forest lay between the troops and their destination, Fort Garry on the Red River (now Winnipeg). There was no railway yet, and the road was nothing more than a trail blazed through the bogs and bush. In fact, for the most part the “road” was a water route of interconnected lakes and streams with numerous difficult portages through mud, swamps, and dense forest.”
Unfortunately, for Sam, the uprising was over by the time they arrived so the troops turned around and marched back to Ontario again. However, Sam stayed with the militia—now promoted to corporal at age nineteen—but when the new provincial government was in place the militia was disbanded as well. Nevertheless, the new Canadian government decided it wanted its own army to replace the British troops, traditional peacekeepers, and Sam quickly joined the recently established Canadian army—being the 23rd person to do so.
Two years later however, in 1873, the federal government established a mounted police force for the West, the North West Mounted Police, and Sam saw his chance to get back to his beloved frontier. Therefore, in 1874 the now Sergeant Major Steele (age 23) began one of the most rugged marches that have ever taken place in Canada, across the vast, uncharted territory of the West.
“The going was tough for the already beleaguered group. Grasshoppers razed the grass, and rain turned the wagon track to deep mud. Quicksand was another hazard many men had never experienced. Sam, among the strongest in the troop, was continually called on to help wrestle horses, oxen, and cattle of boggy deathtraps.”
That was only part of the adventure. Having little grass to eat the horses became so weak that they frequently collapsed in their tracks. Therefore the men had to lift them and encourage them to walk a bit further before collapsing again. This prompted one of them to quip. “I thought I’d have an easy ride to the Rockies with a good horse to carry me. Instead I’m having a tough walk to Edmonton, with me carrying the horse.”
The march to Edmonton, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), ended on October 31, 1874, but not without one last struggle with nature.
“Sam was preparing for sleep when someone shouted that a horse was in trouble in a nearby creek. Grabbing a rope, he waded into the ice-cold stream and deftly passed the rope around the struggling horse, tossing the other end to men on the bank. But before Sam could get out of the water, the horse slipped, dragging Sam and several men down. In the dark, with only moments before men and horse succumbed to the freezing current, the quick-thinking man made it out of the water, then he hauled the next man out, and so on, until troops and horse were all free of the ice and water.”
This, then, was the stuff Sam Steele was made of, and only the beginning of his remarkable career that included chasing criminals, defying native leaders, upholding the law—and having the time of his life. Indeed, he saw the establishment of a nation, the signing of treaties, the resolution of a rebellion, the building of a railway, war in South Africa, and action in WWI.
In my opinion this bit of Canadian history should be made mandatory reading in every elementary school history course taught, and for every person who is preparing to become a citizen of this country, for therein is the essence of Canadian pioneer culture: Dedication, adherence to standards and perseverance. ...more
This is a novel that admirably fits the category of ‘historical fiction’.
The history: Set in the rugged Territory of New Mexico in the 1860s, it tellsThis is a novel that admirably fits the category of ‘historical fiction’.
The history: Set in the rugged Territory of New Mexico in the 1860s, it tells the story of a tender love that blooms against a backdrop of shame, cruelty, corruption and death.
In 1864 twelve thousand Navajo (Diné) were forced to march from their homeland in Canyon de Chelly (now Nevada) to Bosque Redondo Reserve outside Fort Sumner; a distance of 325 miles in the dead of winter. More than three thousand individuals died en-route, and because the soil was so unfertile at the Reserve another quarter of the population may have died as a result of starvation.
This ill-fated scheme was the brainchild of General James Carlton, a so-called “Indian Fighter” who regarded the Navajo as “savages,” per se, and promptly set about embezzling money and supplies from them; making their existence even more precarious.
The fiction: William Lee is a young, idealistic and confused young man, who is literally cast out into the world after being caught by his fundamentalist father having exploratory sex with another youngster. Now disowned, he is assisted by a sympathetic member of the community and eventually sent to New Mexico as the apprentice to the Indian Agent at Bosque Redondo—more-or-less a banishment from the God-fearing, white society.
Unbeknownst to Washington or William Lee, the Indian Agent has ‘disappeared’ from his post, and Lee therefore becomes the acting Agent in his absence. Well aware of his inexperience, General Carlton sets about moulding his character by treating him like a novice clerk whose only function is to maintain the status quo of Carlton’s making.
Early in William’s experience he encounters a mysterious, but strikingly handsome ‘woman,’ named Hasbaá—in reality a Two Spirit, possessing both male and female spirits. Such individuals were considered a blessing sent by the Great Spirit, and possessed very powerful medicine for healing and other religious ceremonies. Of course William is unaware of any of this, and his confusion is only exacerbated when he discovers the Hasbaá has the body of a man. Nonetheless, Will and Hasbaá are drawn together, and the two of them eventually fall in love.
William then goes on to learn the ways of the Navajo, assisted by an old woman who acts as his interpreter, and at the same time he begins to learn about himself—ultimately accepting his homosexuality. His curiosity doesn’t end there, however, because he goes on to enquire into the discrepancies that are becoming apparent at the Fort—an inquiry fraught with intrigue and danger.
The question that always accompanies historical fiction, is: Is it history, or is it fiction? In fact the resolution between these two fundamentals is a very tricky business, indeed. The ideal, of course, is a more-or-less 50/50 split; provided the two are woven seamlessly into an integrated whole. Only then, in my opinion, has the writer achieved harmony.
If I have one criticism of this novel it is that the fiction does not always measure up to the history; seeming at times to almost be a contrivance to introduce a fact, etc. Moreover, the ‘old lady’ character who is charged with interpreting some very complex Navajo beliefs, while obviously needing to be wise, is far too articulate to be credible as a woman with no educational background.
Having said that I hasten to add the pluses far outweigh the negatives, and I therefore recommend Two Spirits: A Story of Life With The Navajo as an entertaining and fascinating tale of historical and sociological significance.
Shortly after I reviewed Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall, I received a note from author Les Brookes suggesting I read At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’NeShortly after I reviewed Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall, I received a note from author Les Brookes suggesting I read At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill [Scribner, 2002]. I took him at his word, and I am ever so happy that I did. This is an epic tale (576 pages) that has been compared to such heavyweights as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Flann O’Brien, and arguably so.
The setting is the village of Glasthule, near Dublin, Ireland, in the year 1915. Glasthule is a quintessential Irish village that O’Neill has populated with a cast of colourful characters: Jim Mack, the sixteen-year-old ingénue, unworldly to the point of being naïve; Doyler Doyle, similar in age but worldly in all the ways Jim isn’t, and a socialist-patriot; Mr. Mack, Jim’s father and an inveterate social-climber, both for himself and his son; Eveline MacMurrough, Glasthule’s local gentry and leading citizen; Anthony MacMurrough. Eveline’s nephew back in Ireland after his release from an English prison for ‘gross indecency’; Mr. Doyle, “Himself”, Doyler’s father and a veteran of the Boer War—which status he uses to illicit free drinks at the local pub; and the Catholic clergy-establishment represented by Brother Polycarp, a paedophilic conservative, and Curate Father O’Toiler, a devout, Irish nationalist.
Each of these characters is unique in some way, well-developed throughout, and each represents an element of traditional Irish society. Moreover, O’Neill has endowed them all—especially the poorer-classes—with a wonderfully quaint vernacular of Irish words and phrases; including Gaelic. He then goes on to surround these with an equally lyrical narrative that captures the lilt of the Irish language to a delightful degree.
At the beginning of the story Jim is a student at the Catholic college, a remarkable achievement for a lad of his modest, economic background, but it is only made possible by winning a scholarship. While this is a most credible accomplishment on Jim’s part, it also labels him a step below his wealthier classmates—a reflection of the classist-based stratification of Anglo-Irish society during this era. As a result Jim is somewhat of a loner; feeling neither at ease with his peers nor in his father’s pretentious, middleclass lifestyle. That is until he serendipitously encounters the rakish Doyler Doyle, a former childhood friend who has returned to Glasthule to assist his poverty-stricken mother and ailing father—i.e. “Himself.” Coming from the other side of the tracks, and employed as a “shit shoveller,” Doyler represents the lowest class of all on the economic scale; nevertheless he possesses a “what cheer, eh?” attitude, and a high level of fundamental honesty and principle—if one overlooks the occasional ‘sex-for-incentive’ activity.
Like a moth to a beacon, Jim is drawn to this outgoing, verbose, and also affectionate rascal, and together they find common ‘ground’ in swimming at “Forty Foot”; a promontory near Dublin, famous for nude bathing. Thus the two become dedicated to the swim such that they make a solemn pact to swim to Muglins Rock a year hence—Easter Sunday, 1916—as the pinnacle of their achievement and their growing friendship. Unwittingly, therefore, they have also laid the cornerstone of their romance, which will grow apace.
Here O’Neill has purposefully cut through the economic class structure of the day to find a more meaningful commonality to bind the two boys together, acceptably, while letting their romantic love develop almost imperceptibly at the same time. Interestingly, for a novel written in 2002, it is a classic assimilationist approach to gay fiction; i.e. an idealistic love between two males ‘unblemished’ by sex. The melancholy ending also reflects the unwritten, pre-Stonewall (1969) rule that covert or overt gay characters couldn’t be allowed an ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.
Representing the Irish Nationalist movement of the period, O’Neill has surprisingly assigned Eveline MacMurrough, and to some extent Curate Father O’Toiler—although his nationalism is firmly grounded in the interest of the Catholic Church as the national church. Ergo, the landscape of early 20th-century Ireland is painted in shades of conflict: conflict between the classes; conflict between Ireland and Britain; conflict between the Catholics and Protestants, and conflict between gays and the heterosexual establishment.
Jim and Doyler are also caught up in these conflicts regardless of their quite innocent and as yet unconsummated love. Jim’s bullying peers taunt him about his relationship with Doyler, Brother Polycart is darkly jealous of Doyler’s attention toward Jim, and Jim is torn between his religious belief and his growing sexual desire for Doyler—so much so that he ultimately experiences a nervous breakdown, and Doyler is driven away for being a socialist.
Rising above all this the two boys do eventually reach the apex of their love/relationship by swimming to Muglins Rock, where they finally consummate their love as well. However, having reached the pinnacle of their relationship there is no place but down when they are caught up in the ill-fated, 1916 Easter uprising.
This is a powerful and yet tender coming-of-age tale that engages the reader with layers of emotion, from the pinnacle to the depths and back again.
[October is Gay History Month, and in commemoration of this I recommend this seminal work as thGerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com
[October is Gay History Month, and in commemoration of this I recommend this seminal work as the quintessential record of gay history in America]
About the author: Katz taught as an adjunct at Yale University, Eugene Lang College, and New York University, and was the convener of a faculty seminar at Princeton University. He is a founding member of the Gay Academic Union in 1973 and the National Writers Union in 1980. He was the initiator and is the director of OutHistory.org, a site devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, (LGBTQ) and heterosexual history, that went online in September 2008, and is produced by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, an institute at the City University of New York Graduate Center, under a grant from the Arcus Foundation.
Katz received the Magnus Hirschfeld Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Sex Research from the German Society for Social-Scientific Sexuality Research in 1997. In 2003, he was given Yale University’s Brudner Prize, an annual honor recognizing scholarly contributions in the field of lesbian and gay studies. His papers are collected by the manuscript division of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library.
Review by Gerry Burnie
“We have been the silent minority, the silenced minority—invisible women, invisible men. Early on, the alleged enormity of our “sin” justified the denial of our existence, even our physical destruction” p1. So begins noted sexual historian, Professor Johnathan Katz, in his seminal “collection of turbulent chronicles,” Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. [Plume; Rev Sub edition (April 1, 1992)].
He then goes on to add to this lamentable observation:
“During the four hundred years documented here, American homosexuals were condemned to death by chocking, burning, drowning; they were executed, jailed, pilloried, fined, court-martialed, prostituted, fired, framed, blackmailed, disinherited, declared insane, driven to insanity, to suicide, murder, and self-hate, witch-hunted, entrapped, stereotyped, mocked, insulted, isolated, pities, castigated and despised.(They were also castrated, lobotomized, shock-treated, and psychoanalyzed…) Homosexuals and their behavior were characterized by the terms “abomination,” “crime against nature,” “sin,” “monsters,” “fairies,” “bull dykes,” and “perverts.”p17.
Professor Katz then goes on to document every word of these in a 720-page, annotated thesis, which—quite astoundingly for such a scholarly work—remains immensely readable.
For example, there is the chronicle of the earliest known case of a homosexual being put to death in America, that of Frenchman Gonzalo Solís de Merás, murdered in St. Augustine, Florida [my winter home], in 1566. Also, The execution of Richard Cornish for sodomy in Colonial America, 1624; and of William Plaine in 1646. There is also a record a Black man, Jan Ceoli, living on Manhattan Island, who was condemned to be “choked to death, and then burned to ashes.” In the same Dutch New Netherland Colony, Jan Quisthout Van Der Linde was sentenced to be “tied in a sack and cast into the river” for a homosexual rape.
An early report, 1824-26, identifies homosexuality in American prisons, and concerns “prostitution” of “juvenile delinquents” with older male prisoners. Male prostitution is also prominently mentioned in a report, dating 1892, documenting the homosexual underworld in American cities. These reports also include descriptions of Black male homosexual transvestites, homosexual activity at steam baths, newspaper solicitations, and street life.
There are also early reports of a civil servant being discharged: a New York policeman, for making improper advances on other males while on duty (1846), and of a minister separated from the church for homosexual activity (1866). The clergyman was Horatio Alger.
In 1896, the family of a wealthy businessman, Henry Palmer, petitioned the court to have Palmer declared mentally incompetent on account of his homosexuality, and although a prominent doctor testified to his “absolute certainty of Palmer’s sanity,” the court found him “insane,” anyway.
Lesbians didn’t seem to fare any better, for in 1636 John Cotton made a proposal to the Massachusetts Bay Colony that homosexual relations between women be placed on par with male homosexuality as a capital offence. In 1656 the New Haven Colony passed a law prescribing the death penalty for lesbianism, as well as male homosexuality.
Professor Katz has also dedicated a significant portion of his scholarly work to Native Americans. One of the earliest reports, dated 1528-36, states:
“During the time that I was thus among these people I saw a devilish thing, and it is that I saw one man married to another, and these are impotent, effeminate men [amarionados]and they go about dressed as women, and do women’s tasks, and shoot with a bow, and carry great burdens,…and they are huskier than the other men, and taller…”p430
Another report, dated 1673-77, reads:
“I know not through what superstition some Illinois, as well as Nadouessi, while still young, assume the garb of women, and retain it throughout their lives. There is some mystery in this, for they never marry and glory in demeaning themselves to do everything that the women do. They go to war, however, but can use only clubs, and not bows and arrows, which are the weapons proper to men. They are present at all the juggleries, and at the solemn dances in honor of the Calumet; at these they sing, but not dance. They are summoned to their Councils and nothing can be decided without their advice. Finally, through their profession of leading an extraordinary life, they pass as Manitous,–That is to say, for Spirits,–or persons of consequence.p.433
Moreover, an 1889 report by Dr. A.B. Holder, describes “A Peculiar Sexual Perversion,” i.e.:
“The word bō-teˊ I have chosen as being most familiar to me and not likely to convey a wrong impression, since I shall be the first, perhaps, to translate into English and define it. It is the word use by the Absaroke Indians of Montana, and literally mans “not man, no woman.”…
“The practice of the bote among civilized races is not unknown to specialists, but no name is suited to ears of polite, even though professional, has been given it. The practice is to produce the sexual orgasm by taking the male organ of the active party in the lips of the bote, the bote probably experiencing the orgasm at the same time. Of the latter supposition I have been able to satisfy, but I can in no other way account for the infatuation of the act.”
Among the monumental, literary works of history, Jonathon Katz can rightfully take his place. Or, as another reviewer has already put it, “Jonathan Katz would be sainted if he never wrote another word or produced another bit of research.”
This documentary history is utterly astonishing for the amount of research it implies, the documented stories it tells, the humanity it describes, and for the easy-to-read journalism in which it is presented. Among the GLBT communities, this book should be the Bible of not only the past, but also the present and the future—as in “we’ve prevailed in spite of all.” Five Stars—plus. ...more