Review: I Must Confess by Rupert Smith
I Must Confess
Published by Cleis Press
Reviewed by Radcliff Gregory
This welcome reprint of the critically-acclaimed 1998 novel I Must Confess revisits the historically significant decades that saw homosexuality decriminalised, become fashionable, and then demonised all over again by the media. This stinging, complex satire of the celebrity confessional autobiography is one of the most original and convincing books I have read in a long time.
The titular character, Marc LeJeune has a mysterious ability to inveigle his way into assorted facets of the public spotlight - and labyrinthine notoriety. Alas, not everyone immediately recognises his unique talents, and so he has to run the gauntlet of potential mentors and promoters. And they all have his fame and welfare at heart – don’t they?
It does seem, for a few alarming years, that the world will never be fortunate enough to savour LeJeune’s remarkable repertoire of talent: acting, singing, writing, fashion icon, revolutionary, and “self-confessed bisexual.” Fortunately, his drama teacher intervenes to spare Marc the ignominy of obscurity, by offering him starring roles in risque, homoerotic adaptations of classic plays – at school. It is also ‘Phyllis’ (Mr Phillips) who lures his young protégé to the bright lights of London, to a claustrophobic but strange existence.
However, mere squalor isn’t enough to prevent a thorough-bred celebrity making his name. Nor is a badly bungled theft. Somehow our hero talks his intended crime victim into leniency, and finds himself in the hands of a genius – of the most sinister variety.
In the days before the phenomenon of reality television and multiple viewing choices, and when ‘decency’ was obligatory, ‘destiny’ could be a difficult delusion to achieve. Particularly for someone whose maverick ‘potential’ knows no bounds. A reality check could take a little longer, but is, mercifully, easy enough to ignore. And LeJeune is fortunate enough to learn in his infancy not to let little things like legal proceedings and tragedy stand in his way.
Rupert Smith has skilfully critiqued the psychodynamics of the process of making, breaking, and reformulating ‘stars’, from the scouting creators through to the mincing machine of the tabloid press. He addresses how much of this is understood in the minds of the endless procession of bodies churned out for public delectation. If you ever wondered how some people achieve sporadic hiccups of fame, you need to read I Must Confess. The novel will also seductively lead you to speculate which celebrities may have inadvertently provided inspiration. Smith draws on his lengthy experience of writing about, and interviewing, hundreds of showbiz personalities to devastating and hilarious effect.
However, this is no lightweight satire, poking fun at people who are briefly paid too much, and then too little, to temporarily represent the assumed ideals of a nation. The novel is laugh-out-loud funny, but is full of snapshots that tell the real story behind the headlines that keep the celebrity machine running.Radcliff Gregory is the author of Everywhere, Except…, and the sold-out Fragile Art, and Figaro’s Cabin (under a pseudonym), and also anthologised in Chroma, Poemata, Coffee House and Poets International literary publications, and a dozen books by publishers including Crystal Clear, Forward Press and Poetry Now. Outright winner of six UK poetry competitions. Also writes non-fiction articles and essays on literary criticism, literature, disability and gender issues. Currently organising Polyverse Poetry Festival, which he founded. He also tries to find time to pull in a little PhD research at Loughborough University.
Review: The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith
The First Person and Other Stories
Published by Hamish Hamilton
Reviewed by Eric Karl Anderson
What place do stories have in the great bloated canon of literature? Some consider them as playful side-thoughts compared to the larger in-depth novels that authors produce. Others think of them as an author's most essential ideas pared down to the bare essentials, brief and perfect in their distillation. It probably depends on what author you are reading. This is a debate Ali Smith engages with in the opening story of her latest collection and, as a staunch defender of this literary form, the stories contained in this book are robust examples of how imaginative, important and powerful short stories can be.
In this book you'll find a story which describes the seductive reactionary thoughts contained within each of us in the form of a foul-mouthed abandoned baby (First published in the Blithe House Quarterly
). In `Writ' the author shows how alien we are in adult form to the child we used to be, suggesting that a constant dialogue is taking place between our present and former selves by explaining how her 14 year-old self has taken up residence in her home. There is a daring to Smith's writing which pushes the reader out of conventional ways of thinking and the comfortable, methodical way readers might ingest stories. Mythic tropes are invited to engage in the particulars of the present day. Particular people in particular places at particular times expand into what is universal. Paragraphs on the pages refuse to be justified and end on the right side of the page in jagged lines. Quotation marks are abandoned. Forms of narrative are teased and taunted to explore the meaning of points of view. Nameless voices banter back and forth in sensual, intimate, bodily play. Conclusions are written, abandoned, rewritten, erased, rewritten.
Yet these stories are not mere playful experiments with literary forms. They contain real heart. For readers who are familiar with Smith's work, they are probably the most confessional you'll find among her publications. When describing a friend who has cancer, an adulterous affair, a childhood crush on an art teacher, these stories feel immediate, emotional and true (regardless of whether they are autobiographical or not). Consequently, Smith shows in these stories that this literary form provides strategies for confronting what is most vital in our lives right now. Whether you finish reading a piece in this collection feeling touched to the bone or utterly perplexed, these stories make an impact larger than their "short" stature suggests.Eric Karl Anderson is author of the novel Enough and has published work in various publications such as The Ontario Review, Harrington Gay Men’s Fiction Quarterly, Blithe House Quarterly and the anthology From Boys to Men.
Arsenal Pulp Press - Call for Submissions!
I LIKE IT LIKE THAT: TRUE TALES OF GAY DESIRE
edited by Richard Labonté and Lawrence Schimel
Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2009
For an anthology about gay sexual desire, we are looking for short personal essays—mini-memoirs, as it were—about your erotic experiences. Your essays can focus on a single significant encounter or on a moment that extends into a lifetime; they can describe the intensity of a first-time experience or the ephemera of emotional desire that never leads to physical pleasure. We want to know what turns you on; we want to know what turns us on collectively as gay men; we want the erotics of queer life to be used as a launching point for exploring the queer condition; we want essays exploring all the diverse manifestations of desire between and among men.
We want intelligent writing about desire and sex. We don't just want essays about how many inches and how many times and how many positions—we're more interested in what sex means for you: what you like to do, but also why you like to do it. We want contributors to reach into their memories to tell true tales about personal erotic space—we don't want just the mainstream porn imagery that by default dominates our cultural (and therefore personal) references. We want hot, but we also want smart. We want passion, but we also want philosophy. We want the urgency of desire, but we also want reflections on desire.Submission instructions:
1) Title the file with author's last name and story title: Surname-Title.doc
2) Include your name, your mailing address, your email address, and a bio WITHIN the .doc file with your essay, as submissions will be separated from emails to be read.
3) Submit your work by email, as an attachment in .doc format, to firstname.lastname@example.orgLength:
approximately 1000-3000 wordsDeadline: Feb 1, 2009.Deadline:
Feb 1, 2009.Payment:
a small honorarium and one copy of the book will be paid.
About the editors
Richard Labonté has been the editor of the BEST GAY EROTICA series since 1997, and of the anthologies COUNTRY BOYS, BOYS IN HEAT, BEST GAY ROMANCE 2008 & 2009, BEST GAY BONDAGE EROTICA, WHERE THE BOYS ARE, HOT GAY EROTICA, DADDIES, BEARS, and BOY CRAZY. He writes the syndicated review column "Book Marks" for Q Syndicate (www.qsyndicate.com). For many years the general manager of A Different Light Bookstores in California, he returned to Canada in 2001, and lives with his husband Asa on Bowen Island, BC, where he works at home as a freelance editor of both queer words and technical writing, with forays back to a farm in rural eastern Ontario.
Lawrence Schimel is an award-winning author and anthologist who has published over 90 books in many different genres, including PoMoSEXUALS: CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT GENDER AND SEXUALITY, TWO BOYS IN LOVE, BEST DATE EVER: TRUE STORIES THAT CELEBRATE GAY RELATIONS, THE DRAG QUEEN OF ELFLAND, THINGS INVISIBLE TO SEE: LESBIAN AND GAY TALES OF MAGIC REALISM, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF NEW GAY EROTICA, SWITCH HITTERS: LESBIANS WRITE GAY MALE EROTICA AND GAY MEN WRITE LESBIAN EROTICA, DESAYUNO EN LA CAMA, and BEST GAY POETRY 2008, among others. He lives in Madrid, Spain.
Together, Labonté and Schimel are the editors of FIRST PERSON QUEER (winner of a Lambda Literary Award), SECOND PERSON QUEER, and THE FUTURE IS QUEER, all also published by Arsenal Pulp Press.
About the publisher
Arsenal Pulp Press (www.arsenalpulp.com) is an independent Canadian publisher located in Vancouver, BC, which has published titles such as QUEER VIEW MIRROR, QUICKIES, HOT AND BOTHERED, OUT/LINES: UNDERGROUND GAY GRAPHICS FROM BEFORE STONEWALL, SEMINAL: THE ANTHOLOGY OF CANADA'S GAY MALE POETS, and the Little Sisters Classics series, among many other queer-interest titles.
Labels: Call for Submissions
Review: Blackbird by Larry Duplechan
with an introduction by Michael Nava.
Published by Arsenal Pulp Press
- Little Sister’s Classics no.6. 20th anniversary reprint. 2006. First published 1986,
Reviewed by John Dixon
On page one of this coming-out, coming-of-age novel the black hero Johnnie Ray Rousseau has his college yearbook signed by his best friend Efrem. ‘May your life be a movie in which you are Orson Welles: Write it – direct it – star in it.’
It doesn’t turn out quite like this. Johnnie’s studying English, hoping to go to UCLA, but what he writes is less movie-script than a musical; song titles and lyrics feature prominently. He’s the first person narrator throughout, but he doesn’t get the star lead in a college play he’s set his heart on. And as for directing, though his burgeoning feelings are ever-present – if he gets over-stimulated he deflates by reciting the Lord is my Shepherd over and over again! – he never takes the lead in expressing and sharing them.
His parents are conformist church-goers. Johnnie knows he’s different, but not in the way of the teenage experiences in Catcher in the Rye. He prefers the script of the Boys in the Band. He suspects Efrem’s gay, but doesn’t fancy him. He likes blondes, such as Todd, who definitely isn’t. He’s informed that he is gay by the dual character Carolann aka Chrystal. He admits as much to his black college friend Cherie. However, she won’t believe him and seduces him. This first sexual encounter doesn’t change his conviction about his sexuality or alter his friendship with Cherie. His father thinks he’s dating Cherie regularly and hands out rubbers. His first male contact is Marshall, an actor who ditches Johnnie and actually makes it into films. He is forced to come out when Efrem is caught in bed with a boy and beaten up by his own father. An over-eager stand-in church pastor goes to Johnnie’s parents and suggests Johnny may benefit from an exorcism. Johnny feigns conversion. He doesn’t leave home. That coming-of-age moment is Ephrem’s. ‘That’s where you’re wrong, Mother. I’m eighteen now. And I can do as I like.’
The novel was acknowledged as the first to deal with gay coming-out. However, several critics accused the author of not being sufficiently pro-active, especially on the racial issue. There is a strength here, hidden in the changes of style and the style is what keeps this novel fresh. When the tone loses its undoubted sparkle we know Johnnie is being forced to act out of character. This happens most markedly in the casting of the college play.
Johnny has hopes.
‘I would have given both my chest hairs to play that scene.’
The hitch is
‘If I did get cast, I’d undoubtedly have to nuzzle some little flower of white womanhood right here on the stage. I just don’t know if this town’s quite ready for that.’
The teacher organising the play agrees with the town - which is just as bigoted in other ‘moral issues’ and has recently exiled Todd for making the Pastor’s daughter pregnant. The lead role goes to a lesser actor who is white.
‘Suddenly I felt something go twang in me, like the harp string that breaks in the Cherry Orchard’
He confronts the teacher and surprises himself.
‘I was not known for talking back to teachers, let alone swearing at them.’
The change in tone, the modulation of key is as telling – and more readable – than a head-on diatribe.
The novel is reissued as one of the Little Sister Classics, devoted to titles ‘from our queer past.’ Other titles include The Song of the Loon and Finistere. They all have introductions, reviews and interviews. Would we had a comparable press in England! John Dixon has had several poems and short stories published, including in Chroma. He has won a prize in the Bridport Short Story competition, and was editor/contributor to Fiction in Libraries. He is a member of the Gay Author’s Workshop and is on the editorial board of and contributor to the forthcoming GAW short story anthology ‘People my mother warned you about.’ He hopes shortly to have his novel ‘Push harder Mummy, I want to come out’ published by Paradise Press. He has read his work at launches and several local LGTB events.
Interview with Evecho, e-publisher of the Read These Lips anthologies, Openings and Second Helpings
provides beautiful compilations of not just lesbian stories, but also talent and generosity. The writers give their stories without charging any fees. The work involved in producing these anthologies is made possible by the pro bono services of the RTL team
ReadTheseLips is about collating new lesbian short stories into handy, single volume compilations, and providing them free to readers. They don't just bring together stories that are already out there; they source for new talent, encourage established writers to participate, and accept multi-genre short fiction that they compile into free e-books.
GMK: Is the rumour true that the idea to publish a free e-anthology of lesbian short stories came to you one day at an open air concert? What were your thoughts about lesbian anthologies at the time, both in print and online? And all for free?
Evecho: Yes, it’s true about the idea being born at a concert. My partner and I, along with about a hundred thousand people, were at the Domain enjoying the annual Symphony in the Park concert. Somewhere in the midst of the programme, the idea for what would become the Read These Lips series of anthologies flashed into my head. It was an Eureka! moment, and it came with a bang - along with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. I think it was along the lines of ‘Gee, isn’t it nice that a free celebration of art gives pleasure to so many? Why can’t I do that?’ And then I thought about the kind of creativity that moved me and lesbian literature was at the top of the list.
I babbled excitedly about the brilliant idea (it had to be that) to my partner, and as soon as we got home, I jumped online and sent out a mass of emails. Fantastic stuff, email.
An anthology that is not themed around a genre, is in itself not unusual. What was needed, I felt, was a place that honoured lesbian life in stories; not just moments, not just fantasies, but real life. There must be millions of lesbians in the world, of all sensibilities, shapes and colours. Our literature should reflect that diversity as much as possible.
I want to show a wider range of lesbian interests, to show that we can engage and connect in more ways than just the basic. To do that, I would cross language, colour, lifestyle, age and just about any –ism you can conjure. We don’t grow up with the same stories and we definitely don’t express ourselves homogenously. Sometimes I think what’s needed is a little less strict definition and a lot more pride and enquiry. Read These Lips is about encouraging the fulsome development of lesbian interests and identity through our anthologies.
GMK: So why an anthology format?
Evecho: I have a collection of lesbian and women erotic anthologies going back twenty plus years. There was no Internet then, and hardly any decent lesbian literature available where I was. An underground scene of jealously shared books and videos was the best one could get. Under those limitations, the lesbian and bi stories were instrumental in fostering and strengthening my sexuality. Lesbian novels were rare but anthologies somehow slipped through, and queer stories were always part of any anthology. I developed a fondness for variety and off-the-wall women’s stories.
The short story is, to me, one of the heights of literary form. Anthologies are handy collections of short stories - the cream of the crop when it comes to smart storytelling. They cater for readers who want a quick fix as well as those on slower, longer ruminations. Recently, I’ve discovered a campaign to ‘Save the Short Story’, which means our anthologies are relevant beyond lesbianlit.
GMK: The premise is you simply approach well known writers and ask them to contribute for free. And you get some really big names. The deal is because the anthology is free they get massive exposure for their work. Is this near genius or are you slightly mad?
Evecho: (Laughs) Well, genius and madness are a matter of perspective. I don’t think I’m either. What I had was an opportunity to pursue an idea that I knew, deep down, I had to do.
Read These Lips is at heart a project to spread quality lesbian literature as far as possible, particularly and especially to those who find it hard to afford or obtain stories to relate to.
We’re interested in writers, all writers. Fame is relative. Writers may be well-known in the UK but not in the US, and vice versa. A newbie today could be a superstar tomorrow. What we want is for one part of the world to see the other. What we offer is a place for stories that don’t fit mainstream expectations. Our threshold for submissions is open and quite unburdened by requisites. Being an unpublished writer is not a detriment, in our view. We’ve had great success mentoring new writers, and we’re delighted when they go on to long and successful careers. Writers who are committed to their stories shine through every time.
We are conscious of our commitment to the writers, readers and lesbianlit as a whole. By bringing them together, our goal is to nourish the development of multi-faceted lesbianlit that crosses opinions and inspires lesbians to want to express themselves.
GMK: What's your vision for the future?
Evecho: We’re a young publisher and we have loads of ideas. However, nothing moves fast, or fast enough, in publishing. Stay tuned to our blog (http://readtheselips.wordpress.com/) where we’ll have regular updates as well as Read These Lips, Volume 3.
GMK: Finally, writers, published and unpublished alike get a massive audience. The production team gets valuable work experience, and folio expansion. Even your professional editors gain great kudos for their fantastic efforts. What do you get out of it? It’s so much hard work for the global community, and all for free? Are you really just a philanthropist at heart?
Evecho: The great thing about publishing is that you never go it alone. There are resources and wonderful important people with you every step of the way. Sure the work can be tough at times but it is never hard when you do something you love. Read These Lips is a deeply rewarding and hugely satisfying project.
Review: That’s Revolting! by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Published by Soft Skull Press
Review by Aundi Howerton
With seven new essays, this second edition collection addresses, as editor Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore writes in the introduction, “a radical queer intervention in the culture wars.” Bernstein and fellow contributors do more than just critique the contemporary homosexual ambitions to assimilate into the “holy trinity of marriage, military service and adoption,” but call such acts those of “violence” and “cultural erasure” that ultimately support U.S. imperialism. The collection is as much a call for reconstruction as a call for equal rights, vying that the status quo is not something to be attained but something that isn’t working at all.
The book also offers an excellent survey of recent American queer activism history, both inspiring and at times uncomfortable, a compelling read for anyone, queer or not, fresh out of the closet, dissatisfied with the homogeneity of their subculture, or just willing to have their assumptions turned out about what it means to be queer and have power. The essays cover a historical range of activist groups and trajectory-altering events, including the Stonewall riots, the Gay Liberation Front, ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), Fed Up Queers, and Gay Shame, as well as detailing various artistic movements and individual plights.
Throughout, despite heavy attention to organized activism, the writers and subjects share the powerful theme of the human body as site of resistance. From barricade to nut busting, Mattilda and crew take the power of change away from the lawmaker and deliver it back to the individual bodily experience. Don’t expect a feel-good read, however. You won’t love everything in this book. And that’s the point. The essays reinforce that being queer is not about sameness; it’s about beading the fault line, being a part of the state of emergency, refusing the assimilation that disenfranchises that volatile power of difference which invokes change.
Review: Raw Youth by Jay Diers
Published by: Bruno Gmunder
Reviewed by: Steven J Watson
Raw Youth is predominantly a book of male nudes. Some naked, some clothed, the models lie on beds or sofas, or stand with the casual arrogance of youth. Some meet the camera’s gaze while others seem oblivious to its intrusion; one masturbates, his hand a furious blur, while another reclines, smiling, fresh semen pooled on his stomach. These are candid, intimate images, buzzing with the sexuality and promise of youth.
The question, though, is one of intention. These pictures are erotic, certainly, but Diers clearly sees them as belonging on the coffee table rather than in the bottom drawer. On looking at them one cannot help but first think of the raw, confessional portraits of Nan Goldin, or even Larry Clark, whose work Dier obviously admires. But where those photographers’ seemingly casual, almost snapshot, style in fact documented a whole subculture of drag queens and drug-takers, Diers work rarely delves deeper than the surface, than what is directly in front of him. On only a couple of the images do we get a glimpse of who these boys are, of the lives they lead. In one shot two boys embrace passionately, yet it is the glimpse of the outside world, the river and freeway seen through the window above the bed, that gives them context. In another blurred, black and white shot the model smokes, scratching his head absent mindedly, looking as if he has genuinely forgotten that Diers’ lens is there. Tellingly, it is often these least overtly explicit images that work best.
Still, this book has much to recommend it, falling as it does somewhere in the blur between art and erotica. Technically the photographs are fine, if only occasionally remarkable, and Diers has proved himself capable of creating a memorable image. He talks of photography as a journey, though, and unless his intention is for his work to remain in the grey area where pornography and erotica meet art he needs to open up his subject matter beyond that which he finds personally fascinating. It would be interesting to see him tackle subjects other than these handsome, skinny youths, and to tell stories with his images. If we are to find his subjects as interesting as he does, Diers needs to show us who these people are, what makes them tick, something which, mostly, Raw Youth fails to do.
Steven J Watson lives and works in London. He is currently working on his first novel as well as numerous short stories, and writes regular columns for several magazines. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Review: Get Closer: A Gay Man’s Guide to Intimacy
By Jeffrey N. Chernin
Published by Alyson
Reviewed by Richard Muller
Get Closer is a well written book about being in a relationship and how to make it work. It’s smart writing and states the blindingly obvious for those couples who may have to be reminded of the basics of keeping your man by your side… it takes work… constantly.
Really the whole book could be boiled down to one sentence: “ Talk to each other…”
Maybe this is why I am single, but I could practically feel my lip curling as I read through the exercises and questions. It all seemed so (with respect) American, and frankly if it’s this much hard work... is it worth it? But, if you decide it should be, or could be – and, for me, at the moment it’s not - and the simple advice “talk to each other” is not quiet help enough, then this is a good book to start with.
All the tasks the author gives you make sense and should be easy to do provided you have the patience. Personally, I don’t think I can. I would much rather be told
“It’s his fault – you are perfect, move on…”
But I have to admit on these cold nights perhaps I should study the book just a little harder in order to get at least a few of my brief encounters to stick around overnight – think of the saving on the heating bill…