September 29, 2006
Volume 34
Issue 39
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Friday, Oct 23, 2020



Book Marks
Book Marks
by Richard Labonte - SGN A&E Writer

The Homoerotic Photography of Carl Van Vechten: Public Face, Private Thoughts, by James Smalls. Temple University Press, 240 pages + 32 pages of photos, $35 hardcover.

It matters to mention that Smalls is a Gay African-American professor of art history. His sexuality, his race, and his training are all filters for his astute assessment of the 34 homoerotic photos - many of them of black men, and just as many interracial - collected here. The images were never made public while Van Vechten - a white champion of black American culture dating back to the Harlem Renaissance - was alive; they were sealed until decades after his death, in 1964. On the one hand, writes Smalls, he finds the visualizations "unique and compelling." On the other - "my approach may seem schizophrenic" - he's aware of the "potentially racist implications." That honest tension informs, animates, and illuminates this landmark academic study, which opens with a smart biography of the artist, and concludes with an overview of how Van Vechten's work overlaps with the erotic photography of his peers (George Platt Lynes and F. Holland Day) and his successors (including Robert Mapplethorpe and Ajamu Ikwe Tyekimba), whose work is also represented.

Wanted: A Bird Blacker Bounty-Hunter Mystery, by T.I. Alvarado. Alyson Books, 190 pages, $14.95 paper.

It's simply not possible to take this debut novel seriously. Which is why, despite writing that is often sloppy, an implausible plot infuses the story with goofy fun. Bird is an overly fastidious bounty hunter - make that "fugitive-recovery agent." Her sidekick Jesse is a yoga-practicing pacifist who won't put bullets in his gun. Their quarry, Billy, is the hapless son of a vicious crime boss, an elderly health fanatic who made his millions selling party supplies. Bird's college-dropout younger sister, a martial-arts whiz, is along for the loopy ride, which involves searching for miscreants and a bundle of missing money; other characters include Vicky, the wheelchair-bound bail bondsman who sends Bird out to bring back Billy, and Kaya, Bird's one-time lover, a cold-blooded assassin who happens to be the crime boss' illegitimate daughter. By no stretch is this a mystery; rather, it's amusing slapstick with intermittent episodes of hyperbolic violence. And that implausible plotting? How about a mammoth dog locked in a basement for two weeks who survives by eating the missing money?

The Dark Paintings, by Hugh Fleetwood. BIGfib Books, 188 pages, $16.95 paper.

Fleetwood, a British writer with some two dozen books published over more than three decades, isn't particularly known as a Gay novelist - though he's had several quite Queer short stories published in Gay Men's Press anthologies over the years. This eruditely horrific novel, however, is a very Gay tale indeed, with a malevolent mystery at its heart: One after another, a wealthy older Italian man's breathtakingly beautiful young male lovers are dying. The story is mannered, in the style of Patricia Highsmith's several Ripley novels, and eerie, in the style of Clive Barker's supernatural-tinged novels, and steeped in the suffocating atmosphere of a rural village where everyone knows everyone else's business. You can't always tell a book by its cover (in this case, a painting by Fleetwood, who is also an accomplished artist), but the title goes a long way toward unraveling what's behind the spooky deaths. This is a riveting and cultured read, with a titillating whiff of the perverse and a compelling miasma of creepiness permeating every twist of its smart plot.

Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, & Other Outlaws, by Kate Bornstein. Seven Stories Press, 240 pages, $14.95 paper.

Bornstein, the author of several books, prime among them Gender Outlaw, has, by her own admission, attempted suicide. So she's certainly qualified to pen a self-help guide for suicidal outlaws. The audience for this empowering book of offbeat but on-target advice ranges from pansies, punks, and nerds to conflicted middle-class teens and even middle-aged mothers (and fathers) in a funk. Before she gets to the "101 alternatives" - a catchy number - the author lays out her freak credibility in a brief autobiography, "Hello, Cruel Me"; talks about kids who torment others (and the adults they become), in "Hello, Cruel Bullies"; and discusses the unsettling power of gender choice and sexual need, in "Hello, Cruel Desire." The alternatives themselves are sometimes commonsense: Send Out a Distress Signal, Find Your Tribe, Find a God Who Believes in You. They're sometimes quirky: Moisturize, Bake a Cake, Give Up Nouns for a Day. They're sometimes counter-intuitive: Go Completely Batty, Flirt with Death, Make It Bleed. But, as Bornstein explains them - with a pitch that's perfectly witty and wise - they're sure to be helpful for those in need.


45. Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are: Keeping a secret, staying in some closet, never expressing some loving part of ourselves, can drain our energy to the point of exhaustion. And then there's all the paranoia about someone finding out. It makes you jumpy. So, come on out. You don't have to come out to everyone all at once. Start by coming out to someone that other people have safely come out to. And remember, just because you come out as something, that doesn't mean you always have to keep on being that. You can always come out as something else later.

-from Hello, Cruel World, by Kate Bornstein


AN ANTHOLOGY of writing by participants in novelist and Lambda Literary Award winner Dennis Cooper's wide-ranging personal and literary blog ( is coming from Akashic Books in January 2007. "Contributors range in age from 16 to early 40s," says Cooper of Userlands: New Fiction from the Blogging Underground. "They are Gay, straight, and in some cases still searching for their identities. Somewhere in this anthology's collection of mostly unknown, exciting voices are the next important writers of English language fiction." Cooper edited a similar anthology in 1994, Discontents, drawn from the then-burgeoning community of Queer 'zines and featuring early work by the likes of Achy Obejas, David Sedaris, Dale Peck, Scott Heim, Hilton Als, Johnny Noxzema, and Danielle Willis... PATRICK MOORE, author of the Gay coming-out and crystal meth memoir Tweaked, has launched "The Principles," a daily blog for Yahoo! Health "suggesting how normal, non-addictive people can use the principles of 12-step recovery to address everyday problems"... COLM TOIBIN has won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award - worth about $121,000 this year - for his novel The Master, a fictional exploration of the life of Henry James, written in the styles of James' novels. Toibin, whose Gay novel The Blackwater Lightship was nominated for the award in 2001, is the first Irish winner.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about Queer literature since the mid-'70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at

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