“The Hour Between” by Sebastian Stuart— A Friendship

the hour between

Stuart, Sebastian. “The Hour Between”, Concord ePress, 2011.

A Friendship

Amos Lassen

Set in the 1960s, “The Hour Between” is about teens who go to Spooner, a private school in Connecticut that is run by the Christian Science religion. The school specializes in working with the “disciplinary challenged”. I knew right away that this was a book I would enjoy simply because one of my first teaching jobs was at a school like this which was run by Christian Brothers and it was a place where wealthy New Orleans parents sent their screwed up sons to get them out the way. The pretense of helping turn the boy into a man was there but I never saw it happen. Ah, but that’s another story and I understand that many of those Christian Brothers are not doing time for helping those boys to help them relieve sexual tension.

Arthur MacDougall had been thrown out of his previous school and comes to Spooner where he meets Katrina Felt whose mother is a famous actress. Katrina also considers herself to be an actress and she often tries out for roles. Arthur is gay and he has to deal with that as well as with his friendship with Katrina.

There are drugs all over Spooner and the student body seems zonked most of the time and this causes teachers to be strict. Arthur and his roommate were caught possessing and selling marijuana but he does not really use anything except that time he tried LSD. He is, however, aware of Katrina’s drug dependency especially when she is cast in a Broadway musical. He can also tell when she is real and when she is acting. It does not make a difference to him as he is totally devoted to her.

Arthur is expected to spend Christmas vacation with his parents  and his sister, Anne, (the family’s social conscience) in Trinidad and his mother lets him know that his father has a big announcement to make. It turns out that family finances are not so good and Arthur understands that he will have to find a summer job and then work his way through college. (Once again I am reminded of the elite of New Orleans who because they possess the family name are thought to be the leaders of elegant society. I knew several girls whose parents had to mortgage their homes in order to pay for the white gown the girls were expected to wear for their debuts).

Arthur’s father made his announcement as if he was embarrassed to tell his family about not having money but Arthur accepted the situation and returned to Spooner and remained aloof from the realities of the family situation. Arthur deals with the status quo and his only real act of rebellion is telling his parents that he is gay but there is no real reaction from them.

Spooner, to me, was a joke of a school—on one hand it was rather permissive toward its students and there did not seem to be much discipline used on those who needed it. Arthur made friends there rather quickly and he was smitten with Katrina, a girl with a dark secret. Because Katrina’s parents were so dysfunctional and disinterested in her, Arthur began to appreciate his own social climbing wannabe upper-class parents. Katrina encourages him to explore his sexuality and he and his friends test their teachers. What we really see is that Spooner was a place where everything could and usually did happen. It is an interesting view of the Christian Science religion which I always thought was rather strict.

We see everything through the eyes of Arthur McDougal who has his ups and downs with fellow students. While Arthur’s confidence grows,  his friend, Katrina is pulled down by the heartbreaking secrets and sorrows of her past. When school ends that year, their lives will be changed forever.

I do not want to say any more about the plot because to do so would be to spoil a read but I will say that their is some fine writing here. I do think the whole boarding school them has run its course and we have not seen much of it in literature lately. I am not sure whether or not that is a good thing.

 

A Boy Named: The Artwork of Rene Capone” by Rene Capone— 85 Paintings and Drawings

a boy named

Capone, Rene. “A Boy Named: The artwork of Rene Capone”, Capone Fine Art , 2014.

85 Paintings and Drawings

Amos Lassen

Rene Capone brings us 85 of his paintings and drawings in “A Boy Named…”. They were created by metaphorically searching for someone after a traumatic brain injury. One word is then used to describe the boy’s personality such as “A Boy Named Truth”. Several people have said that Capone’s artwork is a look at the quest for identity and place in the world. The men we see here, however, seem to have found their place and they are comfortable with who they are.

Capone’s artistic vision and his technique make him a very special artist. He is able to give us the male form in its most powerful childhood innocence or he can reflect on the power of love and show it to us through his men. If there is really one outstanding theme to his work, it is love.

Here he gives us a male form that is both magical and mystical. He paints with intense colors thus making his paintings intensive. Likewise his photographs are intense. Capone is known for “his depiction of the figure with whimsical and mysterious imagery, often used together” and he also works with stories and myths. There is great power in his work and everyone should have a look.

The book contains two forewords—one by arts educator Stephen Honicki and the other by  musician Lian Fitz. 

“BOYS IN THE SAND”— One of the Most Successful Gay Films of All Time

boys poster

“Wakefield Poole’s Boys In The Sand”

One of the Most Successful Gay Films of All Time

Amos Lassen

“Boys in the Sand” became one of the most successful gay films of all time almost as soon as it opened at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City in 1971. Kt was written, directed, shot, edited and self-distributed by Wakefield Poole who dared to go where few others went. Now it is getting a new life because of “I Always Said Yes”,  the wonderful documentary by Jim Tushinski.

The plot of “Boys” is simple—the story of newcomer to porn, Casey Donovan (John Calvin Culver, 1943-1987) and his sexual escapades with three men. There is no dialogue and all is seen while hearing a beautiful music score in the background and when I saw all is seen, believe me. The three men we see are representative of four types— the blond surfer, the muscle man, the sensitive thinker, the sensuous black. The film is composed of three segments set in the gay resort beach area of Fire Island.

boys in the sand

“Bayside” is the first segment. Peter Fisk, a hunky dark haired man walks along paths in the woods to reach the beach and when he does he takes off his clothes and sunbathes. Suddenly naked Donovan comes out of the water and runs toward him. The two have oral sex and then they go into the woods where the sex continues. Donovan takes a studded leather strap from Fisk’s wrist and attaches it around Fisk’s penis. They continue the scene, with each performing oral sex on the other and Donovan penetrating Fisk. Following Donovan’s climax he returns to servicing Fisk orally and, as Fisk is climaxing, momentary flashes of previous scenes are intercut. The scene ends with Fisk taking the strap from his genitals and attaching it around Donovan’s wrist. Fisk runs into the ocean and vanishes, mirroring Donovan’s entrance. Donovan dons Fisk’s abandoned clothes and heads off down the beach.

boys1

“Poolside,” the second segment, opens with Donovan holding a newspaper on a pier. He returns to his house, strips by the pool and begins reading. Intrigued by an ad in the back of the paper, Donovan writes a letter in response. After a number of days pass, he gets a reply in the form of a package. Inside is a tablet, which he throws into the pool. The water starts to churn and a dark-haired man, played by Danny Di Cioccio, emerges to Donovan’s delight. The two have oral sex and Donovan penetrating Di Cioccio in a variety of positions. Di Cioccio turns the tables and tops Donovan until Donovan climaxes. The scene closes with the two engaged in horseplay in the pool and then walking off together down a boardwalk.

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The third segment, “Inside,” is the most controversial of the three and was even more so when the film came out. After the opening shots of Donovan showering, toweling off and wandering around his room idly intercut with shots of Tommy Moore, an African-American telephone repairman who is checking various poles and lines outside. The two men spot each other and the rest of the segment consists of Donovan’s fantasized sexual encounters with Moore throughout the house intercut with shots of Donovan sniffing poppers and penetrating himself with a large black dildo. It ends following Donovan’s climax with the dildo, with the real Moore coming inside the house and closing the door behind them.

Poole began experimenting with Super 8 and 16mm film the year prior to releasing Boys in the Sand and this DVD presents four surviving short films: Andy – Poole’s dizzying look at an Andy Warhol retrospective, “A Gift”, a Fire Island-shot precursor to “Boys in the Sand”, “Head Film”,  an experimental and humorous rainy day romp and “Vittorio”, a stop-motion cutout animated film. Both Boys in the Sand and Andy have been newly re-scanned and restored from the best available elements. The other short films are presented here restored for the first time on DVD.

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“Boys in the Sand” was the first triple-X film of any orientation to bill its director and actors (thereby launching the career of Donovan, gay porn’s original superstar); it remains the only adult flick ever reviewed in The New York Times. 

“Sugarless” by James Magruder— Accepting Himself

sugarless

Magruder, James. “Sugarless”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2009.

Accepting Himself

Amos Lassen

In 1976 James Lahrem is a sophomore in high school in a Chicago suburb. His home life leaves much to be desired—his mother is on her second husband and this one is a psychologist, his stepsister is a slut who is constantly stoned and his father is engaged to a woman from the South, Rick finds comfort in listening to Broadway cast recordings of musicals. In his speech class, he manages to get emotion out of his classmates by his excellent presentations and his latest reading gets him into the interscholastic forensics team where is going to perform an eight-minute reading and dramatic interpretation from “The Boys in the Band”, which as many of you probably know is a controversial play about gay men. When he does he is so successful that he begins winning tournaments and making new friends.

Rick has also just begun to explore sex and its pleasures thanks to Ned Bolang, a speech coach from a rival school. At the same time, his mother announces that she is making a commitment to Jesus Christ but Rick thinks that will pass soon. But then family, sex and faith threaten to cause trouble for him at his next speech meet in Peoria. James Magruder gives us a novel about coming-out, coming-of-age and Jesus.

This is Magruder’s first novel (see my review of his short story collection “Let Me See It” that has just been published) and it is a sweet and very funny. The prose is glorious and the characters are realistic and wonderfully drawn. While this is a novel about a guy student, I would not classify this as a gay novel. Rather, its theme is universal. It is a novel about growing up and the difficult journey through adolescence.

Rick is a guy with tremendous humanity. We read of how he copes with weakness, angst, need, and manipulations and as he does we are reminded of what we experienced while growing up. Magruder has wonderfully captured the struggles of being a teenager that we all face whether we are gay or straight. Magruder explores the burgeoning sexuality of a teenage boy in the Midwest bible belt coming to terms with his homosexuality with great detail and a lot of humor. 

“JESUS PEOPLE: THE MOVIE”— Saving the Son

jesus people

“Jesus People: The Movie”

Saving the Son

Amos Lassen

When Pastor Jerry gets some troubling news, he sets out to create a contemporary Christian pop group that will reach his son – before his teenager dies and goes to hell. Made as a mockumentary, the film makes fun of Christianity in a non-offensive way and it is very funny. Pastor Jerry believes that God called on him to create the group and he really wants to make a connection with his son who we are led to believe does not have long to live. He rapidly gets a group together and all begins well but there is the question that fame could hurt the group’s faith in Jesus.

Much of the humor comes from laughing at how silly Christian pop music is without condemning it or saying it has no value. We sense the cynicism yet the film is very careful to not insult or offend members of the Christian faith. We definitely feel the tension between pop culture and Christianity but director Jason Naumann has treated his characters affectionately and there is really nothing offensive here (especially when I think of what could have been—I actually know two gay Christian singers who come across as totally sincere yet laugh their way to the bank). It would have been very easy for this to become an anti-Christian lampoon.

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Pastor Jerry (Joel McCrary) decides that God has called him to save his son from the influence of  the kind of music that kids like. He gets some singers together and calls the group “Cross My Heart”. The singers include Gloria (Edi Patterson), a  former Christian-pop star; the smart but aimless Ty (Richard Pierre-Louis); a true believer Zak (Damon Pfaff); and the nonreligious Cara (Lindsay Stidham). One of their songs that is really awful somehow finds its way on both Christian and mainstream pop charts. But they realize that they  could lose both of their audiences. After their terrible song actually hits both mainstream and Christian pop charts, they find themselves in jeopardy of losing both audiences. Somehow this ragtag group of singers have succeeded but they also known that fame can be short lived.

There are some very funny and clever moments. One scene in which the group films its music video is well done with some very safe stabs at how religion is marketed. Another scene in which the members of “Cross My Heart” discuss their hit song is a wonderful parody about whether Jesus or saving the planet is more important. I also enjoyed how Jerry’s overlooked his own wife’s talents when he was forming the group. One thing that is really fun is watching the singers enjoying themselves making the film.

There are flaws here and I suppose that is only natural when making a movie about a segment of society that is waiting for the film to make a mistake. In the beginning all of the singers seem to have true and good intentions but they also have to deal with the fact that the band is probably not going anywhere. They are all well aware of the extent of their talent so when they do have a surprise hit, they are really not sure how to take it.

Acting wise, everyone does a fine job even though they have to deal with the totally absurd premise here of saving a boy from going to hell. The group does sell out and in doing so, they learn who they are. At the same time, we in the audience get an idea of who we are. The movie is just an easy and fun film to watch and there is no strong message and there certainly could have been one. We do not often see films that are made with such restraint. Just think how this could have been so different with something to offend everyone. Instead it took a safe road and we get a chance to enjoy ourselves.

“Three Brothers” by Peter Ackroyd— London, 1960s

three brothers

Ackroyd, Peter. “Three Brothers”, Doubleday, 2014.

London, 1960s

Amos Lassen

Harry, Daniel and Sam Hanway are three brothers that were born in Camden Town. Each was forced to find his way in the world and that world was one of  ”dodgy deals and big business, of criminal gangs and crooked landlords, of newspaper magnates, backbiters, and petty thieves”. This was also London of the 1960s.

      London is the backdrop and the connecting fabric of these three lives, reinforcing Ackroyd’s grand theme that place and history create, surround and engulf us. From bustling, cut-throat Fleet Street to hallowed London publishing houses, from the wealth and corruption of Chelsea to the smoky shadows of Limehouse and Hackney, this is an exploration of the city, peering down its streets, riding on its underground, and drinking in its pubs and clubs. Everything is possible—not only in the new freedom of the 1960s but also in London’s timeless past.

These three brothers share a coincidence of birth. They grow up as they face the fact that their mother suddenly disappeared and they have to deal with Britain’s changing society which really became evident after the second World War., must then navigate Britain’s changing post-war society. This is a relatively short book to deal with three different personalities and Ackroyd does so by using prose that is crisp and very sharp dialogue.

 Harry is the brother that represents normalcy and ambition, Daniel the academic and “deviate”  while Sam is mentally unstable and a  sometimes mystical man/child.

 Peter Ackroyd is wonderful at telling a story and he does that here. His characters come to life through his depiction of 1960′s London. The characters themselves are well-drawn but I don’t think I would care much about them if it weren’t for Ackroyd’s focus on time and place. This is also a short yet inclusive history of England (and the world) since WWII as well as a moving and, story of family.

The brothers share the same birthday, May 8, but they are  separated by a year each. At a young age, these brothers were traumatized when their mother disappeared. Their personalities kept them from asking their father about their mother and the father never said a single word about her disappearance. Sam, the youngest, was most seriously upset by the loss of his mother. The other two took it in stride as best they could. As the boys aged, their lives went in very different ways and in fact, any sense of family was lost.  Their paths did cross occasionally but they were not aware that they did.

 There seems to have been, at first, an “invisible communion” among the brothers that will later link their fates even as they set out on totally different paths through life. In the end, only one will make it and the two others will actually succumb to the city of London which is the true hero of the story and the only character that the author seems to have any concern for. 

“Look Who’s Morphing” by Tom Cho— Morphing and Transformation

look who's morphing

Cho, Tom. “Look Who’s Morphing”, Arsenal Pulp Press, April, 2014

Morphing and Transformation

Amos Lassen

Tom Cho was not a name I recognized before I started reading this book. It is a collection of fictions and fantasies and we follow Cho as he takes us on some surreal adventures. We go dirty dancing with Johnny Castle, we have quite an encounter with Dr. Phil, we watch as Cho gets a job as body guard to the late Whitney Houston, we see him as a puppet and as a servant for the von Trapp family, a time as Godzilla and as a tiny cock rock singer. Cho engages in fantasies of identity, sexuality and power and as he does everything around him changes.

This is  “a fresh, hilarious, and dazzlingly contemporary collection of micro-fictions that explore the slipperiness of identity, race, and gender.” However, it reads more like “a dream journal being kept by someone with an overactive imagination—in the most somewhat-exhausting-but-mostly-interesting-and-entertaining way possible”. What unites all of the stories is the incorporation of characters, figures, and tropes from the past four decades of popular culture. Cho says: “At first, I became interested in incorporating pop culture into my fiction simply much of the fiction I’d been reading wasn’t populated with pop culture.”  He clearly has taken his mission seriously and now he gives us a slim book that is filled with familiar figures.

Cho is usually the protagonist, and one or more of his characters are in a state of constant transformation—both between and within individual stories. In one installment, for example,  he becomes part of a very hot gay relationship in a twisted version of Dirty Dancing; in another, he’s a Godzilla-sized “cock rock” god who’s first bent on destroying Tokyo, then determined to entertain it. In the final scene he is tied down like in “Gulliver’s Travels” and sexually excited by a Japanese women. The plot lines in each of these stories are way over the top and allow Cho to comment on matters related to identity, family, and race. Since he is safely within the stories, he can say what he wants. In the story based on “The Sound of Music”,  Cho goes off to live with Captain Von Trapp, but eventually is confronted with the very-real scenario of not knowing whether he wants to be with the man or to be him. He is able to discuss the often process of identity-formation among the children of immigrants in a creative way. He then has them morph into various Western pop culture icons before their parents’ eyes. The reality within each story is the real fun in reading these vignettes. Cho has wonderfully astute observations about the mutability of identity which  make for the fun of this book. 

“Buzz Bets Badly, But Begets Bliss” by Etienne— Falling in Love

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Etienne. “Buzz Bets Badly, But Begets Bliss” (an Avondale story), Smashwords, 2014.

Falling in Love

Amos Lassen

Etienne’s writing is one of my guilty pleasures and I was worried that I would not have the chance to review him again because I have parted ways with his publishing house, Dreamspinner. For years now I have not understood how a publisher could be so dishonest to peddle male/male romances written by women and young female teeny-boppers who have absolutely no idea of what goes on in the minds of gay men. I finally realized that I had had enough of it and relegated Dreamspinner to the circular file where she truly belongs. The sad thing is that there are several good writers who publish there and I can only hope that they see the light before Dreamspinner goes the way that so many small presses have gone—never to be heard from again.

(I did have an incident with one of their writers who let me know after I had reviewed several of his books that he, in reality, is a she, a housewife with teenaged sons who really got off on writing gay erotica. She actually asked me if that changed anything. I said it changes everything because she lied to me for over five years which also meant that her writing was nothing but lies). But back to Etienne—

This is a story about Adam Yancey, a young man getting ready to graduate from college at the young age of eighteen with a degree in music. He is a gifted organist and  a smart guy who knows what the wants from life. He is already anxious to begin working on his Master’s Degree and then going on to a doctoral. He wants to have a career as a concert organist. But more than a successful career, he dreams of having a relationship with man, similar to the relationship his father has with his partner. (Now this is interesting in that we do not often get stories of children of gay couples who go on to follow their same-sex parents). However, there is a bit of a problem and that problem is Adam’s secret which he thinks will prevent him from ever having the relationship he dreams of.

Enter Buzz Patterson, a jock and track star who wants nothing more in life than having sex and as many times as possible. One day his friends tease him and bet him that he can find out whether or not Adam’s long fingers are representative of another part of his body. He has a time limit in which to find out and he actually pursues Adam in hopes of winning the bet. He actually thinks this is going to be easy. However, what Buzz did not expect was that Adam would turn the tables on him.

The story becomes much more than either guy planned on. In fact, what began as a bet for Buzz became something he could never have expected. (But then again, Buzz agreed to take part in the bet and right thee tells me something about him—how many straight guys are concerned about the size of someone else’s penis?). Somehow Adam got wind of the bet and decides to be ready by being prepared. Adam and Buzz begin to hang together and Buzz tries very hard to find out what he needs to know while Adam is very smart and derails any move Buzz makes. Then both guys realize that they really like each other and soon their mutual attraction led to other activities. Buzz faces the truth and in doing so he and Adam become partners, something neither guy ever thought he could have, especially when they are both so young. With the bet now off, Adam still has a secret that might hurt him to reveal. He feels that he needs to know how Buzz will react to it and when he reveals it will the relationship they have stay firm? Will the promises they made to each other still hold?

I am quite sure you are now speculating as to Adam’s secret, right? All I will say about that is that his secret is totally unexpected and I will say it is not what you think (Show me a man who is not a size queen and I will show you a liar).

Etienne’s technique made this a wonderful read. With every book, he surprises me more. He really knows how to build a story and then how to write it. He also does not tie everything up into a nice bow but leaves some things open just in case he decides that he should write a sequel.

 If you are not familiar with the Avondale stories let me explain what they are. There are already several books in the series but it is important to know that each book stands alone and on its own. It is not necessary to read them in order and in fact it is not necessary to read other books in the series to understand what is going on in a specific book. The characters in all of the books are the men of Avondale, a community where the LGBT population has no problems and is well accepted. Our characters are ordinary men and they all live happily with their partners and while some are more unusual than others, they are by and large just regular guys. So if you are new to Etienne and Avondale, you have pleasure awaiting you and if you are a regular, you know what I am taking about.

“Let Me See It: Stories” by James Magruder— Sensitive Beautiful Writing

let me see it

Magruder, James. “Let Me See It: Stories”,  Triquarterly Books, 2014.

Sensitive Beautiful Writing

Amos Lassen

I am not a great fan of short stories and the ones I read are the collections that are sent to me for review. However, this collection by James Magruder made me think that perhaps I have not given short writing its fair due and when I was about halfway through these stories, I knew that I did not want them to end. When I indeed closed the covers of “Let Me See It”, I felt as if I had lost a friend.

The eleven stories that we have here are connected through Tom and Elliot, two gay cousins and we are with them from adolescence through adulthood. I found that I was more than just with them, however, they became a part of me. They go through the same issues and deal with the same problems that all of us have done overtime. Spanning twenty years—the 70s to the 90s, the guys learn to find their way out of the closet and into the world. They learn how to steer their fates picking up hints along the way. They are taught by coworkers and from the street and they soon are able to navigate for themselves until they face the AIDS epidemic and crisis. I can almost hear you saying “AIDS!” Not again” but we must accept the fact that the disease marked a turning point in our history and that those who lived through it were affected by it. But do not worry—I know Magruder’s writing and I know that he has the ability to find beauty in heartbreak and to find life in death. He writes with such honesty that makes us sit up and say, “wow”. Magruder also knows when it is time for humor (the kind of humor that makes one smile) and when it is time for heart. There were times as I read that I felt the author telling me that everything is going to be okay.

A moment ago I mentioned humor and I want to qualify that. Magruder’s brand of humor is what some may label as wicked or sarcastic and it is just the kind of humor I love. This is the kind of humor that we face on a daily basis in our lives—sometimes we notice it and smile as a result and other times it so subtle that we could miss it altogether—it is the humor that occurs within the mundane, the same kind of humor I find when I think about why there is an animal like the platypus. Together with his subtle humor, Magruder uses tenderness and this shows me how he feels about his characters. He has created them with tenderness and humor and then sent them on their way while he, like a puppeteer, pulls the strings. As the boys work their way through adolescence and all that comes with being gay, teen and even closeted, I found it impossible not to smile as I read.

Tom and Elliott are complex to a degree and they are wonderful. I am so happy to have been invited into their world and well before the rest of you have a chance to experience it. While they lived in our past, they also come to life in our present and it is through them that we learn what is really important. As I read these new stories, I was reminded of an earlier book of Magruder’s  “Sugarless” that is also a coming-of-age story about Rick, a high school student and he faced similar incidents as out heroes here. The humor there is a bit more in our face and laugh out loud but the same sweetness was there as we have here. In both books our main characters learn lessons only by having experiences that are painful.

There is something else here that all of us should treasure and that is the ability to see ourselves in some else’s work. Bringing everything together is gorgeous prose. Here is a book to be cherished and I am sure that the author is very proud of himself.

“A Season of Grief” by Bill Valentine— Carrying On

a season of grief

Valentine, Bill. “A Season of Grief”, Routledge, 2014.

Carrying On

Amos Lassen

Bill Valentine shares his emotional descent after the loss of his lover of 21 years. He and Joe Lopes shared an interracial relationship and after Lopes died a violent death, Valentine was left to deal with the pain, fear, anger, denial, and loneliness, the glimmers of hope, moments of serendipity, and mysterious coincidences that emerged from his full-time devotion to grief following the death. Here we are witness to “the everyday struggles of a surviving partner trying to carry on in a radically changed world”.

Lopes died along with 264 others when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in November 2001 in route to the Dominican Republic. It was the second deadliest accident in U.S. aviation history.

 “He is a word always on my lips as I try to work him into a conversation. He is a memory that I strive to keep alive. So yes, in this sense, he is not gone. But in reality, he is. He is gone as my lover. He is gone as my life partner. He is gone as my soul mate, the only person to whom I periodically bared my soul. He is gone as my best friend, the only person to whom I ever attached that label. So pardon me while I still hang on to the notion that he is not here with me. Pardon me while I cling stubbornly to the insistence that he is gone”.

 How do we make sense of death? To read this is to have your heart broken but it is also a lesson in survival. Valentine is at times funny, sad, sobering and frightening. But above all he is real and candid. He takes us thorough the nine months after the plane crash; the time that every moment of his life was affected by the absence of his partner. This is a story that hurts and heals at the same time and it is the story of a man who eventually learns to live without the man he loves and he does so

“through the persistent, surprising evidence of his presence”.

He tells us that, “Our job on earth is to live with uncertainty, ambiguity, and hope. We are given a limited tool set but one, in my opinion, that’s sufficient for the job. Sufficient to allow us to be engaged in life-to love, grieve, work, play, celebrate, and despair. We have a remarkable ability to rebound and grow. We have been granted the capacity for wonder and laughter—especially at ourselves. These last two gifts were bestowed generously on Joe and he, in turn, taught me how vital they are”.

Valentine presents a strong case for gay marriage as we read of what he had to go through to be recognized as surviving spouse and this included a lawsuit with Lambda Legal Defense and Education fund against the New York State Workers Compensation Board. Valentine and Lopes took every conceivable step to formalize their relationship, including New York City Domestic Partnership, but the Workers Compensation Board and a New York State appeals court refused to recognize Valentine as a legal surviving spouse.

I am sure that most of us do not know how to grieve and while Valentine cannot teach us, he does guide his through his journey and in doing so we can better prepare ourselves for something that no one wants to face—the death of someone we love. Nut death is a fact of life and we are all  going to have to deal with someday.

This is a story about love and love does not end with death. “In speaking of Joe Lopes, he makes Joe come alive for those of us who never knew him. The best works of fiction or non fiction are those that can actually make a character live on the page. After reading the book, I feel as if I knew Joe, and (incidentally) Bill. This is living writing that jumps off the page”.

 Valentine takes us through his grief as he lives it— cleaning out of Joe’s closet, the mundane details of settling debts, cancelling credit cards, and changing names on mortgages are things that we never think about until they have to be done. We weep with him as he goes over the what-if’s and the “coulda”, “woulda”, “shouldas” that would have saved Joe from death in a plane crash in November 2001 over Jamaica Bay.

“This book is much more than a memoir of loss. It is a beautiful love song, a testament to the love shared by a couple who worked hard for their relationship”. Each person grieves differently but there is commonality to the emotions. “The book opens with Valentine’s eulogy, and moves easily back and forth between the time before Joe’s death and after. The story of their relationship is an example of life fully lived and of love honored and respected. Valentine handles his grief by facing it head on. He says that the only way to transform the pain is to go through it. He shows us that writing and talking and thinking about the impact of Joe’s death is a positive way to cope with the pain. Sharing not only grief but the story of their love is a marvelous memorial to Joe. Now that I’ve met Joe, I will never forget him”.