Category Archives: Uncategorized

“The Eyes of the Queen: A Novel” by Oliver Clements— The Beginning

Clements, Oliver. “The Eyes of the Queen: A Novel (1)”,  (An Agents of the Crown Novel), Atria/Leopoldo & Co,, 2020.

The Beginning

Amos Lassen

Oliver Clement’s “The Eyes of the Queen” is  his first novel of the Agents of the Crown series in which a man who will become the original MI6 agent protects England and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I from Spain’s nefarious plan to crush the Age of the Enlightenment. Here is a new look at history that is both a fun read and one that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you turn pages as quickly as possible.

Europe has finally emerged into the Age of Enlightenment after centuries of poverty, persecution, and barbarity. Scientists, philosophers, scholars, and poets alike believe that new era of reason and hope for  and the  threat exists for all who dare to defy Catholic orthodoxy. There is only Britain who can fight this and Queen Elizabeth I knows that this is not a war that can be won by just the forces of war.

After Britain loses half of her military force and the treasury is almost empty, the Queen needs a new kind of weapon and the knowledge and secrecy necessary to win this. It is then that Her Majesty’s Secret Service is born and John Dee is its leader. Dee is charismatic and a scholar, a soldier, and an alchemist who is loyal only to the truth and to his Queen. Even though she is the woman he’s forbidden from loving, he is prepared to risk his life for her and for Britain.

I love historical fiction and I love thrillers. We get both in one book here and it swept me away. The prose is clean, the characterization is very real and the details are exceptional. Add to that there will be more in the series coming and we have a whole series to look forward to. You will have to wait until October to read this but it is worth the wait.

“GUTTERBEE”— Sausages and Friendship

“GUTTERBEE”

Sausages and Friendship

Amos Lassen

“Gutterbee” is a character driven comedy about sausages and friendship. Set in small-town America, two hopeless dreamers who join forces to build the ultimate German sausage restaurant. Gutterbee is also a social satire about the connection between identity, religion, racism homophobia and intolerance.

Director Urich Thomsen uses comedy to make fun of everything that we should hate and fight against. Edward (Ewen Bremner) is a German newcomer to the failing town of Gutterbee. He is obsessed with sausage because of what it means to his family history. Not long after arriving, self-made cabaret impresario and ultra-conservative villain Jimmy Jerry Lee Jones Jr. (W. Earl Brown) who is desperate to “make Gutterbee great again” targets him. Just-released prisoner and Jones’ former employee Mike Dankworth McCoid (Antony Starr) is caught in the middle.

The film moves between tones and changes focus among the cast of characters. Edward is its strongest asset as an eccentric sausage zealot and his presence is missed whenever the spotlight is on something or someone else. There is a definite distinct filmmaking style and pointed political satire about right-wing America and fear of the other. The film has a soulful, idiosyncratic personality. It is a look at what life in small town, rural America looks like from an international perspective. It also shows us how to find a way to build an  inclusive existence without forgetting who we are and  is better than where we came from.

The message comes to us from the two dreamers who set out to open the “ultimate German Sausage restaurant: The Gourmet House of Refuge”— Mike Dankworth McCoid is a good-hearted guy who has just been granted a prison release and Edward Hofler, a German sausage zealot. The two complement and play off one another.

 The film opens with a simple black and white title frame from which director Thomsen immediately begins exposing the dark aspects of rural life and culture of the Americana landscape with a voice-over narrative of the town sheriff, played by Chance Kelly. He reveals current topics of discussion including gender conversion therapy, greed disguised in the form of wealth gospel preachers, racism, xenophobia, bestiality, superstitions, and bullying, and how these behaviors continue thrive.

“Gutterbee” is a brilliantly executed film with a message of hope revealed amid the human condition of rural Americans. “It’s mad. It’s scathing. It’s scorching and searing” and just when we are not ready, we are hit by an emotional sucker punch that numbs us. The film will offend many, Thomsen shows how ridiculous and dangerous these people are and he does so with  a wicked sense-of-humor and an “underlying hint of menace”. We are both entertained and challenged.

“Shut Up You’re Pretty” by Tea Mutonji— A Short Story Collection

Mutonji, Tea, “Shut Up You’re Pretty”, Arsenal Pulp, 2019.

A Short Story Collection

Amos Lassen

In Téa Mutonji’s story collection, “Shut Up You’re Pretty”,  “a woman contemplates her Congolese traditions during a family wedding, a teenage girl looks for happiness inside a pack of cigarettes, a mother reconnects with her daughter through their shared interest in fish, and a young woman decides on shaving her head in the waiting room of an abortion clinic.”

The stories bring together desire and choice as they explore the narrator’s experience as involuntary. With pathos and humor, the stories examine the moments in which femininity, womanness, and identity are not only questioned but also enforced. Each woman is on a journey to find out who she is and what kind of love she deserves. Taken as a whole, the collection becomes a microcosm of how messiness can hinder the process of a woman becoming something more than a source of sexual pleasure or a worker for her mate.

At the center of the stories we find girlhood, womanhood and femininity. The women explore sexual expressions, friendships, romantic entanglements, complex familial ties and the power of being a woman as well as the reality of existing in a society that imposes certain expectations on their gender. We read of unsafe situations, relationships that are one-sided or that are established only as a means to an end. We see how much or little woman values herself and we want to see healing and reconciliation.  

The stories tie together and the characters we meet are all important in their own way. Mutonji’s prose is beautiful and gets and carries our attention throughout.  The content of this book can be hard to stomach at times and makes the reader consider the implications and issues that are raised.

I was uncomfortable with some of what I read here but I think that was meant to be. My own preconceptions and prejudices were exposed to me as I read. I was tempted to judge the choices of the narrator and some of the characters but that is a sign of good literature. It pulled me in. This is a heavy read written in light prose.

“The Book of M” by Peng Shepherd— “The Essential Pandemic Novel”

Shepherd, Peng, “The Book of M”, William Peng, 2018.

“The Essential Pandemic Novel”

Amos Lassen

“The Book of M” by Peng Shepherd is “a haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel that explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.” I am sure we all recognize this feeling today. The story is set in the near future and is the story of a

 group of ordinary people who are trapped in an extraordinary catastrophe. They risk everything to save the ones they love. We read of the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself. When a man loses his shadow suddenly, science is unable to explain what happened and the plague spreads and its victims who gain amazing abilities, lose their memories. Ory and his wife Max decide to hide with the hope of escaping what is coming,  the Forgetting but the inevitable happens. Max runs, hoping to spare Ory. But he refuses to let her go and sets out to find her. The are om separate journeys that take them on journeys discovery in this unrecognizable new world that is  filled with bandits, war zones and cults. It seems that everything may come from a strange new force that could hold the cure to save those without shadows.

This is a dystopic future novel filled with textual experimentation as the lives of the characters, who mix emotional heft with sudden, rapid action are mysteriously overtaken. Ory and Max, are at the emotional core of “The Book of M.”

People will soon forget all that they have ever known and become mysterious figures. The book opens with Max losing her shadow after having been in hiding with her partner Ory for two years. Ory is trying to set into motion a system of rules to protect her. Once the two of them are separated, they each go on their way through a strange America. The author’s logic and world-building are apparent and amazing throughout.  The many supporting characters who play into the action and exposition move the story forward. 

This is not the kind of novel I usually read but we are living in very different times; times we never expected to see. It was the first sentence that pulled me in and as I read I began to see the characters as friends and the very strange universe totally captivated me. Their searches for a cure, love, connection, and hope is very, very familiar.

 As the world is collapsing, people start losing their shadows and their memories, a little at a time. We meet characters who have already forgotten everything before “The Forgetting began”. I began to think of how we would act if we had no memories—does reality cease to exist?  The ideas here bring questions to mind—what does humanity mean as we face the unknown? Is hope the way to survival? How far are we willing to go for those we love?

Ory’s and Max’s relationship, separation, continued connection, and journey towards each other are the focus of the novel. This is a character driven novel in which the characters and what they mean to each other is what matters.

“ARE WE LOST FOREVER”— When Love Ends

“ARE WE LOST FOREVER”

When Love Ends

Amos Lassen

Adrian has been newly dumped and he is lost. He wonders if he can win back together Hampus, and/or reconcile with the mistakes he made in their relationship. “Are We Lost Forever” is an intimate separation drama that shows  the pain that comes with the ending of a  relationship. “Are We Lost Forever” begins at the home of the young couple Adrian and Hampus, seconds after they are finished. They have barely managed to get out of bed before they face the new reality that they are no longer together.

Hampus moves out and Adrian left with half a bed, a broken heart and many thoughts especially “where did things go wrong?” The film focuses mainly on Adrian (Björn Elgerd) who for a year tries to get back on his feet. He faces empty nights and one night stands, a lack of sleep and a long healing process. We see screaming confrontations, regretful declarations of love and hot make-up sex during which both Adrian and Hampus (Jonathan Andersson) are forced to re-evaluate their relationship in order to move on and become stronger and wiser.

The film is somewhat stiff and static, most of it takes place indoors and with a handful of actors. David Fardmar, the director / screenwriter has turned his limitations to his advantage. Through simple scenes, the action and emotion to take place in the limelight.

We learn little about the two main characters and after an hour and forty minutes with them, we still know very little about them but at the same time we can relate to every single thing they go through. The film is propelled by the story , a story that most of us are able to identify with. The film is an anti-romantic comedy with a touch of humor and embarrassment and the painful feelings that are the rarely noticed that come with love.

Adrian and Hampus who have been together three years but Hampus feels that the time has come for him to leave. For Adrian, the breakup comes as a shock and he cannot accept that the relationship is over. The film takes place over a year as we follow Adrian and Hampus through their  painfully drawn-out separation with everything that comes with it— crying, anxiety, rebound sex, embarrassing encounters, new look-a-like partners, awkwardness, an uncomfortable couples dinner, an insight into breaking old patterns, and perhaps a streak of hope for reconciliation.

While this is classified as a gay film, the conflicts here are not about sexuality. The main conflict is a separation where two broken hearts try to recover and hopefully heal after a heartbreaking year— two ordinary people facing the end of love.

When Adrian and Hampus get to the point of changing their statuses on Facebook to “single”, they both  realize that they have gone past the point of no return. Over the following year, neither of the men can move on without each other, at first.  When the two finally meet new partners they look like each other, and it makes for a very awkward dinner when the four  get together. What goes on in the story is completely relatable and with that and the excellent performances and use of emotions make this an endearing look at love.

“ZOMBIE”— An Anniversary Re- Release

“ZOMBIE”

An Anniversary Re- Release

Amos Lassen

It’s been nearly 40 years since Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie” was released and it is still one of the best zombie films ever; a sleazy film that’s not to be missed. For the film’s 40th anniversary, we have a new restoration.

“Zombie” is not meant for the squeamish. It begins when the Coast Guard discovers a seemingly abandoned boat in the Atlantic off the coast of New York City with a flesh-eating ghoul on board who kills one of the officers. The owner of the vessel is missing, and his daughter, along with a reporter, set off for the tropical island where he was last seen. What they do not know is that the island is the home of the undead.

There are two famous sequences for which “Zombie” is known. The first is a set piece involving a zombie fighting a shark. It has nothing to do with anything aside from showing insane madness. The second sequence is called “the splinter scene;” and is an incredibly tense moment and one that got the film heavily censored in many countries. It’s shocking, suspenseful, masterfully shot and you will have to see it for yourself.

Director Fulci zooms in on violence and lets us see every bit of brain matter and viscera. Blue Underground has released a new three-disc Blu-ray for the film’s 40th anniversary, which features a 4K restoration from the original, uncut camera negatives. The transfer looks great.

A sailboat sits in the path of seemingly every ship and ferry that tries to cut its way across. Attempts to raise the crew fail. A helicopter circling can’t spot any signs of life. A couple of guys from Harbor Patrol are sent out to take a look and are not prepared for what they found. A bloated corpse comes through a door to eat. A couple shots from a pistol later, the zombie tumbles off the sailboat and sinks into the bay. The immediate threat’s is over, but what was that? This is the question for newspaper reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch) and the daughter of the ship’s missing owner (Tisa Farrow) who want an answer. Their search for that answer takes them to the Caribbean island of Matul. If it’s some sort of previously unknown disease or a voodoo curse, no one knows for sure, but something makes the dead on Matul rise from their graves to feed on the living. They have already eaten almost everyone on the island.
“Zombie” is a brutal film with the dead slowly feasting on the living, tearing into their bodies to find just the right parts to devour… blood is everywhere. in Zombie that isn’t iconic, really. The opening attack is atmospheric, unnerving, and masterfully crafted. Director Fulci does a hell of a great job introducing his zombies and the harbor sequence makes quite  an impact.

Every scene with the ravenous undead is very special and spectacular, but nothing bridges them together. The skeleton of a story is slim, and Fulci doesn’t infuse the moments in between the flesh feasts. The characters are  thinly sketched and mostly uninvolving, relying on the charms of actors like Ian McCulloch and Richard Johnson, though that only goes so far. 

Blue Underground has put together a spectacularly loaded special edition release, featuring t four hours’ worth of extras, every last second of which is well-worth setting aside the time to see.

Extras

Zombie‘s extras are spread across both of the discs in this set.

Disc One

  • Introduction(30 sec.; HD): When playing Zombie, you have the option to watch it with a very short introduction by the brilliant Guillermo del Toro.

  • Audio Commentary: Perhaps the

  • single greatest extra in this two-disc set is the commentary with star Ian McCulloch. He’s joined here by Diabolikeditor Jason J. Slater, and having someone to help moderate the discussion does come in handy later in the film when the conversation slows down somewhat. McCulloch is a wonderfully engaging speaker, and you would hardly know this is his first time ever seeing Zombie from start to finish (!) with the seemingly endless barrage of stories he has to tell. There are far too many highlights to possibly rattle off here, but among them are an Italian crew invading a newspaper office and being told to fuck off by someone who may or may not have been Rupert Murdoch, a relative in the House of Lords being crushed when learning just how many Video Nasties that McCulloch had starred in, and an amateur diver struggling to stay afloat when weighed down by misconfigured scuba gear. McCulloch does a terrific job painting a picture of what it was like to be a part of a film shoot where everyone was speaking so many different languages and no one could be bothered to get a permit. Easily one of the most infectiously fun commentaries I’ve listened to in a long, long time.

  • Promotional Material(7 min.): This disc also features international and domestic theatrical trailers, two TV ads, and four radio spots. The trailers are presented in high definition, and the TV spots are sourced from lower quality video.

  • Still Gallery(10 min.; HD): A high-res still gallery serves up an extensive selection of poster art, lobby cards, behind-the-scenes and promotional photos, pressbooks, soundtrack artwork, and video releases from all across the globe.

Disc Two

  • Zombie Wasteland(22 min.; HD): Actors Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, and Ottaviano Dell’acqua rang in Zombie‘s thirtieth anniversary with an appearance at the Cinema Wasteland con in Ohio. The first of the disc’s featurettes splices together appearances from their booth at the show, a Q&A panel, and individual interviews. Among the topics of discussion are what it was like to work with someone as

  • passionate and notoriously difficult as Lucio Fulci, the outrageous atmosphere on the set, how grueling the worm-eyed zombie makeup was, and what it means to them to have a fanbase this

  • Flesh Eaters on Film(10 min.; HD): Fabrizio De Angelis approaches Zombie from a producer’s perspective, chatting candidly about the lack of permits, the film’s enormous financial success, selling the movie internationally, and struggling with a lawsuit by Dario Argento over the title. De Angelis also touches on bringing Fulci onboard this already-established project and the over-the-top and almost comic tone he sees in the film.

  • Deadtime Stories(14 min.; HD): Uncredited writer Dardano Sacchetti has a sharper memory about the genesis of Zombie than Fabrizio De Angelis, describing how the germ of an idea was spawned by a Tex Willer comic melding Westerns with the walking dead. “Deadtime Stories” also features co-writer Elisa Briganti, and she and Sacchetti speak about how problematic it was finding a director, how Zombie marked the first true horror film to be helmed by Fulci, and the role Zombie played in bringing Italian horror to the rest of the world.

  • World of the Dead(16 min.; HD): Cinematographer Sergio Salvati and costume/production designer Walter Patriarca discuss shaping the look of Zombie, including the use of lighting to exaggerate the horror of the zombies’ makeup, deliberately keeping some elements of the frame out-of-focus, filming the eye-gouging sequence with three cameras, ramming a bulldozer into a lovingly crafted church set that looked a bit too beautiful, and spelling out just how many of the film’s most memorable shots were stolen. Patriarca shows off some of his original conceptual artwork, and it’s impressive to see how closely the hospital in the film mirrors his art.

  • Zombi Italiano(17 min.; HD): Makeup effects artists Giannetto de Rossi, Maurizio Trani, and Gino de Rossi delve into creating the look of Zombie‘s legions of the undead, making them look more like ancient, decaying corpses than the freshly-dead blue zombies in Dawn of the Dead. All of the most memorable

  • attacks in the film are discussed in detail, including the process of tracking down a live shark and gouging the eye of an incomplete head.

  • Notes on a Headstone(7 min.; HD): Composer Fabio Frizzi speaks briefly about his collaborations with Lucio Fulci. Frizzi tends to speak in somewhat general terms, but he does have a few intriguing comments about his music for Zombie, such as the restraint shown in the spectacular sequence in New York Harbor and the use of overlapping sounds throughout the eye-gouging assault sequence.

  • All in the Family(6 min.; HD): Antonella Fulci speaks about her late father, explaining why his movies are so violent and why she believes Zombie in particular continues to endure. Home movies and candid photographs are featured throughout as well.

  • Zombie Lover(10 min.; HD): Finally, Guillermo del Toro dissects Zombie and details why he feels it’s such a brilliant film. This ten minute conversation approaches Zombie from both an intensely personal perspective and that of a director with an encyclopediac knowledge of the genre, and it’s well-worth taking the time to watch.

Finalists Announced for 32nd Annual Publishing Triangle Awards

Finalists Announced for 32nd Annual Publishing Triangle Awards

The Publishing Triangle presents its list of finalists for the 32nd annual Triangle Awards. These prizes, honoring the best LGBTQ fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published in 2019, will be presented on April 30, 2020, at the Tishman Auditorium at the New School’s University Center (63 Fifth Avenue in New York City) at 7 p.m. Co-hosted by the Creative Writing Program, the ceremony is free and open to the public, with a reception to follow.

The Publishing Triangle, the association of LGBTQ people in publishing, began honoring a writer for their body of work a few months after the organization was founded in 1989. It has since partnered with the Ferro-Grumley Literary Awards to present an impressive array of awards each spring.

The Shilts-Grahn awards for nonfiction were begun in 1997. Each winner receives $1000. The Judy Grahn Award honors the American writer, cultural theorist, and activist (b. 1940) best known for The Common Woman (1969), Another Mother Tongue (rev. ed., 1984), and A Simple Revolution (2012). It recognizes the best nonfiction book of the year by or about lesbians, bisexual women, and/or trans women, or that has a significant influence upon the lives of queer women.

Finalists for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction

*In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)

*Sontag: Her Life and Work, by Benjamin Moser (Ecco)

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, by Saidiya Hartman (W. W. Norton)

*We Have Always Been Here, by Samra Habib (Viking / Penguin Canada)

Carmen Maria Machado’s last book, Her Body and Other Parties, was a finalist for both the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction and the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction.

The Randy Shilts Award honors the journalist whose groundbreaking work on the AIDS epidemic for the San Francisco Chronicle made him a hero to many in the community. Shilts (1951–1994) was the author of The Mayor of Castro StreetAnd the Band Played On, and Conduct Unbecoming. This award recognizes the best nonfiction book of the year by or about gay men, bisexual men, and/or trans men, or that has significant influence upon the lives of queer men.

Finalists for the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction

*Buying Gay, by David K. Johnson (Columbia University Press)

*How We Fight for Our Lives, by Saeed Jones (Simon & Schuster)

*The Stonewall Reader, edited by the New York Public Library (Penguin Books)

*When Brooklyn Was Queer, by Hugh Ryan (St. Martin’s)

David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare won this award in 2005. Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise was a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry in 2015.

The Publishing Triangle established its poetry awards in 2001. Each winner receives $1000. The Audre Lorde Award honors the American poet, essayist, librarian, and teacher. Lorde (1934–1992) was nominated for the National Book Award for From a Land Where Other People Live and was the poet laureate of New York State in 1991. She received the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement shortly before her death. Among her sixteen other books are Zami (1982) and A Burst of Light (1989).

Finalists for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry

Be Recorder, by Carmen Giménez Smith (Graywolf Press)

Odes to Lithium, by Shira Erlichman (Alice James Books)

Soft Science, by Franny Choi (Alice James Books)

Tonguebreaker, by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha’s Bodymap was a finalist for this award in 2016; two of her nonfiction works have been finalists for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction.

The Thom Gunn Award honors the British poet Thom Gunn (1929–2004), who lived in San Francisco for much of his life. Gunn was the author of The Man with Night Sweats (1992) and many other acclaimed volumes. In its first four years, this award was known as the Triangle Award for Gay Poetry, and Mr. Gunn himself won the very first such prize, in 2001, for his Boss Cupid.

Finalists for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry

*The Book of Daniel, by Aaron Smith (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Company, by Sam Ross (Four Way Books)

Documents, by Jan-Henry Gray (BOA Editions)

*Impure Acts, by Angelo Nestore; translated by Lawrence Schimel (Indolent Books)

Aaron Smith’s Appetite was a finalist for this award in 2013.

The Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, first presented in 2006, is named in honor of Edmund White, the esteemed novelist and man of letters who won the very first Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, in 1989. The Edmund White Award celebrates the future of LGBTQ literature by awarding a prize to an outstanding first novel or story collection. The winner receives $1000.

Finalists for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction

Black Light, by Kimberly King Parsons (Vintage)

*In West Mills, by De’Shawn Charles Winslow (Bloomsbury)

*Lot, by Bryan Washington (Riverhead)

Shut Up You’re Pretty, by Téa Mutonji (Arsenal Pulp Press)

The Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature was first presented in 2016. Works of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction by writers whose self-definition is gender-variant or non-gender-conforming compete for this prize; in addition, works of nonfiction that are primarily about the trans/gender-variant experience and which are co-written or solely written by cis people are eligible. The winner receives $1000.

Finalists for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature

Disintegrate/Dissociate, by Arielle Twist (Arsenal Pulp Press)

I Hope We Choose Love, by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press)

The Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian), by Hazel Jane Plante (Metonymy Press)

*We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, 1961–1991, edited by Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma (Nightboat Books)

Kai Cheng Thom’s A Place Called No Homeland was a finalist in this category in 2018.

The Ferro-Grumley Literary Awards, Inc., was established in 1988 to recognize, promote excellence in, and give greater access to fiction writing from queer points of view. To honor the memory of authors Robert Ferro (The Blue StarSecond Son, etc.) and Michael Grumley (Life Drawing, etc.), life partners who both died that year of AIDS, the group gave two awards, one for lesbian fiction and one for gay fiction, from 1990 through 2008. Starting in 2009, a single award, the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction, has been presented; it is bestowed by a specially constituted panel of judges selected from throughout the United States and Canada, from the arts, media, publishing, bookselling, and related fields. The winner receives $1000 as well as a summer residency at Art Workshop International in Assisi, Italy.

Finalists for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction

A Generous Spirit: Selected Work by Beth Brant, edited by Janice Gould (Sinister Wisdom)

Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo (Black Cat / Grove Atlantic)

*Lie with Me, by Philippe Besson; translated by Molly Ringwald (Scribner)

Like Wings, Your Hands, by Elizabeth Earley (Red Hen Press)

*On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press)

Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson (Riverhead)

Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr. Loverman won this award in 2015. Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds won the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry in 2017.

On April 29, the evening before the awards ceremony, the Publishing Triangle will sponsor a reading by a select group of finalists; this event will be held at Bureau of General Services—Queer Division, the bookstore inside the LGBT Community Services Center at 208 West 13th Street, Manhattan. The lineup of participating finalists will be announced later. This reading, which will begin at 7 p.m., is free, and books by the readers will be sold.

 

“Honey Walls” by Bones McKay—A Perfectly Normal Transgender Male

McKay, Bones. “Honey Walls”,  McKay and Gray Publications, 2019.

A Perfectly Normal Transgender Male

Amos Lassen

Row is perfectly normal for a transgender man even though his girlfriend speaks to ghosts, his sister spies on him through his reflection, and he has no heart. Row has spent years forcing magic from his life so he is unprepared when it returns in the form of a crow with a letter from his sister. The message in the letter is simple: their mother is dead. Row tries to ignore this and gives his sister control of their childhood home and all of his mother’s stories. Unfortunately his sister is having a hard time her dreams come true especially her dreams of ruining Row’s life. To undo what his sister has done, Row must return home to stop his her and to find his heart.

This is a novel about a trans man written, illustrated, and narrated by trans creators that explores the difficulty of relating to a childhood that isn’t quite one’s own. It deals with themes of grief and growing up and finding the strength to feel again. It is a fun story but it takes a little while to get to why things seem so strange at the beginning. However, everything falls into place and we discover deep meanings.

“Why Karen Carpenter Matters” by Karen Tongson— Death at an Early Age

Tongson, Karen. “Why Karen Carpenter Matters”,  (Music Matters), University of Texas Press, 2019.

Death at an Early Age

Amos Lassen

In the ’60s and ’70s, uplifting harmonies and cheery lyrics propelled Karen Carpenter and her brother, Richard, to international  but it also brought us  a different kind of tragedy and Karen’s death at age thirty-two as a result of an eating disorder.

In “Why Karen Carpenter Matters” Karen Tongson interweaves the story of the singer’s rise to fame with her own trans-Pacific journey between the Philippines (where imitations of American pop styles were everywhere) and Karen Carpenter’s home ground of Southern California. Tongson shows why the Carpenters’ musical fantasies of “normal love” can now have profound significance for her—as well as for other people of color, LGBT+ communities, and anyone outside of mainstream culture usually associated with the Carpenter’s legacy. This book is a hybrid of memoir and biography that examines “the destructive perfectionism at the root of the Carpenters’ sound” while finding the beauty of the singer’s short life.

The book centers those at the margins of American society and reveals how the Carpenters’ music resonated with immigrants, LGBTQ people and people of color who wanted the idyllic normalcy that the Carpenters represented.  Tongson brings together memoir, history, and cultural criticism to show the dynamic relationship between artists and listeners.

Tongson shares her extensive knowledge of music and songcraft and the music writing is wonderful. I was not a fan of the Carpenters and yet I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Tongson’s story shows the intent and effects of the Karen Carpenter’s short life. Tongson as a queer Filipino-American woman has something to say about the production and reception sides of popular music.

“Just Pervs” by Jess Taylor— Two Sex Addicts

Taylor, Jess. “Just Pervs”, Book Hug Press, 2019.

Two Sex Addicts

Amos Lassen

In Jess Taylor’s “Just Pervs”, two sex addicts meet and fall in love. A woman catches her husband cheating on her with their dog and escapes to her sister’s horse farm. Four friends—fellow pervs—grow up and drift apart, longing for each other in silence until one of them is murdered.

Contemporary views of female sexuality are subverted, and women are given agency over their desires and bodies. Through the characters, sex is revealed to be many things at once but always complicated. The stories explore the oppression and illumination created by desire, the ill-comfort with adolescence, and the barriers to intimacy that we place upon ourselves.

The stories are “uncomfortable vignettes” from the author’s life who sees to be just writing her own life. She reuses names and characters – Sam, Travis, and others pop up multiple times in different stories, always in the same roles.

The author claims to be pansexual so I cannot help but I wonder she focuses on all the bad straight sex she’s having rather than explore the undercurrent of homoerotic attraction. She seems to prioritize a “straight white woman” approach to sex.

I did not find the prose to be special in any way— what he says is quite bourgeois and forgettable. The sex we read about is boring and the bisexuality is only by implication. I do not understand how this book became a Lambda Literary finalist but then taste depends upon the reader.