Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“The Ungodly Hour” by Laury Egan— Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Egan, Laury. “The Ungodly Hour”,  Interlude Press, 2020.

Amid Romance a Killer Comes

Amos Lassen

Dana Fox, a New York photographer, is leading a weeklong photography workshop on Mykonos. If you have ever been to the island, you will quickly understand why is so  entranced by the brilliant light of Mykonos. The dark beauty of Cybele Karabélias, a local policewoman enchants her as well. However, what began as a wonderful vacation is upended when several of gruesome murders rock the town. Dana doesn’t pay attention to the possible dangers and continues to photograph, not realizing that the killer is moving closer to her as he seeks closure and the evidence that is unknowingly in Dana’s possession.

Dana is sure who she is sexually but Cybele who accepted a job on the local police department because she wanted to learn more about her sexuality. Mykonos has always been a gay destination so it seems that it is a perfect place for introspection and sexual decision making. One evening, Dana and Cybele see each other in a bar but it ended there or so it seemed.

However, the next day Dana’s apartment was broken into and when she calls the police, Cybele the following day, her apartment gets broken into and trashed and guess who visits when she calls the police Cybele answers.

At the same time Dana is visiting Mykonos, a gay man is murdered, a news reported is killed, a group of Christian-anti-gay-protesters is on the island and one of Dana’s student is dealing with an abusive boyfriend. There is a lot going on and we are left to wonder why her apartment was broken into.

After the phone call to the police, Dana and Cybele get along beautifully but we feel the tension on Mykonos. The plot keeps us reading as we try to tie everything together. While this is a mystery/thriller read, there is also a lot of romance here.

It seems that the murders have something to do with Dana’s photography workshop and it is possible that among Dana’s photos is one of the killer. When we finally learn who the murderer is, we see his reasons. It is interesting also that there is such homophobia in a place where gays are regular visitors and even residents. I do not want to say anymore about the plot because to do so would spoil the mystery. I prefer that you enjoy the read as much as I did. In fact, I bet it is that much better with a second read which I plan to do soon.

“Stay and Fight: A Novel” by Madeline fifth— Independence and Protest

Ffitch, Madeline. “Stay and Fight: A Novel”,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2019.

Independence and Protest

Amos Lassen

Madeline ffitch’s “Stay and Fight: A Novel” is a tribute to independence and a protest against the materialism in which we live today. We meet Helen who comes to Appalachian Ohio full of love and her boyfriend’s ideas for living off the land. However, with winter coming, he calls it quits. Rudy, Helen’s “government-questioning, wisdom-spouting, seasonal-affective-disordered boss” and a neighbor couple, Karen and Lily, come to help and Helen makes it to spring. The neighbors are awaiting the arrival of their first child, a boy, which means their time at the Women’s Land Trust must end.

Helen invites the new family to move in with her and they split the work and the food, build a house, and build a sustaining for years. Then young Perley decides he wants to go to school and Rudy sets up a fruit-tree nursery on the pipeline easement edging their land. With that, the outside world then comes into their makeshift family.

The part of Ohio Set is known for its independent spirit and what occurs in the novel changes what it means to be a family, to live well, to work in nature and to make deals with the system. This is a protest novel that challenges how we think about effective action and it is a family novel that refuses to conform to the traditional definition of how we define the word and concept of family. We are challenged to reimagine Appalachia and the America that we think we know and gives us a new understanding of what it means to love and to be free.

Winter in Appalachian Ohio is rough and demands adequate preparation. For Helen, this meant bringing her recently displaced neighbors and their son to help create a homestead with her on 20 acres of land. By the time Perley says that he wants to leave their isolated existence to go to school, we have a different picture of this way of life with all of its problems and dangers— “sleeping with black rat snakes, minding the “humanure” pile, and foraging for dinner when the daily game of “survival dice” doesn’t win a trip to the grocery store.” When an innocent accident attracts the attention of Social Services, the family’s world faces change. Madeline ffitch’s takes us from family drama to a political one that threatens their way of life. The characterizations of the family, especially Perley, who is bonded to each member gives the motivation behind the  title of the book. This is celebration of family and what freedom means.

This book is filled with quick verbal exchanges banter and complicated, unforgettable characters. Here is a queer feminist pioneer novel and the story of a different America. It looks at central, tender, and violent conflicts of our time as we see through the family’s sadness and humor. The prose is fresh and evocative. Personalities are revealed through the eyes of others. Yet, everyone is an unreliable narrator towards their own life; they each see themselves as completely differently to how the other characters saw them making this an original way to tell a story. Everyone has the best intentions but nobody is totally sympathetic. It is up to us to decide how to see the characters thus involving us in what we read.”

“Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer” by M.Z. McDonnell— A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

McDonnell, M.Z. “Poet, Prophet, Fox: The Tale of Sinnach the Seer”, Moose Maple Press, 2019)’.

A Queer “Mytho-history” of Ancient Ireland

Amos Lassen

“Long before history began, when Ireland was ruled by poets and tribal chieftains, the prophet Sinnach was the most powerful druid in the ancient province of Mumu. But before he was a prophet, before he was a poet, he was a just boy… a boy believed to be a girl.”

Unable to suppress his true nature, Sinnach could not suppress who he really was and  fled persecution by seeking refuge in the wilderness. Because of his talents, his unique nature and his oath to the goddess Ériu, Sinnach found his place in a world that was then filled with poetry, magic, and combat.

In trying to attain power, there are consequences for Sinnach who becomes enmeshed in the dangerous affairs of both men and Síd, the Faerie Folk. His travels into the Otherworld are dangerous and he has to deal with the conflicting passions of love, and the return of an old enemy who threatens to disclose his identity endangering him and the peace between the tribes, and peace between the worlds.

Writer McDonnell was inspired by the great mythological epics of ancient Ireland and brings us a new myth with very old truths “about who we were, who we are, and who we might become.” This is a fun read that also gives us a lot to think about especially in the way it looks at the experience of transgender people. Sinnach is a relatable character making this a relevant read and great historical fantasy. I was pulled in on the first page.

“Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)” by Hazel Jane Plante— Unrequited Love

Plante, Hazel Jane. “Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)”, Metonymy, 2019.

Unrequited Love

Amos Lassen

 Hazel Jane Plante’s “Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)” is the story of a queer trans woman’s unrequited love for her straight trans friend who died. In effect, it is a queer love letter filled with desire, grief, and delight and interspersed with encyclopedia entries about a fictional TV show set on an isolated island. We see how pop culture can help soothe and mend us as the story explores overlooked sources of pleasure such as karaoke, birding, and butt toys. More than that, it shows with wonderful detail and “emotional nuance the  straight trans woman (Vivian) the narrator loved, why she loved her, and the depths of what she has lost.”

This inventive novel is both very funny and sensitively moving. It has all of the oddities of “Twin Peaks” but without the menace. It is a look at grief but with a bit of humor and captures contemporary trans women’s communities fully. The narrator knows what it means to lose someone and writes about with skill.

We read of the relationship dynamics between a trans woman and a straight trans woman and it could have been so much sadder than it is. The story is tender and thoughtful as we get a picture of Vivian through a complex narrative that is unlike anything I have ever read before. Here is a world within a world within a world, a love letter within an encyclopedia and a journey toward healing. It’s not just a story about love, friendship, and loss– it’s about a relationship that is made so much more intimate because of a TV show that isn’t actually real.

“The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions” by Larry Mitchell and illustrated by Ned Asta— Queer Utopia

Mitchell, Larry. “The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions”, illustrated by Ned Asta, Nightboat Books, 2019.

Queer Utopia

Amos Lassen

“The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions” is a queer utopian text written by Larry Mitchell with lush illustrations by Ned Asta. It was originally published by Calamus Press in 1977. The story is part-fable, part-manifesto. Set in 1977, Ramrod is an empire in decline, we meet communities of the faggots, the women, the queens, the queer men, and the women who love women who are surviving the ways and world of men. It critiques capitalism, assimilation, and patriarchy and remains relevant today, forty years after its original publication. This new edition from Nightboat Books includes essays from performance artist Morgan Bassichis, who adapted the book to music with TM Davy in 2017 for a performance at the New Museum, and activist filmmaker Tourmaline.

Writer Larry Mitchell created an “astounding, dangerous, oppressive, and fantastical world” in “The Faggots & Their Friends Between Revolutions” but there is so much more inside the book’s pages along with playful, erotic illustrations by Ned Asta. The idea came from Mitchell and Asta’s life in communes (such as Lavender Hill in Ithaca, New York), the book is of another era and gives us a blueprint to create chosen family and world-making unlike existing institutions.

In Ramrod, beauty is currency and sexuality is survival. More important than both of those friendship which usually involves some degree of sexual intimacy. State agents struggle to enforce heteropatriarchal discipline as their kingdom crumbles around them. The faggots, the women, the fairies and the queens have each other for love, sex and inspiration. They have the natural world where they live and have “music, the body, feelings, cities in which to be, believe, touch, dance, dream, fuck, and grow.” This was the liberation vision of Larry Mitchell from another time and another consciousness.

The book reminds us that we are held accountable for how free we are being in our lives, and then we are invited, no, required! to open even more to our own power, our own pleasures, our own revolution. The book has become a cult classic of pleasure activism that reminds is that we all need to be free. It is a fantasy made up of connecting vignettes, each only a page or three long. The perspective is outside/adjacent to violent/oblivious straight society. All sorts of people make an appearance, and there is no mention of sickness, plagues or AIDS.

Here is the queer beginnings story that all queer people need. In this fantastical tale we learn of the origin stories of queer people. It projects a utopian ideal for how we can fight back against heteropatriarchy. Mitchell challenges this and instead presents a future in which queer people, women, and other marginalized people can finally live in peace and free from the opinions, stares policies, and ideas of those who hold power. New futures are attainable and beautiful and worth fighting for even in the face of bleak and dark realities. 

 Mitchell shares some unspeakable truths about queerness, queer freedom and joy  and shows that it is only possible to be free if we leave realism behind. In just over one hundred brief pages, this is a critique of the world, war, patriarchy, the state, and medico-psychiatry, in a way that feels it self-evident.

“THE CAT AND THE MOON”— In the City

“THE CAT AND THE MOON”

In the City

Amos Lassen

While his mother is in treatment in rehab, teenager Nick (Alex Wolff) comes to New York to stay with Cal, a jazz musician and friend of his late father’s. While there, he makes friends who show him around the city and what it has to offer.

Cal is a friend of Nick’s late father—the two had been in a band together. Nick goes to school and meets several people— Russel (Tommy Nelson), a wanna-be tough guy, smug Seamus (Skyler Gisondo), and Eliza (Stefania LaVie Owen) who dates Seamus, and to whom Nick is attracted. With his new group of friends, Nick drinks, does drugs, hangs out, and is a typical teenager. But every time we see him at Cal’s apartment we’re reminded that there is something strange about him. He doesn’t sleep, and even though his father died years ago, he is still an important part of Nick’s life. 

Nick is his willing to be open, whether it be with his friends or Cal. It’s through Nick’s conversations that we learn about his mother and father. Even with everything his mother  has done, Nick remains totally loyal to her. Even though Nick has tattoos, smokes, and seems to BE A typical “troubled teen,” but he is more than that. He has a heart and shares it with everyone.

 

Even with the unpredictable bits, Wolff’s script is still predictable. We know that something will happen between Eliza and Nick is there early on, so we know it will turn into something and whatever else happens here, there is a reason for it later. When Nick is given the chance to just breakdown in anger or sadness, that’s when he’s at his best.

While “The Cat and the Moon” shows all external signs of being a little too indulgent, there is much more to it. Wolff has made a debut feature that is impressive in its modesty and unpretentiousness, psychological nuance and technical of an airport cab and goes to Cal’s (Mike Epps). It takes us a while to figure out this slightly awkward arrangement is happening because Nick’s mother has entered rehab back home in Detroit. Cal is a longtime friend of both parents, and was a jazz-world colleague of the late father. Nick officially requires caretaking during mom’s rehab, but is sneaky about it — he’s clearly had lots of practice in being more or less self-sufficient.

At his new school, Nick is surprised and pleased when he’s immediately befriended by a loud group of peers. He is taken a social scene that’s of heavy partying yet still within the normal teenage range — not particularly jaded, privileged or self-destructive. For Nick it is quite a change and an escape from what had been easy for him. He was used to defensively keeping his own emotions in check, he doesn’t let it out until late that he never really had friends before. There is strong mutual attraction toward Seamus’ girlfriend Eliza, the guilt over which is somewhat made easier to take when we learn that Seamus cheats on her seemingly every time he gets high.

But the pleasures of being with his new friends does not cancel out Nick’s darker emotions that minor conflicts can cause to come up. It’s very slowly revealed just how much rage and pain Nick suppresses over his father’s (possibly accidental, possibly suicidal) death some years earlier. Wolff’s performance and astute direction are excellent in the moments when Nick’s defenses become violent. It is here that we get a look at how much control it takes for Nick to function despite his parents’ behaviors, and how overdue he is for an explosion.

“Black Light: Stories” by Kimberly King Parsons— The Darkness of Desire

Parsons, Kimberly King. “Black Light: Stories”, Vintage, 2019.

The Darkness of Desire

Amos Lassen

In “Black Lights”, Kimberly King Parsons writes short stories about desire  and those hidden places where most of us are afraid to look. She shares thoughts about first love, self-loathing, addiction, marriage, and childhood. The settings range from Texas highways to family kitchens, pay-by-the-hour motels and private school dorms

We read of people who struggle with disappointment, both in themselves and others. Parsons is a prose poet with a unique sensibility. She is intimate, weird and enchanting.

The language is gorgeous and personal and very Texas. The characters deal with changes in the realities of their lives. The girls are bad-ass gals have attitude with imperfections and thwarted desires.  

Here is the messiness of being alive;  mess of words and ideas. There is nothing cute or heartwarming, the focuson the seamier side of life, the things that happen, that nobody speaks or writes about— our fears and disappointments instead of aspirations and achievements. 

“The Not Wives: by Carley Moore— Urban Living in a Feminist Novel

Moore, Carley. “The Not Wives”, Amethyst Editions, 2019.

Urban Living in a Feminist Novel

Amos Lassen

Carley Moore’s “The Not Wives” follows the lives of three women as they navigate the Occupy Wall Street movement and each other. Stevie is a nontenured professor and a recently divorced single mom; her best friend Mel is a bartender, torn between her long-term girlfriend and a desire to explore polyamory; and Johanna is a homeless teenager trying to find her way in the world.  They live in the midst of economic collapse and class conflict, late-night hookups and long-suffering exes and together they create a new American identity that is founded on resistance against the of financial distress, the gentrification of New York, and the accepted traditional role of a wife. Here is a look at chosen community, friendship, and human frailty. We read about what it means for one to belong to oneself while at the same time trying to be part of something bigger.

Here is New York City at the time of the Occupy movement. The city is a gentrified place of wealth and insecurity. ‘We are all falling apart and keeping it together with an activist spirit  and a trap of the status quo. One must learn how to dream without complicity and how to turn guilt into action. Here is the “grit, drama, confusion, and ecstasy of her diverse characters’ daily lives.” This is a book for all who are struggling with how to be human.

The novel is “deeply serious and dryly funny, timeless and of a particular time.” Moore gives us relationships in the 2011 political climate and when taken as a whole, this is the story of  love and family. Three deeply compelling women navigate the polarities and confining norms of modern-day life. The plot is as audacious as it is candid and mixes agonies and pleasures that are experienced by those who are finding new directions for their lives.

The descriptions are vivid, especially of the city and it becomes its own character. All of the characters are multi-dimensional with each having their own flaws as modern women figuring out how to navigate life.  This is a feminist’s novel that dares to bring up conversations that no one else is having.

“The Beatrix Gates” by Rachel Pollack— Transgender Experiences

Pollack, Rachel. “The Beatrix Gates”, (Outspoken Authors), PM Press, 2019.

Transgender Experiences

Amos Lassen

Rachel Pollack’s “The Beatrix Gates” unites  science fiction, magic realism, memoir, and myth exploring themes of spirituality and transformation. “Trans Central Station” is Pollack’s personal and political take on the transgender experience then and now and possibly tomorrow.  “Burning Beard” is a revisionist Bible tale of plague and prophecy told through postmodern prose. “The Woman Who Didn’t Come Back” is fascinating. Pollack shows how science-fiction can create new myths based on the old with new meanings.

“The Beatrix Gates” is a stunning study in identity and mutability that can be read as a story about transsexuality or simply as an examination of difference and its consequences. It is also an le investigation of the components of identity. We have magic, real people, alternative worlds and lifestyle and creative consciousness.

Each part of the collection is different, strange and captivating. We learn a lot about the changing state of transgender identity here through Pollock’s essays.  which I enjoyed much more than the fiction. Her personal experience dominates her writing. She shares her experience of being transgender and gives her perspective on trans issues in fiction.

 

“The Trans Space Octopus Congregation” by Bogi Takacs— A Collection of Stories

Takacs, Bogi. “The Trans Space Octopus Congregation”, Lethe Press, 2019.

A Collection of Stories

Amos Lassen

This new collection from Bogi Takacs is basically for readers of LGBTQ-focused speculative literature. The stories cover magical space opera, cheerful body horror and historical fantasy and all of them have a sense of hope amid adversity. The mystical and magical come together with the scientific and technological: “sacred texts are given new interpretations in the light of nuclear physics, people save a forest with computer science, cephalopods build alliances and research their past, Jewish shapeshifters speak to extraterrestrial planets, and Hungarian horse archers summon ancient terrors”.

We have “uplifted octopuses on far-flung planets to intensely topical explorations of authoritarianism and tightening borders here on Earth”. In the collection is speculative fiction like no other that I have read. Here is a universe that is dominated by distance and space but remains beautiful because of  people and connections that exist in the “fleeting light of stars and in the shadows left behind when war and time ravage and ruin”. We are challenged to become more deeply engaged with the world around us and to question former perceptions that we have.

Bogi Takács has created worlds concisely and eloquently that are filled with likable characters. Each story generates thought that stays with us for a long time. The prose beautifully renders stories about things we do not usually think about.