Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“Grandson of a Ghost” by Scott Depalma— The Effect of Suicide

Depalma, Scott. “Grandson of a Ghost: A Suicide’s Secret Aftermath”, Gaga Press, 2016.

The Effect of Suicide

Amos Lassen

Scott Depalma’s “Grandson of a Ghost” looks at how a family’s unspoken and long-lasting grief effected a boy born 25 years after the suicide of his grandfather. As Scott grows up but he does not see how abuse from his mother influenced his perception of the world, and even gave a push to his self-destructive behavior as an adult. After a catastrophic childhood, Scott moved from northern New England where he had had to deal with demons to New York. That was in 1985 and the AIDS crisis and the new wave scene of the East Village were in full swing. He comes out as gay and began a career in the magazine business.

However he still had to deal with depression and feelings of self-doubt so he decided to begin psychotherapy sessions in an attempt to save himself. Through the work with his therapist, Scott began recognizing and confronting his issues of low self-esteem, anger, defensiveness and isolation. He was soon able to accept the love shown by others rather than pushing it away as he was used to doing. He began to understand that love matters and means something. We are lucky that Scott has chosen to shares his journey with us.

This is Depalma’s debut novel an it is based on true events and we learn that his family is still devastated by the suicide of his grandfather when Scott was just five-years-old. His mother doled out relentless physical punishments and this abuse along with being bullied at school weighed heavily on him. In high school hand when he befriended his new neighbor, Tom, he understands his sexuality. However, it was not until he moved to New York to enroll in a summer publishing program that he felt he had any hope, best remedy. But it did not take long before the decadent nightclub scene and a shared apartment worked on dragging him down once again. His coming out to his parents and confiding in a psychotherapist were the first steps towards independence and the peace that he so badly wanted. Depalma is quite good at details and they make up for the lack of narrative tension. His prose is excellent throughout and while this is not a pretty story, it is inspiring. In the beginning this is quite a painful read

The book slowly and at times it is a painful read, but it later becomes quite uplifting and aside from the grandfather’s suicide, many of us have had to deal with similar issues as Scott did. I admire the author’s courage and honesty. We get a very real look at the consequences of a suicide, the ups and downs of life in New York and his coming to terms with his sexuality.

 

“The End of Eddy” by Edouard Louis— Growing Up Gay in Picardy France

Louis, Edouard. “The End of Eddy: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017.

Growing Up Gay in Picardy France

Amos Lassen

Eddy Bellegueule grew up in a poor village in northern France. All he ever seemed to want was to be a man in the eyes of his family and neighbors. From the time he was a child, he was different and this could be seen in his “sissyish” behavior. As he grew into maturity he was intellectually precocious and attracted to other men.

This is a sensitive portrait of boyhood and sexual awakening. Édouard Louis writes from his own undisguised experience and he does so candidly with “compassionate intelligence”. We are taken into the exploration of masculine identity as well as get a look at the violence and desperation of life in a French factory town. That violence includes racism and homophobia.

Louis writes of violence that hits us emotionally because of his force and feeling. I did not know what to expect but once it came it left me shaken. That is just what this book does—it shakes us as we are challenged to consider the nature of masculinity and intellectualism. Louis writes with the intellect as well with impropriety and we are never sure which is which. He tells us what it was like to grow up poor, gay and bullied; while we have had this story before, it has never been told quite like this. We totally sense the pain that Eddy feels knowing that his parents are ashamed of him.

While this is fiction, I understand that everything written here is true. It is called a novel because it is a literary construct . In reality it is an autobiography. Writer Edouard Louis has never forgotten where he comes from, no matter the pain that goes along with those memories. He gives a voice to those living in poverty; the members of the working class, those who he says are excluded from literature. We see them as the victims of violence but dare not call it as such. The working class is a creation of society and those who are in it deal with hatred and violence everyday. Adding his sexuality to this, Eddie had very little childhood because he was too busy defending himself against when he saw and experienced. He was attacked and rejected from not just his class but from his family as well.

Eddie managed to get out of his home when he was just fourteen-years-old but despite being rejected by his family and townspeople, he never rejected them. He was really too busy “creating” himself.

When “The End of Eddy” was first published in France, it brought about great debate on inequality and class in France and it will undoubtedly do the same here. We really do not want to read about poverty and the working class; this is not “the stuff” of literature.

Surprisingly, there is no self-pity here and there are no judgments. Instead we see the fear of difference in its brutality and forcefulness. Eddy’s voices comes out of pain; he turns the tables and he is the spokesman that was once the scapegoat. This is a powerful emotional read that is related poignantly and viscerally and is not likely to be forgotten. I found myself weeping openly as I read while at the same time turning pages as quickly as I could. On one hand, I wanted “out” of Eddy’s pain and on the other hand I could not bear to leave it.

 

“THE POLLEN OF FLOWERS”— From Korea

“The Pollen of Flowers” (“Hwaboon”)

From Korea

Amos Lassen

Ha Gil Jong’s taboo-defying “The Pollen of Flowers” shows the director’s subversive intention with its feverishly stylized and symbolically filled story of a corrupt bisexual businessman who lusts after his young male secretary while remaining devoted to his mistress, who he pampers and keeps in a luxurious suburban hideaway together with her comely younger sister and an inquisitive maid. He makes a fateful decision to bring his handsome protégée into his mistress’ home thus triggering a frenzied psychosexual cyclone of jealousy and self-immolating desire that has the power to destroy everything in its wake.

When first screened, critics who simplistically accused the director of plagiarism while somehow totally missing his homage to the Freudian horror psychodramas of Kim Ki-Young. This film is frequently cited as the first Korean film to openly feature a homosexual relationship, it is also an attack on the Park Chung-Hee regime as evoked by the mistress’ mansion, which shares the same “Blue House” name as the official South Korean presidential residence. The role of the bewitching young secretary is given haunting authenticity by Ha’s talented brother, Ha Myung-Joong, plays the handsome and beguiling male secretary. Watching this is like entering a fever-dream dark allegory of abusive power and frustrated desire.

“Jews Queers Germans: A Novel/History” by Martin Duberman— The Political Influence of Gay Life Historically

Duberman, Martin. “Jews Queers Germans: A Novel/History”, Seven Stories Press, 2017.

The Political Influence of Gay Life Historically

Amos Lassen

There are certainly times in history when events and characters seem fictional or, at least, the kinds of stories that make for good fiction. Martin Duberman, esteemed writer and professor brings us a slice of history that is a look at gay men at a time when it was dangerous for those in the realms of government and the upper classes to be open about their sexuality. This beautifully written book is an intimate look at Europe from 1907 through the 30s when there was great destruction and suffering on one hand and tremendous creativity and freedom on the other.

A breathtaking historical novel that recreates the intimate milieu around Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm from 1907 through the 1930s, a period of great human suffering and destruction and also of enormous freedom and creativity. It was a time of social upheaval when “the relics and artifices of the old world word still mattered, and yet when art and the social sciences were pirouetting with successive revolutions in thought and style”. We know that there were many men in the upper classes living somewhat closeted lives but they could not be so openly. Among them were Prince Philipp von Eulenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II’s closest friend, who becomes the subject of a notorious 1907 trial for homosexuality; Magnus Hirschfeld, the famed, Jewish sexologist who gives testimony at the trial; and Count Harry Kessler, a leading proponent of modernism who held a set of diaries which in which intimate details of the major social, artistic and political events of the day were recorded and that suggest that he too was homosexual. Duberman concentrated on the central theme of the gay life of a very upper crust intellectual milieu that had a major impact on the political upheavals that would shape the modern world forever after.

Here is, in black and white, what has been suggested by many and in Duberman’s excellent study and prose, we gain a look at an important era in history. You will have to wait a bit on this one as we are still several months from publication.

“The Altman Circle” by David Spencer— The Dark Days of Nazism

Spencer, David. “The Altmann Circle”, Words by Design, 2016.

The Dark Days of Nazism

Amos Lassen

Dieter is a young man who is prepared to betray his father to achieve his dream of joining the intelligence service of the Third Reich. Rudi is an active opponent of the Nazis and Bruno whose virulent hatred of Nazism sends him on a journey to seek out and take revenge on the man responsible for his father’s death are the main characters in Richard Spencer’s “The Altmann Circle”.

We meet the Goldman family, members of the Berlin Jewish community who endure the full force of Nazi persecution alongside theirs friends and neighbors. SS Colonel Langers of the Berlin Gestapo is determined to enforce the will of the Nazi regime everyway possible. Paul and Alex are young musicians whose homosexuality if discovered will send them both to a concentration camp. The lives of these people become entwined during the dark days of the Hitler regime in 1930s Berlin. Because this is a novel filled with intrigues I can’t really say any more about the plot aside from it is fascinating to see how these lives all come together. Plan to have a long period of time open to you because once you start reading, you will not want to stop until you close the covers.

“La Guadalupana: A Comic Novel” by Tom Wolf— What Might Have Happened

Wolf, Tom. “La Guadalupana: A Comic Novel”, CreateSpace, 2015.

What Might Have Happened

Amos Lassen

“La Guadalupana” is a book for non-Catholics (especially Jews) and Catholics alike. We now know that priest abuse scandals are not unique to the Roman Catholic Church. However, Our Lady of Guadalupe is and here she provides a kind and loving solution to the problem by convincing Pope John Paul II to ordain celibate women and celibate, openly gay men as priests. We know that John Paul II was a saint with a special devotion to the Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. However, he had a very serious flaw in that he failed to deal promptly and effectively with the Church’s abuse scandal. “La Guadalupana” looks at what would have happened if Our Lady of Guadalupe had brought her gentle, patient sense of humor to bear on a man as courageous and as stubborn as John Paul.

The book is set in the tiny Catholic village of Guadalupe and spans from 1956 to 2000, it tells the coming-of-age story of two young women, Maria Mondragon and Maria Barela, who eventually become the first women ordained priests in the Church. We read that Our Lady of Guadalupe appears to these girls on their Confirmation Day in 1956 and promises them anything they want in return for their commitment to remain celibate until their ordination and the girls take the deal. They trade their pledge for the beauty, brains, and bravery required to navigate a Church hierarchy that has been traditionally hostile to women. True to their vow, the girls thrive but then the Marias leave Guadalupe after high school to become nuns. The people of Guadalupe and several thugs work for a wealthy Anglo landowner, Malcolm Fortune. Exploiting the tangled history of Spanish land grants and Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, Fortune gains title to the common lands (the ejido) of Guadalupe. He plans to develop and market downstream on the Rio Grande where valuable water flows from the melting glaciers high above Guadalupe in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Fortune is profoundly Catholic and openly gay. Like everyone else in Guadalupe, he is aware that the local priests are abusing both boys and girls. His penance for his silence is the job of raising the billions of dollars needed to settle the Church’s priest abuse lawsuits. Fortune’s ally here is the conservative Catholic lay organization Opus Dei. As the year 2000 approaches, La Guadalupana brings the Marias back to their hometown to face their enemies. She also brings Pope John Paul to a town where another pitched battle is occurring over the rights to Fortune’s land. The Pope and the Marias must settle the Church’s problems by relying on La Guadalupana’s divine joke and that is her way of bringing a happy ending.

This is a very funny read yet it also manages to get in a message about humankind’s need for a Spiritual Leader, a god who is a lot kinder that the god of the Hebrew bible.

 

“LUNCH”— Still Smiling

“Lunch”

Still Smiling

Amos Lassen

Sometimes we get a film that is pure pleasure and that is what Matt Vance’s “Lunch” is. We meet a handsome young office worker who plans on having a relaxing lunch break in a park nearby to his office. However, a very zealous street performer has plans of his own.  To write anymore would mean giving the plot away but it enough to say that this is one of those films that not only possesses you as you watch but stays on your mind afterwards as well.

“Down On Your Knees” by Lee Thomas— Pick Your Genre

Thomas, Lee. “Down on Your Knees”, Lethe Press, 2017.

Pick Your Genre

Amos Lassen

Lee Thomas introduces us to Denny “The Bull” Doyle as he leaves Crainte Prison and returns to his “organization”. After being picked up by Brendan Newton, he learns Newton has just joined the gang and he is obviously influenced by what he has seen on television. His vision of the underworld is based solely on his own fantasies. Brendan’s naiveté is what Bull will have to rely on especially since his friends and associates are being murdered everyday and their deaths are violent and very strange. Targeted for the hereafter next is Bull’s brother, Jordie, a sociopath but who Bull deeply loves. It seems that the man behind the murders is Malcolm Lynch, a sadistic gangster who has backing and who plans to build an empire as soon as he can get Bull out of the way.

Doyle understands that Brendan has no concept of what he is doing and while Bull might be willing to leave crime behind, he knows that someone by the name of Malcolm Lynch has alternative plans for him, his brother and even Brendan. What makes this an unusual read is that Bull is a gay crime lord and he does not what anyone has to say about that. If is strange to learn that Bull is lonely and he knows that if he ever finds love then he puts another person in danger. Something I was not expecting to find in this story is the supernatural. It seems that when Bull was locked up both his life and his powers changed tremendously.

Doyle and Lynch are engaged in serious battle and it seems that the only chance Doyle has of regaining his position depends upon Brendan. This is a tough story with lots of blood and gore until the last few chapters when magic begins to take over. We see the themes of revenge and justice that play on the decisions the characters. I did feel, however, that something was missing like how Bull received his powers and how he learned to deal with them. Otherwise, this is quite a read.

 

“Veiled Loyalties”, (Bissonet & Cruz Investigations Book 2) by Scotty Cade— Back to New Orleans

Cade, Scotty. “Veiled Loyalties”, (Bissonet & Cruz Investigations Book 2), Dreamspinner, 2016.

Back to New Orleans

Amos Lassen

Having been raised and living in New Orleans, I always look for new books about the city but somehow Scotty Cade’s “Veiled Loyalties” got past me. For those of you who have spend Halloween in New Orleans, you know that is a very special holiday especially since the city relies so much on its past. Halloween just happens to be Beau Bissonet’s favorite holiday and he enjoys every aspect of it. However, this year Halloween is a bit different as he will be challenged as a detective and as a partner to Tollison Cruz, the love of his life.

Beau and Tollison have been together for a year and they first met during the first volume of this series, “The Royal Street Heist” after which they established Bissonet & Cruz Investigations. Their business is going better than expected and romantic lives could not be better. But then, Tollison’s ex, Bastien Andros, suddenly appears. Beau becomes immediately suspicious, but then just two days after Bastien’s arrival, he disappears and Tollison worries his past may catch up to him.

The arrival of a mysterious package lets them know who has Bastien and what is at stake. Both Bastien and Beau’s lives are suddenly at risk and Tollison has no choice but to travel to Zurich, secure and deliver the ransom, thus keeping both men safe and allowing himself to stay true. Now you may wonder if I left something out of my summary so far and I certainly did but have patience and it will all come together. This review is much like the story in that we have to wait for it to happen and that comes about halfway through the book.

There is a kidnapping and lots of action. Scotty Cade is a fine writer and he has created fascinating characters here. What is new here is that Tollison has to use his previous illegal talents to try and save his old and current lovers.

 

 

“On a LARP” by Stefani Deoul— Sid Rubin, Teen Coder

Deoul, Stefani. “On a LARP”, (A Sid Rubin Silicon Alley Adventure), Bywater Books, 2017.

Sid Rubin, Teen Coder

Amos Lassen

Sid Rubin is a very smart high school girl who is a whiz at solving problems but who also possesses a smart-ass attitude. We have all know someone like her but what makes Sid so special is her endearing qualities. She possesses a very mind that never seems to stop working and she is self-deprecating, socially awkward and has something to say about everything. Sid also happens to be a lesbian and has the great ability of being able to solve problems.

While on a field trip with one of her classes, Sid recognizes the photo of a murder victim and what began as a light bulb going off in her head caused her and some of her friends to be recruited by the police department and to go after a murderer and solve a mystery. It is her job to explain LARP (live action role playing game) to the police and as she does, we find her running after a web-murderer while keeping up with her schoolwork.

I love that in this young adult novel we get not only the story of a young gay teen but also a mystery that is filled with twists and turns. Sid seems to have an affinity for danger and then takes things on head-on. Because her mind is so active, she thinks about many things at the same time but has the ability to prioritize and keep all those thoughts grounded (to a degree). I did not know any students like this when I was in high school. Writer Stefani Deoul gives us a novel filled with adventure, passion, self-doubt and young love and it is a terrific read. Now excuse me while I go and read “On a LARP” once again.