Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“The Wrong End of the Telescope” by Rabih Alameddine— A Journey

Alameddine, Rabin. “The Wrong End of the Telescope”, Grove Press, 2021.

A Journey

Amos Lassen

In “The Wrong End of the Telescope”, Rabih Alameddine, takes us onan Arab American trans woman’s journey among Syrian refugees on Lesbos island.

Mina Simpson is a Lebanese doctor who arrives at the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after having been urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. She is alienated from her family except for her beloved brother and has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. Now with a week off work and being away from her wife of thirty years, Mina has hopes of doing something meaningful. A boat comes bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer, she is determined to protect her children and husband at all costs. Sumaiya refuses to tell her family about her illness. Sumaiya’s secret brings the two women to a deep connection. As Mina prepares a course of treatment with the limited resources on hand, she faces the circumstances of the migrants’ displacement and her own constraints in helping them.

Alameddine brings together the stories of other refugees with Mina’s own story giving us tragic and amusing portraits of people facing a humanitarian crisis. He looks at the intersection of identity when the present day crisis of Syrian refugees is confronted. 

Mina and Alameddine have a great deal in common. She grew up in Lebanon, has problems  with her family over her sexuality, was able to get to the US as a student, and then stayed. Mina is a middle-aged now, married successful surgeon who has lived as an out trans woman and lesbian for many years. In many ways their lives reflect each other.

When Mina comes to Lesbos to provide medical care and whatever other help she can to the waves of incoming refugees,  she finds that there is not much to really do. One of the central questions of the book is trying to grapple with how the wish to help during a crisis can cause one to feel defeated.  Mina spends a lot of time thinking about her childhood in Lebanon, about how similar she is to the refugees and she relates more strongly to the white helpers than her own people. By working with one particular woman and her family, she is able to cope. Mina does sometimes worry about how others will see her, especially since she knows that trans women are not safe in the communities that the refugees come from.

Queer suffering is part of who she is but it is not the focus the novel. Mina is so fully drawn, however, that her identity as trans is not really relevant. 

Reading this, we face questions about empathy and sympathy and taking care of people causing us to ask questions about our own lives.

Alameddine gives us the stories from a refugee camp in Lesbos and we meet people who usually form part of a labelled group for us— doctors, boat people, refugees, NGO’s. Through his lens they become persons and we can imagine the what would it be for them to be us.

The book was is heart-wrenching and soul-filling with deep characters and a deep and beautiful plot. It is a collection of vignettes that attest to the violence of war and displacement without being sensational.

It combines the biographical with the historical and  personal moments to give us an intimate tale of human connection during disaster.

“The Charm Offensive” by Alison Cochran— When Sparks Fly

Cochrun, Alison. “The Charm Offensive: A Novel,Atria Books, 2021.

When Sparks Fly

Amos Lassen

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Dev Deshpande has spent his career creating the long-running reality dating show “Ever After”. He became the successful producer in the franchise’s history by writing scripts for the perfect love story for his contestants, even as his own love life is in shambles. But then along came Charlie Winshaw whodoesn’t believe in true love, and only agreed to star on the show as attempt to rehabilitate his image. In front of the cameras, he’s stiff, and has no idea how to date twenty women on national television. Behind the scenes, he’s cold and lacks emotion.

As Dev tries to get Charlie to connect with the contestants on a worldwide tour, the two men begin to open up to each other, and Charlie realizes he has better chemistry with Dev than with any of his female co-stars.

Dev’s six-year relationship with fellow producer Ryan recently ended. Charlie, the new bachelor is a former cologne model and tech mogul who (very) reluctantly agrees to go on the show but he is totally awkward.

Dev learns that social anxiety and Charlie do not mesh. As he tries to help Charlie tries to become more comfortable with being around people and interacting with the contestants. Dev is determined that Charlie will find love and propose to one of the contestants by the end of the season but he does not understand why the “practice dates” that they have been going on seem more intense than Charlie’s dates with the women. It also seems that Charlie see Dev as the person he is looking to connect with.

There are themes of rejection, self-doubt, self-identity, mental illness, sexual identity, morality, acceptance, and aspects of love throughout the novel. Cochrun has created a wonderful character in Dev who rescues Charlie’s broken life as Charlie rescues him. This is a fun look at gay love and the struggle withsocial anxiety and depression that many of us deal with.

“Who’s Afraid of Michael Kearns?: 3 Full-Length Plays by Michael Kearns” by Michael Kearns— A Career in Print

Kearns, Michael. “Who’s Afraid of Michael Kearns?: 3 Full-Length Plays by Michael Kearns”, F Stop Books, 2021.

A Career in Print

Amos Lassen

Many of you may know Michael Kearns as a theatre actor who also appeared in television and film. He is  an award-winning, internationally-acclaimed artist who has played many roles (in the entertainment industry) and has been an  actor, director, playwright, dramaturge, acting teacher, writing teacher, author, producer, and solo performer. Beginning with the AIDS crisis, Kearns became an artist-activist whose work, while not exclusively, has largely focused on HIV/AIDS. In his new book, “Who’s Afraid of Michael Kearns”, he gives us a

collection of three he has written.  “Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee?” looks at the backstage drama of four male actors in Edward’s Albee’s, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. “Bang Bang” is about a school shooting and examines violence and American society’s “addiction to the spectacle of carnage, power, and sex.” “Bloodbound” is about the physical love between two brothers–one who is an author and the other who is a prisoner serving life a life sentence. We look at their emotional entanglements and see the injustices of mass incarceration within a love story and we see how life narratives change over the years.  

All three plays look at what it means to be human in a world that is “challenged by unspeakable tragedy that hovers over the lives of the characters.”

“The Insiders” by Mark Oshiro— Not Fitting In

 

Oshiro, Mark. “The Insiders”,HarperCollins, 2021;

Not Fitting In

Amos Lassen

Héctor Muñoz is going to a new school. At his former school being gay didn’t mean feeling different. At Héctor’s new school, he feels alone and wishes he could disappear. And that is what he does— into the janitor’s closet. One day, when the door closes behind him, Héctor finds two new friends from different corners of the country and his life changes. 

Héctor is gay and proud but there’s no drama class at this new school and no people for him to sit with in the cafeteria. He will not let this get to him and so he sits at the table of the self-pronounced Misfits, a group of students that don’t fit any other tables. They have all been bullied by the teacher’s pet, Mike who is now determined to bully Hector. the bullying gets worse, Héctor finds himself hiding in a janitor closet that magically becomes a safe space.  Yet even while school is becoming a nightmare, in the magic room, Héctor finds friends.

Reading about these kids who have all been bullied by the same individual, knowing that there’s nothing they can do about it is heartbreaking. The teachers don’t believe them and everyone else ignores the situation. The book, however, is not all dark— there are some sweet and humorous moments.

Héctor’s parents and grandmother are filled with love and. The Misfits that were afraid to stand up to Mike, become a source of comfort for Héctor in the best way and Hector’s friends are supportive and help each other in every way. This is a story aboutfinding one’s place and it is inspiring and beautifully written.

“A Long Way from Douala” by Max Lobe— A Journey Across Cameroon

Lobe, Max. “A Long Way from Douala”, translated by Ros Schwartz, Other Press, 2021.

A Journey Across Cameroon

Amos Lassen

“A Long Way from Doula” is a coming-of-age story about two friends on a journey across Cameroon as they deal with grief, sexuality, and dreams of leaving. 

After their father’s sudden death, Jean’s older brother Roger decides he’s had enough of their abusive mother and their city and runs away to try to illegally enter Europe in the hopes of becoming a soccer star abroad. When his family does not hear from him and the police decide that finding him isn’t worth their time, Jean feels he has to act. He is determined to catch up with Roger before he gets to the Nigerian border and enlists the help of Simon, a close neighborhood friend, and the two set out on the road. 

We see Cameroon life in all its ups and downs. Max Lobe writes about complex issues and is able to do so with humor and levity. We are taken into life in Cameroon through the story of one young man searching for his missing brother. Jean discovers about his brother, his home, and himself.

The book’s plot revolves around the idea of boza, a frequently dangerous and even more frequently unsuccessful bid for prosperity and success in Europe. We see the influence this has on culture in Cameroon and the impact it could have on one family. We read about the effect of Boko Haram terrorism on life there, and the extent to which it is covered up in more urban areas away from the fighting to shield people from the grim reality. Jean’s physical journey to find his brother is shown in the way that leaving his home city in the south meant leaving the fantasies enjoyed in Douala about the threat of Boko Haram.

The different relationships in the book were also quite well written, and they capture complexity. It takes a while to see the depth of relationships— between Jean and his brother and his brother and his mother. Jean’s relationship with his brother, his mother’s relationship with his brother, and Jean’s relationship with Simon all felt like they needed a bit more exposition, however. Many of the characters are complex and dynamic,  but there are also weak ones like the narrator.

The adventures are told through short chapters about the ups and downs of life, family struggles and day to day life in Cameroon, while the threat of Boko Haram terrorist attacks hovers above everything else.

“Menafterten” by Casey Hamilton— Teaching for Identity

Hamilton, Casey. “MENAFTER10”, Amble Books, 2021.

Searching for  Identity

Amos Lassen

In “MENAFTERTEN”, writer Casey Hamilton takes us into the lives of young Black gay men trying to forge identity and connection in today’s world. MEN AFTERTEN is not only the title of this book but also the name of an online dating and hook-up app for “urban men looking for urban men”. Each of the three main characters, Chauncey Lee, Brontae Williams, and LeMilion Meeks, is a seeker. Their stories come together as they explore and since I am not Black, I learned a great deal about what race and sexuality mean in this country.

Chauncey spends all of his time on computer apps even though he does not know what he is looking. Brontae suffers from loneliness and is looking for commitment and love and LeMilion who hails from the small-town South and finds city life to be something he had only dreamt about. When HIV enters the world, everything changes.

There is a lot of sex in “MENAFTERTEN” but what really makes this book move and looks at the characters as they search for who they are. The book is not only about the three men; it is a look at Black gay life for the 21st century. It also has something to say about any of us who have searched for love in a world where hook-ups and instant satisfaction have become part of our lives.

While Casey Hamilton is a new voice, he is someone that is to be looked at carefully as a writer who has something to say and I predict that we will be hearing a great deal more from him. He is a needed voice.

“The Family Way” by Christopher DiRaddo— Living a Life

DiRaddo, Christopher. “The Family Way”, Esplanade Books, 2021.

Living a Life

Amos Lassen

 When Paul Marino turns forty, his friends Wendy and Eve ask him to help them get pregnant. Even though this does not feel natural to him, as a gay man of a certain age, making a family seems to mean finding one’s own way. His journey gives us insights about Paul’s past and present. We read of his strained relationship with his father, his relationship with his partner Michael, and his friends that he sees as his family.

Paul lives in Montreal with his younger boyfriend, Michael. This is a collection of gay adventures including “trips to Provincetown, conversations about open relationships, monogamy, and threesomes, debates about alternative forms of family-building, and discussions of survivor’s guilt, brought on those older gays who watched their friends die during the AIDS crisis and yet somehow survived.”

Written in clean prose with humor, we get a look at gay culture through reading about Paul’s world, his friends  and we feel what Paul feels.

Paul Marino shares his personal life between mid-2011 and May 2013, speaking about his relationships with his partner Michael, his gay male friends, the lesbian couple who he intends to donate sperm to, and his family and in-laws. He faces questions about relationships, aging, and legacies as he goes through life. The characters are very real and relatable. We look at what family is and what commitment and fidelity mean.

 

“Here We Go Loop De Loop” by William Jack Sibley— She Loves Him But He Loves Him

Sibley, William Jack. “Here We Go Loop De Loop”, Atmosphere Press, 2021.

She Loves Him But He Loves Him

Amos Lassen

William Jack Sibley’s “Here We Go Loop De Loop is about a cowboy, an heiress and her brother’s husband. It is also a story about a her loving a him (who’s in love with another him) and that other him has unrequited love for the original her. Themes of greed, lust, sexuality, spiritual enlightenment, xenophobia, and the meaning of a life worth living come together in the town of Rita Blanca, Texas.

The main character is the small conservative town up of church-going people and huge family ranches passed that have been handed down from generation to generation. We see that things in Rita Blanca can’t stay the same forever especially with the declining health of the town’s greatest estate holder and richest whose only living heir isn’t sure she belongs in Rita Blanca at all.

As we read we look at serious social issues ranging including immigration,  economic class disparity, discrimination based on sexual orientation and others and we do so with wry humor.

Pete Pennebaker is the owner of 50,000 acres of rich Rita Blanca land that is filled with cattle and oil. He’s a widower who lost his son Tom to AIDS, and he is not doing well himself health wise. Marty Pennebaker, his daughter is in her forties, single, and only recently returned home after being away for  her entire adult life, managing an art gallery in New York.

The other characters include orphaned and grown Lyndecker siblings: Pettus, Darlene, Darcy, Delilah, Cody and Thaine and Uncle T.T. They all seem to be stereotypically country rednecks but then we learn that each has their own whether that be business success, societal advancement, the chance to help family, and finding love. 

There is a new person in Rita Blanca; Chito is a London businessman who does not seem to have no place there until Pete, Marty and readers learn that Chito and Tom were married. Chito has come to town to take care of Tom’s final wishes— to improve Rita Blanca, the town that rejected him. 

Marty is happy to have Chito stick around, but could she wonders if she can win him over while at the same time having feelings for someone else. Then Pete Pennebaker finds a five-year-old girl and her father near death on his ranch land. He learns that they hardly know English and have no papers and he has to make a decision as  whether to stick to his conservative principles or his sense of human morality. 

What the story is really about is finding happiness and what a fun way to read about it. Filled with wonderful humor and satire, I was unable to put this down and finished it in one sitting.

“The Geography of Pluto” by Christopher Diraddo— Struggling with Uncertainly

Diraddo, Christopher. “The Geography of Pluto”, Esplanade Books, 2021.

Struggling with Uncertainty

Amos Lassen

Will is a twenty-eight-year-old teacher living in Montreal and dealing with the breakup with his first serious boyfriend, Max. He wants to be in a committed relationship and is looking for one but he might not yet be ready. Katherine, Will’s mother with whom he is close, is dealing with colon cancer. Will must face impermanence and find hope and solace in the absolute certainty of change as he struggles with uncertainty. He tries to understand life and its vicissitudes and the reader sees him as naïve and unaware of the real world around him.

Set inMontreal, we get a deep look at Will and his introspection as he seeks love and connection. What he deals with is relatable. He searches for what many of us deal with and reading this, I began to reexamine myself and wonder what I would do in Will’s situation.

Recently, I have been able to read quite a number of gay Canadian writers and have been impressed by them. I love a book that makes me think after I finish it and I am still thinking about Will. Of course, it helps that Christopher Diraddo writes beautifully and deals with a subject that is close to all of us.

“WILD TIGERS I HAVE KNOWN”— Coming-Out Young

 

“WILD TIGERS I HAVE KNOWN”

Coming-Out Young

Amos Lassen

“Wild Tigers I Have Known” is one of those movies you are not likely to forget. It has style and is beautiful and sensitive. It is a movie that can be easily related to because we all have had that youthful obsession for someone. As the movies looks at teen sexuality, it is never obscene—it is not “sexy”, it is simply beautiful, intimate and somewhat scary. The direction allows each scene to unfold its own pace with precise, poignant camerawork.Altered Innocence proudly presents a brand new version of Cam Archer’s angst-fueled experimental classic Coming-of-Age film Wild Tigers I Have Known. The Deluxe Blu-ray Edition features over 2 hours of bonus features including new HD restorations of much of Cam Archer’s early body of work.

Logan is played by the beautiful Malcolm Stumpf. He does not act, he simply is. He is a normal boy who has adolescence thrust upon him. He is an outcast and powerless and searching for an identity that will permit him to act on the feelings that he will not admit to himself that he is having.

We all know that adolescence is not easy but gay adolescence is that much more difficult. There are virtually no role models and no guide to take one through the gay maturation process. Director Cam Archer seems to be telling us that what gay youth needs most are people that they can look up to. The youth of today are exploited by society and must live with a media machine that does not really care about them.

The movie is both unusual and bizarre that is multi-layered. As it shows a gay youth coming of age and dealing with his sexuality, it requires an open mind. When Logan finally comes to realize and accept his homosexuality, he is saved. The film follows his coming-out process and the mood of the film is quiet determination. Logan is alone and has no one to share his feelings. He has a hard time at school as kids can be cruel. The film looks something like a long music video and each song reveals something about the plot. It seems to be a series of vignettes as if they are moments of Logan’s life. Without a lot of dialog and plot, the film tells a beautiful story—we are taken on a guided tour of what Logan feels and how he feels and not what he does.

“Tigers’ shows the loneliness and isolation we feel when we are surrounded by an environment that is based on heterosexual economics. It shows how we are parallel to the unwanted and feared tigers of society. The movie deals, in reality, with the inner feelings of adolescence. These feelings grow slowly until one realizes that he is different from others, as if he is the only one among an entirely different species.