Category Archives: GLBT fiction

“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.

 

“The Shape of the Earth” by Garry Garth McCann— Lenny and Dave

McCann, Gary Garth, “The Shape of the Earth”,  Bold Strokes Books, 2019.

Lenny and Dave

Amos Lassen

Lenny manages a bookstore that is on the verge of going under and he struggles to keep the promise of fidelity that he made to Dave yet he finds it impossible not to flirt and this is what he has been doing with Ian. However, he discovers that Ian’s ambivalence is hiding something personal and devastating. Lenny and Dave’s relationship has been plagued by lies and deception and is out of control. Lenny holds on to Dave, hoping that it will keep him grounded but when another stranger makes his appearance, Lenny cannot help himself and Dave and Lenny face their ultimate test and challenge.

Lenny comes across as self-centered and a sex addict yet he is involved in a relationship with Dave. There seems to be something sadistic there.  While Dave and Lenny are engaged, Lenny continues to lie and to cheat.

The two men were a monogamous relationship for a number of years and Lenny has moved from Baltimore after a prior break-up to pick-up where they left off. The sincerity of their feelings for each other, however, is doubtful. Dave is often preoccupied with work and Lenny puts in the least effort and care into his job yet he always manages to get to the gym. 

Ian is very good-looking and ambivalent. Lenny becomes predatory around Ian and starts telling lies. Tension builds to a point and Lenny discovers that Dave is having an affair with Ian. The issue here is monogamy and the result once it has been broken. I felt uncomfortable as I read about the uncomfortable activities of the characters. There is a lot of sex and this is most definitely erotica. The prose is quite good and while I did not always like the way the plot unfolded, the prose saved the read for me.

“Code Name: Liberty” by Marshall Thornton— The Dreamer and the Prince

Thornton, Marshall. “Code Name: Liberty”, Independently Published, 2019.

The Dreamer and the Prince

Amos Lassen

In the summer of 1980, there was an upcoming election and the hostage crisis in Iran. Patrick Henry Burke could not be concerned with either. He is too busy thinking about the happiness he is sure he will find with the Persian prince he just met. However, that doesn’t last because Gary Walker a sexy CIA agent and asks that he spy on the prince and his father. It seems that father and son are trying  to prevent the hostages from being released in order to guarantee that James Carter won’t win the presidency and the Reagan administration will be grateful enough to help the prince’s father in becoming the new Shah of Iran. Patrick finds information about an illegal weapons deal and tries to understand who might be lying who might be telling him the truth.

Patrick is a cute, nineteen-year-old twink who is not too bright. He has a service job in a fine restaurant in Washington, D.C. at Dupont Circle. He does not seem to care about politics or culture but he does know where the gay bars are  in the neighborhood. He is one of those guys who is only interested in the right now.

When he meets the prince he thinks that his luck has changed and that is important since he is such an unsympathetic character. His innocence is a result of his own thoughtfulness. But all is not lost and Patrick is forced into maturity and my opinion about him changed. I could not help but wonder if Patrick is a metaphor for those young twinks whose own worlds are all that are able to think about and who think that the bars are civilization. Patrick was not a total nothing— he was just naïve.

Patrick likes his prince David a lot but realizes that being a prince entails some duties Patrick does not agree with. the more time he spends with David, he learns to love him but he senses that something is going on here that is not quite right. Writer Thornton brings romance and political intrigue together. That political intrigue is what makes this such a fascinating read.

“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.