Monthly Archives: January 2012

“Smut: Stories” by Alan Bennett— Nothing Smutty Here

Alan Bennett. “Smut: Stories”, Picador, 2012.

Nothing Smutty Here

Amos Lassen

Alan Bennett, master storyteller gives us two stories of the unexpected in what are ordinary people’s lives. The first. “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” is about a woman who has lost her husband and finds an interesting way of adding to her income by becoming a patient for medical students and also by renting out a spare room. Before she realizes it, she enjoys both.

In “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes”, a mother who dotes on Graham, her only son who hides something from her. However as his double life becomes complicated, we see that he is in the dark about his own desires and those of his mother.

I suspect that Bennett chose the name for this book when these stories were considered off-color. But times have changed and the voyeurism of the first story and the homosexuality in the second story are no longer taboo topics. In comparison to some of the stuff being written and published today, these stories are quite mild and actually are somewhat endearing. Bennett has been a writer that deals with what we might call “transgressive behavior” and he does so again here as he gives us characters that we know we should not be observing. He draws them a little at a time and we learn about them slowly. They are characters trapped by relationships. Mrs. Donaldson is tormented by her daughter who does not approve of her mother’s new profession as a patient and really dislikes that she has taken in boarders. It is through these two activities that the widow discovers her sexuality and her autonomy and independence. But she must keep this a secret.

In the other story, Graham is a gay man who is both vain and handsome and his mother adores him. The secrecy of this weighs heavily on the dynamics of the family. Aside from being a wonderful storyteller, Bennett is a master of satire. Sex is important in both stories but it is merely the way that the characters discover their true selves. The humor is dry and wry and Bennett uses it wonderfully to show the relationship between age and sex and he really concentrates on the way he observes modern life. And he observes life through his characters who are the propelling forces in his stories.





graphic by David Polonsky, courtesy of Theater J

Buy your plane, train and metro tickets to Washington DC: this week The Kinsey Sicks are premiering their election year show, “Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!” The show, specially commissioned by Washington’s Theater J, is set in a GOP campaign rally, and provides an opportunity for the Kinsey Sicks to present their unique Republican political platform in four-part a cappella harmony while festooned in gorgeously tasteless couture (the show will debut patriotic-themed costumes that can never be accused of understatement.)

The show features 12 brand new especially provocative Kinsey Sicks songs, including wicked parodies alongside evil new Kinsey originals such as “Vote for Me, I Wasn’t Born in Kenya” and “Sell the Poor”, and is already scheduled to tour to California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington State, Wyoming – and Tampa, Florida to coincide with the Republican National Convention in August. Other locations will be announced soon.


Previews of this satire of U.S. politics took place in January in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to rapturous audiences of drunken Canadians. Those sober enough to speak after the performance agreed: this is one Kinsey Sicks show not to be missed!


The Kinsey Sicks premiere “Electile Dysfunction” at Washington DC’s Theater J. For tickets go here.

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do to pay only 15% in taxes,

– The Kinsey Sicks

“He Will Laugh” by Douglas Ray— From the Soul

Ray, Douglas. “He Will Laugh”, Lethe Press, 2012.

From the Soul

Amos Lassen

Yitzhak, the Hebrew Isaac, one of the patriarchs of the Jewish religion, whose name means “he will laugh” or “he laughed” in English. We sometimes have to take the word in context; the letter “yud” which traditionally connotes future tense, in Torah can also connote past tense. If you think about why Isaac has this name, it all makes sense. Let’s face it, Sarah was not exactly of childbearing age when she gave birth and Abraham was well past his sexual prime. But we must ask, “ just who is laughing at whom?”

Ray’s book is a collection of poems that tell of the love between two men and we are with them at their initial meeting through the suicide of one and then during its aftermath. As he comes to terms with his grief, one man is on a quest for understanding and to figure out how to deal with the memories that remain.

Like in the story of Isaac, we have sacrifice and this is the basis for the poems in the collection. The sacrificial loss brings forth the themes of love, beauty and desire which all come together as the quest continues. There is beauty and lamentation in the poetry and the sadness that we read of is uplifting. There is also great wisdom here and Ray shines as a new young poet who I am sure will emerge as a major talent.

I have noticed lately that the emerging voices in gay literature are the poets and poetry has finally found a very permanent place in our canon. Today alone I received two books of poetry for review and I would guess that I have reviewed over thirty this year (2011-12). There is something about the way poetry plays with our emotions and draws us close in a way that prose cannot and Ray linguistically gives us a new slant on the way we live.

You might expect a book of poems about suicide to be depressing but the opposite is true. We certainly feel the pain of loss of life but we are made aware of other aspects of life that continue on. As Ray’s grief becomes elegiac, he praises what is no longer here as well as what is yet to come. Isaac, our suicide victim represents tenderness and passion which is snuffed out but not extinguished. Remembering that even those emotions that are no longer visibly here does not mean that they will never recur and elegy as a song for the dead can also become a song of hope.

Perhaps I am reading too much into what is here or maybe I am not reading enough. Such is the beauty of poetry. The Biblical story of Isaac is one that I have pondered over and over again and I always have that vision of Abraham lifting the blade to slay his son as a moan comes out of his mouth that is heard all over the world.

Ray’s Isaac is a victim of his own sacrifice and the moan we hear is not that of a father but of a lover and while not heard around the world, dwells in the psyche of he who stayed behind. “He Will Laugh” is a look at a life cut short and what remains. I wept as I read and that is a good thing.

“Divining Divas: 100 Gay Poets on the Women Who Inspire Them” edited by Michael Montlack— The Women that Make Them Write

Montlack, Michael (editor). “Divining Divas: 100 Gay Poets on the Women Who Inspire Them”, Lethe Press, 2012.

The Women That Make Them Write

Amos Lassen

What do Miss Piggy, Anais Nin, Gloria Swanson, Liza Minnelli, Margaret Dumont, The Little Mermaid, Frida Kahlo, Jessye Norman, Tina Turner, Eva Peron, Julia Child and Mahalia Jackson have in common aside from their gender? These and many other women are the inspirations for some one hundred gay poets and they are all gathered together in “Divining Divas”, an anthology of poetry that is fun from cover to cover. The divas that we meet here are the muses for our poets who tell us why.

The poems about the women range from worshipful to sardonic and from sweet to confessional. I don’t think that we are all aware of a muse that inspires and these poets (Randall Mann, Dave Trinidad, Scott Hightower, Wayne Koestenbaum, Rigobierto Gonzalez, Jason Scheiderman, Kevin Killian Mike Albo, Mark Doty, Michael Klein, Jericho Brown and many others) share their muses with us.

I love that we share the joy of the poet as he puts pen to paper and tells us about his “woman”. The diversity is amazing and the poetry is wonderful.

“Merle Oberon is a vessel of light.

She has the brains to go with her diamonds”.

“Paul Newman is his blue robe,

poking on his crutch. I write “No Sale” in pink lipstick

on a mirror—thoughtfully”

“I am thinking about Raquel in a collusion of kindness”…

“You wrecked the guitar; you made it yours”…

“Short hair, Mackie gown and what more can the world

Offer than this: stardom, adoration, a Tony, an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy?”…

“She is a witch who loves being a witch who hates mortals”.

Montlack has brought together excellent gay poets who in turn pay homage to all sorts of divas from all walks of life—singers, actresses, public figures, literary personages and these poets make their divas our divas. There are explorations of love, friendship, respect and honor. Montlack has arranged his book according to the birthdates of the women written of and the poets write about their treasured heroines with all the kindness and respect that is in them. What a way to warm up on a cold winter afternoon— I found myself smiling as I read and did not want to close the covers of the book.


“Our Lives Our Story: The Untold Stories of Women with AIDS”— And Now the Women Speak

The Living Affected Corporation’s Plus Club. “Our Lives Our Story: The Untold Stories of Women with AIDS”, The Living Affected Corporation, 2012.

And Now the Women Speak

Amos Lassen

Sometimes we forget that AIDS is a disease that pays no attention to gender and we seldom think of the women who have HIV/AIDS. The Living Affected Corporation in Little Rock, Arkansas has no forgotten and that is due to the terrific work of its CEO, Deidra Levi. Deidra’s life goal is to make sure that voices are heard and that justice is done so it comes as no surprise that this book has come into being. We look at four women living with AIDS and what they have been through and what is happening with them now. The book opens with showing us the questions that are asked of the four women and then we meet them one by one. It is extremely interesting to see that each answers the questions differently.

Connie Roebuck is now 42 but she has been living with AIDS and HIV since 1996. Before her diagnosis she was an independent woman, a traveler, a worker. She became very angry when her doctor told her that she only had five years to live. She became referred to as “The Lady with AIDS” but she took control of herself and changed doctors and was determined to live. Now she travels and works with others who have AIDS and she has now earned the new name of “The Condom Lady”. Her faith keeps her strong and she finds help by relating her story to others and she is a very strong advocate of safer sex. She wants no one to go through what she has experienced.

Dianne Guy is now 51 and was diagnosed with HIV in 1995 and with AIDS in 2002. She says her world fell apart when she was diagnosed. She knew who had given her the disease and was very bitter to the point that she wanted to kill him but he was already dead, having lost his life to an overdose. Her husband was ok with her illness and he has continued fighting to stay alive.

At 55, Ann Dixon is one of the most loveable people I have ever known. She has been living with HIV since 1989 and was diagnosed with AIDS in 1999. I met Annie shortly after I came to Arkansas. She was helping run a food bank that supplied groceries to Katrina evacuees and we struck up a fast friendship. As I got to know her better, she told me her story which is here in the book. Before her illness, Annie had been working at a good job and she was able to provide for her son who was, as she says “the light of her life.” Then her life was torn asunder by AIDS. She learned that her husband had infected her and she divorced him on the grounds of adultery. Reading Annie’s story is akin to reading a horror tale but Annie is still here and strong and so much fun to be around.

Vera Santiago is 50 years old and has been living with AIDS since 1995. After the initial shock of learning that she had it, Vera decided that life was meant to be lived and so she did. Vera took her life back and continues to be who she is and advocates for the others who cannot.

Aside from the wonderful stories there is also a resource guide that will tell you just where to go, etc should you need to. This is a book that belongs in every caring person’s library.

“The Painting of Porcupine City” by Ben Monopoli— Finding Heaven

Monopoli, Ben. “The Painting of Porcupine City: A Novel”, Ben Monopoli, 2011.

Finding Heaven

Amos Lassen

Fletcher has been out since he was twelve years old and has many, many sexual encounters. It seems as if he has been with every creepy guy in the city. His co-worker, Mateo, a graffiti artist, is looking for the perfect place to paint his inspirations. When the two meet for the first time, Fletcher looks at Mateo as a future notch on his belt and he has decided that he will never let a guy “go creepy” on him again. To his surprise, Mateo is not like the others.

I love the way Monopoli draws his characters and then puts them in situations where they must learn to deal with, many times unconventionally. Fletcher comes across as quite shallow at first but we soon realize that he is both a warm and good person. Mateo, on the other hand, is loveable from the first moment. Monopoli gives us vibrant characters and his writing is wonderful as he draws us into a story about two people seeking each other but not knowing it. The story is both about love and has a moral for us and we laugh and cry as we read it. Using the themes of friendship, love and family, we watch love blossom between two men who really do not suspect that it is happening.

Fletcher is at times narcissistic and both characters are obsessed with self and this is what tends to hide their good qualities. Fletcher seems to care only about having as much sex as possible and in that he comes across as conceited. We are led to believe that he behaves that way because of the way others have treated him. Mateo is driven by his graffiti and this is the only thing that matters to me or so he wants others to think. When their lives come together, there is magic and we get a story filled with heart.


“Luscious: Stories of Anal Eroticism” edited by Alison Tyler— WOW! Toppling a Taboo

Tyler, Alison (editor). “Luscious: Stories of Anal Eroticism”, Cleis Press, 2012.

WOW! Toppling a Taboo

Amos Lassen

I have to give it to Alison Tyler—she always pleases and we never know what will be the next thing to come from her. “Luscious” is daring and explosive in that she deals with anal erotica, something we seldom have the chance to read about. This is down and dirty erotica yet it is well written. Here are 27 stories that “celebrate anal sex” and they begin breaking down the taboo associated with it. The stories are dirty and wild and they hold your attention completely: Just imagine a random scene where a tail butt plug was shoved into someone’s ass. That’s crazy!

Features are such authors as Eric Williams, Dominic Santi, D.L. King, Carl Kennedy, Thomas Roche and Bryn Haniver. We are made aware of the erotica of that anus and read about both fantasies and realities. I have a feeling that this is the start of stopping the neglect of the anus in erotica and the stories, each and every one, are well written. Of course, this is just a beginning and there is a great start and I am sure that that is just what this is—a start. I have read a couple of reviews that claim that the book is just not wild enough but we all have to start somewhere.

The book contains both gay and lesbian stories as well as stories from straight society and most are quite short but there are 27 stories so I suppose this is the reason. I am sure that in the future we will get longer stories. We have seen the breakdown of taboos in society and this book is sure to help knock the taboo over anal sex to the ground.

“Irresistible: Erotic Romance for Couples” edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel— Fantasies for Couples

Bussel, Rachel Kramer (editor). “Irresistible: Erotic Romance for Couples”, Cleis Press, 2012.

Fantasies for Couples

Amos Lassen

A book by Rachel Kramer Bussel always means excellent erotica. This time we get an anthology of sixteen stories by writers such as A.M. Hartnet, Tiffany Reisz, the editor herself, Kris Adams, Donna George Storey, Cole Riley, Heidi Champa and others who take us into the world of couples who turn their dreams and fantasies into reality with sex that is uninhibited and totally imaginative.

The stories are bold and hold nothing back and they are erotic and sweet at the same time. We get sex “around the clock” about people who already know each other and what causes them to act as they do. The participants have partners to rely upon and there is trust between them. All that is necessary is imagination and off we go into the world of erotica.


“ALBERT NOBBS”— Glenn Close Triumphs

“Albert Nobbs”

Glenn Close Triumphs

Amos Lassen

As Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close plays a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland who some thirty years after wearing men’s clothing, finds herself trapped in a prison that she, herself, created. This is a drama that is driven by its characters and focuses on one woman who deals with her loneliness by pretending to be of the opposite sex. She therefore lives in secrecy and Glenn Close transforms herself that the woman disappears and the man emerges. Her performance is one of brilliance. What is so amazing is that it takes a while to forget that Close is really a woman but as the movie progresses, we forget that and totally see the man. When we see her later wearing a dress, we realize that we see her as a woman for the first time. Nobbs spent her entire life trying to blend into society and be unseen and Close’s performance reflects this beautifully.

Nobbs spent her life trying not to be noticed by others and when she meets another woman like her who is acting as a male (Janet McTeer in another brilliant performance) and is married to another woman, Nobbs understands her own potential and he no longer has t be alone. She ceases wanting to be alone. She has been trapped in the person she created and this is the strength of the film. The way that Close portrays this is absolutely amazing. The story is quite devastating.

The scene where McTeer asks Nobbs what her name is blew me away. She answers “Albert”, not once but twice and we see how far she has sunk into her created character. We both sense and feel her pain, her sadness, her grief, her fears and her hopes and these are all seen in her eyes. Albert Nobbs is an enigma; a kind, strange little man.

“Silk” by Rupert James— “Money. Sex. Power. Some Things are Always in Fashion”

James. Rupert. “Silk”, Cleis Press, 2012.

“Money. Sex. Power. Some Things are Always in Fashion”

Amos Lassen

“Silk” is a sizzler of a novel that is sexy, funny and totally compelling. Christine Fairbrother is a divorce lawyer and one of the best and she is ambitious and is waiting for the big case that will push her to the top and insure her place there. Her daughter, Isabelle Cisse is a graduate of design school and she is ambitious like her mother and is coming onto the London fashion scene. However, she has a penchant for the wrong kind of men.

Victoria Crabtee is the mistress of multi-millionaire and owner of one of the world’s leading manufacturers of haute couture fashion, Massimo Rivelli. However her tenure there is precarious as Rivelli is not making any move to divorce his wife. Victoria knows that she can be quickly replaced by a younger woman and she will do whatever it takes to make sure her position is not endangered. Rivelli is aware of this.

This is the story of three women, each controversial in her own way. They live lives of money and sex with men of power and their stories are dramatic. If you like Jackie Collins (and I do, as a release), you will love “Silk”. Find out what a lawyer, a designer and a has-been model now mistress have in common as their lives  ruled by power and money, success and ambition. One man unites their stories and this is the kind of book that once you begin, you will keep reading.