Monthly Archives: March 2012

“Lawnboy” by Paul Lisicky— Self-Acceptance

Lisicky, Paul. “Lawnboy”, Graywolf Press, 2006.

Self-Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Several years ago I read Paul Licisky’s “Lawnboy” and was moved by both the story and the style. I am really glad to see that is has been reissued and with a new cover, a reader’s guide and an interview with the writer. The book is a wonderful coming of age novel that carefully deals with the issue of self-acceptance. Evan is 17 years old and tends to the lawn of a neighbor, William, in Miami, Florida. One day they begin a secret affair and this becomes a major concern to Evan who at first attempts to deny his gay side. He dates his best friend, Jane, but when he realizes that this is not for him, he runs away from home and moves in with his older brother. This doesn’t last long and he soon is off to Fort Lauderdale where another brother has a flop-house motel. It is here that he meets Hector, his brother’s part-time lover and assistant. Hector becomes a mentor for Evan who soon moves on once again and he returns to Miami, a bit wiser and more aware but also sadder then when he left before. Following Evan is like following gay awakening in the 1990’s and the reader is privy to the inner workings of a young man’s mind as he deals with whom he is.

“Lawnboy” is romantic and sad as it probes the mind of a boy who is not at peace with himself. Lisicky depicts the longing and need to be accepted in several heartbreaking passages. There is not much new here but what makes this book so special is how beautifully it is written. The innocence of boyhood coupled with the inability to choose makes this an emotional read. Truth is the theme and the novel is on one hand mysterious and on the other hand it is beautiful. I found the book transcendent with tragedy yet filled with love and hope, desire and sexual awakening. It is a rewarding read and meant to be savored slowly.

 

“Full Circle” by Michael Thomas Ford— Coming Full Circle

Ford, Michael Thomas. “Full Circle”, Kensington Press, 2006,

Coming Full Circle

Amos Lassen

I have been a fan of Michael Thomas Ford for so long that I cannot imagine the world without his books. “Full Circle” is his novel about adolescent lust, unrequited love, friendship that are messed up and domestic bliss and it covers 50 years in the lives of the characters. This is a powerful story of lovers and friends and of the bonds they make and those that survive and come full circle. Ned Brummel is a history professor who lives happily with his partner of 14 years in small town America. Things change when he receives a phone call from his friend, Jack who he has not heard from in years. Jack tells him that another friend is very ill and possibly dying. This shatters Ned’s peaceful existence and he leaves for Chicago. As he travels, his memory takes him on a journey that examines the events in his life and the shaping of his world as well as his relationships with others.

Ne d goes back to the 50’s and 60’s and we are invited into the world of Jack and Ben who found real beauty in their love for each other. College changed that when someone named Andy Kowalski entered their lives. Both men fell for him and they fell very hard. There were secret meetings and betrayals and the men loved and were hurt, matured and healed each other over the following years. They experiences the drugged out years in San Francisco in  the 70’s and were involved in the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s; they became activists in the 90’s and as they live through those periods, their relationships change and grow and reflect the transformation that was happening around them. Now they come together as one of their group is about to leave the world and they have one last chance to face their pasts, examine the damage, rejoice in what was good and embrace the loves they shared—the very same love that withered as time passed.

Without saying too much about the plot, I will say that this is a moving saga of three friends and it s also an unyielding story that celebrates the power of friendship and deep feelings that withstood tremendous obstacles. He finds a love that is ultimately the most important thing that one can share. I was totally engaged by the book—both by the story and the prose. I lived through the periods in the book and for me it was “a remembrance of times past” The power of love portrayed here moved me to tears several times.

Through the three major characters, Ford portrays the gay “everyman” and has him travel though the history of America. As he does so, he gives us beautiful prose that is touched with reality and a heightened sense of emotion. This is not the story of the “twink” generation of which we have had way too many lately. Rather this is the story of baby boomers who have now become middle-aged adults and all of us can appreciate the love, the friendship, the deep bonding and we should thank Ford for allowing us to be privy to these themes.

 

“Setting the Lawn on Fire” by Mack Friedman— Coming of Age

Friedman. Mack. “Setting the Lawn on Fire”, Terrace Books, The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

Coming of Age

Amos Lassen

All of us know that coming of age is not easy. Some of us managed to do so with style but the majority of us remember those years of moving into adulthood as really rough periods. Mack Friedman shares his novel, a coming of age story, with us and it is a wonderful read. There are times that you rock with laughter and other times that you have tears in your eyes. We have had so many coming out stories that I must admit I approached this book with trepidation and reluctance and thought, “ho hum, another one”. However, I was so wrong and I realized that the moment I began to read. By the time I reached page 3, I was so wrapped up in the book that I could not put it down.

Ivan, a young Jewish boy from Milwaukee, is our main character and his journey through life is a journey of self-discovery. As he travels, and travel he does, Wisconsin, Alaska, Philadelphia, Mexico and stops in between and he learns something about himself at each place. As he learns, he tells us about the learning process. He spends time as a hustler, a factory worker, a student and an artist.

We meet Ivan as he succumbs to the games of early childhood and then watch him take off and speed through adolescence, saunter through adulthood and swagger into a period as a hustler. Of course, his self-sacrifice to lust is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. The final picture we get of Ivan is of a complete individual, “a full-fledged sexual identity” and a representation of what the world of desire can cause a person to become. In fact, desire seems to permeate every page of the book. Likewise, the book arouses sensory perceptions as presented by Friedman in a beautiful and precise writing style.

The reference to fire in the title is significant if we understand the fact that fire is hot. There are many hot descriptions here of a kid coming to terms with his life and the world around him. There is an honest, straightforward, bold look at life and quite an accomplishment for a first novel. Yet I was impressed in that it is humble and sublime. Here is a book that contributes to our lives and to the LGBT community and I hope that there are more books coming from Friedman. To me this was like eating a salad before the main course and I am anxious to taste the entire meal.

“A CHANGE OF HEART” (“PROMISES AND LIES”)— Hiding a Secret

“A Change of Heart”

Hiding a Secret

Amos Lassen

Jim Marshall (John Terry) is the all-American father and husband (or so he seems. However he is hiding a secret—he is gay. He had suppressed his homosexual feelings during his 20 year marriage to Elaine (Jean Smart in a brilliant performance). Elaine catches her husband and his lover in a hotel room and she becomes livid with rage and her anger builds at a rapid pace. The film is about the pain and soul-searching in an American family.

Jean Smart gives one of her best dramatic performances as the married mother of two who on a hunch one afternoon, tracks her husband to a hotel room. He answers the door in a robe while talking to another man wearing a towel around his waist, Here his secret is no longer a secret. What follows is every cliché about gay people (at least today but perhaps not when the film was aired in 1998). This is a TV film “A Change of Heart” that addresses these issues with a lot of forceful emotion and talk that is realistic. We feel the hurt and anger and our eyes fill with tears. While the characters of Elaine and Jim are well developed, we know nothing about Jim’s lover. This is Smart’s movie and she carriers it beautifully. Her speech to the board of directors where she and her husband work is perfection and when she shows her bravura spirit at the end viewers find hope. This has never been released on DVD before so it is good to have it but it is just the film with no extras.

There are some silly scenes that do not move the plot forward and the happy ending made me want to take back every nice thing I have said about the movie. The biggest flaw, to me, is that the film does not address infidelity (whether it be a same sex partner or otherwise). On the other hand, the film does address homophobia but it does so in the most politically correct manner. If the same movie were made today, I am sure it would be totally different. The clichés would most certainly not be there. Nonetheless, we must be thankful that this movie was ever made and shown on TV when it was. It opened the eyes of many and gave viewers something to think about.

 

 

 

“Earthly Concerns” by Xavier Axelson— “Between Shadow and Light There is Uncertainty”

Axelson, Xavier. “Earthly Concerns”, Seventh Window Publications, 2012.

“Between Shadow and Light There is Uncertainty”

Amos Lassen

I always look forward to a note from Xavier Axelson letting me know he has a new book out. Axelson is one of the up and coming gay writers and I have yet to be disappointed by his books. More than that, he is always ready to push the envelope a bit and go where others dare not.

“Earthly Concerns”, his newest book is the story of Anson, a man with a special gift and that is that he can see the past, the future and what happens between the two. Now all of us can see that this might be a blessing but it can also be a grave curse. Just think how boring life would be if we all knew ahead of time what was going to happen tomorrow. We learn that this gift runs in his family. Anson was taught by his aunt how to deal with his powers and she emphasizes that there is a responsibility that goes along with them. The major responsibility is that if someone needs help, it must be given. When Barrett, his ex-lover asked for help and this made Anson step back and wonder why. Barrett had broken his heart and in doing so Anson lost his dream.

We learn that Barrett has lost his daughter and he can’t deal with it. He has no one to turn to but Anson since he would be able to understand what happened to her. Although Barrett had been involved sexually with Anson, he was not able to deal with his sexuality. He faces problems and must deal with his feelings for Anson as well. He wonders if something good can come out of what has happened to his girl and perhaps he and Anson might, after all, be able to share life and love.

Axelson does well with this paranormal story which, while being a quick read, will have you thinking long afterwards. Because this is more of a novella rather than a novel, Axelson did not provide all the background information that he could have and I have a feeling this was done on purpose so that we would think about the characters. We know that Barrett and Anson were once lovers but we really do not know much about what went on between them. We also do not know how and when Barrett became a father. Likewise, we are left in the dark as to what will happen to them now that they have come together again. When the story ends, it just ends and I also think that this was deliberate. Axelson includes the themes of romance, love and tragedy as well as the paranormal. Axelson writes from the emotions and in doing so he draws the reader in. It is close to impossible not to react to his stories.

The blurb on the book reads like this:

“Between love and loss, there is obligation…

It was a peaceful night when Barrett and his daughter were driving home… then something happened. Something sinister.

Between shadow and light, there is uncertainty…

Now the only person Barrett can turn to for help is Anson, a man gifted with psychic abilities beyond reason. But Anson is also his ex-boyfriend, a man whose heart he’d already broken.

If you can see, you have to help”. Early on the mood is set and it is maintained throughout the story. For me, the blurb gives me a reason to want to read this book and hopefully it will do the same for you.

“HOLY FAUX”— WTF?

“Holy Faux”

WTF?

Amos Lassen

I just finished watching Grant MacDonald’s mess of a movie, “Holy Faux” and I have absolutely no idea what it is about. The sound is almost inaudible at the beginning and then it moves into a series of songs with pornographic references. The first half of the film is a series of non-moving pictures of good-looking young men sporting erections which can be seen through their clothing. Then comes the actual pornography (or erotica, if you prefer). Three good-looking young men have sex in all of its possibilities. This is accompanied by lyrics that make one blush. I saw no message; in fact I really do not feel that I saw a movie. What I did see was a series of images thrown together for whatever reason and supposedly had something to do with religion.

The most upsetting thing about this film is that it is for sale on Amazon where anyone can buy it—even youngsters who perhaps are not ready for something like this. I am actually sending my copy back because I could not understand the speech but I am sure that even if I had, I would find this movie nothing more than a waste of time.

“Life Through Broken Pens” by Walter Beck— The Passion of the Poet

Beck, Walter. “Life Through Broken Pens”, Writing Knights Press, 2012.

The Passion of the Poet

Amos Lassen

I just finished reading a chapbook by a young poet, Walter Beck and I am still reeling. His passion for his work is overwhelming and I felt as if his poems jumped right off the page and into my lap. His words cut deep and he writes truth with no pretenses. Beck is a noted member of the emerging poetry scene in Terre Haute and his verse is hard and hardcore and very intense. He stops at nothing and his poetry shocks with its truthfulness.

Take a look at some of the lines of “I Am More Than a Cocksucker”:

 

“I am more than a cocksucker;

In fact, cocksucking or getting mine sucked

Is a very small part of my life.”…

 

“How about my job as a camp counselor

Or my stash of live bootlegged records?

Why not judge me

For my rainbow suspenders

Or my black beret?

After all

These are no more important or descriptive

Than being a cocksucker”.

I was literarily blown away for two reasons—one is the obvious shock we feel when we hear the word “cocksucker” in poetry and secondly, for so long we have asked not to be defined by our sexuality but by our personhood.

The seventeen poems are eclectic and Beck uses themes from homosexuality to religion and the world we live in to tell us’ “I want poetry to be alive and dangerous again”. If Beck continues to write, we will see this before long. I am honored that he asked me to review his book.

 

“ADAM AND STEVE”— Offbeat and Irreverent

“Adam and Steve”

Offbeat and Irreverent

Amos Lassen

I am sure that you, like me, are well over that Christian fundamentalist rant, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”.  Leave it to the film industry to capitalize on that and give us “Adam and Steve”, an irreverent comedy. When it opened in movie houses, reviews were lukewarm and I can see why. It seemed to lose some of its humor on the big screen. However, watching it at home gave the film a new dimension that makes it more personal.

The story line is simple— boy meets boy, boy dates boy (disastrously), boy and boy split up and then meet again some seventeen years later and fall in love. This is one of those hopelessly optimistic love stories and while watching it, the movie makes you feel like you have to find a partner. However, in finding that partner, you must be prepared to deal with cynicism and ego damage. “Adam and Steve” is, by all means, a romantic “fairy” tale.

The movie deals with the real issues of finding love—cheating, drug abuse, boredom. It is filled with gross-out humor but it is never offensive (ok—it is  little offensive) and it is certainly provocative. Craig Chester is the writer, the director and the star and he says that he wanted to make a gay movie without high romance and tears yet with a great sense of humor— “more heart and less irony”. He wanted to make a movie that sows him as he really is—a funny guy. We see the obstacles to being in a relationship when someone is gay and can laugh at the world around him. To do this, Chester went after a cast of top comics—himself, Parker Posey, Sally Kirkland, Chris Kattan, Malcolm Gets and Julie Haggerty. He film begins with a pivotal gross-out scene and then moves into slapstick humor and slight gags. There is a running joke when a homophobic couple interrupt the lovers at every opportunity which sometimes comes across as being really silly but putting that aside, the movie is very, very funny and sure to make single guys explore the options very carefully before entering a relationship.

There are plenty of extras on the DVD—a documentary on the making of the film, a gag real and some very hot previews of other films, the director’s commentary, deleted scenes and an instructional video, “How to Battle Dance” accompanied by the standout song of the film, “Shit Happens”. If you laugh at nothing else, the lyrics will have you aching with glee.

“GUYS AND BALLS”— Political Satire

“Guys and Balls”

Political Satire

Amos Lassen

“Guys and Balls” is a parody of those macho athletes who have kept us swooning for years. Ecki works in his family’s bakery and lives in the closet. He is also the goalie on his town’s soccer team. When his team loses a big game and Ecki is found flirting with another player, he is kicked off the team and it becomes his goal to play on an all gay team that will become a threat to all of the “heteros” on the soccer field. He enlists his sister to help and goes to all of the bars to recruit players and finally is able to assemble the wildest team ever seen on a soccer field—three leather daddies, a lovely queen and a straight guy who lusts for a very cute nurse. When the team plays its final game, the opposing team discovers that it has to deal with “fabulosity” like it has never seen before.

I found myself not only rotting for but cheering for the gay team. He team is determined to show that “sistahs” can play ball every bit as well its straight counterpart. In attempting to create the team, we have a comedy that is very funny but it is not as campy as it could be. Gay sensibility is not seen in the film but that does not mean it is not fun. There are some wonderful one-liners alongside some funny, funny schtick.

The whole story begins with Ecki’s kissing another guy and once the story starts there is no turning back. The team is wonderful—a Turkish waiter who dreams of Beckham, a thin player who is actually a girl, two sexy Brazilians and a straight bookseller, he aforementioned leather daddies, Sven, the male nurse that Ecki lusts after but who thinks that Ecki has built the team out of personal vengeance. The coach is an alcoholic.

The stakes are high and Ecki knows that the game can grant him the respect that he yearns for and give him a place as an athlete. He film has but one purpose—to entertain and that it does so with wonderful performances and even if there is nothing new here, this is a fun film.

I read one review in which the reviewer said that the film has nothing going for it—it is in German and there are subtitles, the story is tired and full of clichés but do not believe him—he seems bitter. I found it to be classy and witty, engaging and fresh.

 

“IMAGINE ME AND YOU”— Such a Wedding

“Imagine Me and You”

Such a Wedding

Amos Lassen

Rachel (Piper Perabo) is a perspective bride who falls in love with another woman at her own wedding. In the film directed by Ol Parker, the bride leaves the wedding in pursuit of Luce (Lena Headley), the florist who created the floral displays for the ceremony and reception. Luce is an interesting character who is quite mysterious and the film is great fun. It seems that every cliché about marriage and lesbians is in the film and I would compare it to tossing a salad with familiar ingredients but not recognizing the taste afterwards. Using style and wit, the film has something for everyone—beautiful women, handsome men, good humor and fluff (which is not always a bad thing).

The production is slick and the one-liners just keep coming. The performances are excellent and the opening is pure pleasure. Have a look—you will not be sorry.