Rowling, J.K. “The Casual Vacancy”, Little, Brown and Company, 2012.
Writing for Adults
Barry Fairbrother lived in the small town of Pagford and when he died, the town went into shock. While the town itself appears to be idyllic, we soon see that beneath the outward show there is a town at war with itself. The opposites of each other just do not get along–the rich against the poor, husbands against wives, teachers against students and so forth. We soon realize that things are not what they seem to be. Now that Fairbrother’s seat on the town council is open, the war between the people comes to the fore. Fairbrother had worked hard to make sure that the low income families were treated well but now it seems as if his work was done in vain. This book deals with modern issues of today– racism, snobbery, etc but in a town is a microcosm of society as we know it. The focus here is on the rich and the corrupt (and if there was stupidity also included I would have to say it sounds like the Romney’s). We must remind ourselves before beginning to read this that this is a not a Harry Potter book and that this is a real gritty story about members of a community after a prominent citizen dies. Fairbrother used his seat on the town council to help the poor.
There is a large cast of characters whose stories intermesh and the characters are connected and some very serious issues are discussed here, from rape to drug abuse and abuse in the family. Rowling provides a commentary on bigotry, class and greed as seen through the characters. It is a realistic look at people and Rowling’s character involvement is wonderful. There is even a gay character— a young lesbian who comes out to her mother. Since Rowling wrote it, there is no question that it will be red and discussed so pick up a copy and join the throngs.
“Daddy’s Big Girl”
Short but Very Sweet
Millie (Rakefet Abergel) is overweight and she and her father have a strange relationship. Her dad, Cliff (Christopher Bradley), is a wealthy movie maker and gay. Millie knows she is fat but does nothing about it and her father uses his own brand of tough love hoping that she will do something with her life. Millie finds herself in a bind with no job and no money so she does what children usually do—she goes to her father who she sees as a hedonistic man who lives for fun. We sense the tension between father and daughter and it looks like they will never agree on anything until Cliff tells Millie a story about his dead wife and her mother and this leads to each understanding the other a bit more.
Even though the film is only 17 minutes long, director Reid Waterer gives us a look at the dynamics of father/daughter and shows us that it is possible to reach an understanding. I watched with a smile on my face as I wondered why I had not heard of Waterer before. His film has a certain charm that I just cannot define and I surely hope that we will be hearing more from him.
You Can’t Curry Love
Watching Love Blossom
In just 23 minutes Reid Waterer shows us the blossoming of love in this wonderful little romantic comedy. Vikas (Ashwin Gore) is an Australian-born Indian living in London and is in love with his straight boss, Thom (G. Russell Thomas) who seems to make subliminal advances but hides behind the expectations of straight society. He sends Vikas to India for work and there he meets Sunil (Rakshak Sahni), the desk clerk at his hotel. Sunil takes Vikas out to see the sights and his business trip soon becomes a romance and when the time to return to London comes near, he must decide whether to go home or stay where his heart is— to be with his closeted boss or to stay with Sunil. It is amazing how many themes we find here in such a short film— the Indian caste system, trans men, responsibility and gay visibility. The film is a delight from start to finish and the ending will put a huge smile on your face as the cast does a traditional Bollywood dance.
Brennessel, Barry, “The Celestial”, MLR Press, 2012.
Barry Brennesel is a dynamic young writer who I was fortunate enough to meet at this year’s Lambda Literary Awards after party and I feel very fortunate that he asked me to review his books. This time he has written a historical novel set during the Gold Rush of the 1870’s. We meet nineteen year old Todd Webster Morgan who is in California looking for gold and finding love. He is determined to find the gold in “them that hills” of the Sierra Nevada’s and as he plans everything out, he meets Leo Jian, a young Chinese immigrant. Todd’s mother has not been having an easy time of making ends meet and his invalid uncle begins to show signs of anger and violence. To make matters even worse, Todd cannot find a job. However there is a ray of hope and that is seen in his friendship with Lao Jian and the two men find themselves falling in love with each other. However, because of growing anti-Chinese sentiment in America, the two find their relationship at risk and they are forced to deal with prejudice and fear.
The writer chose to set this novel during a rough period of United States history. The War Between the States had ended just a few years before and the West was just beginning to open up. People still referred to California as the wild West and America was dealing with slaves having become free men and there was a great deal of prejudice against anyone who was not “white”. It was also a time in this country when there were people who were very poor and struggling to stay afloat and Todd thought that since he could not find work, he would look for gold and as he begins his search he comes face to face with some of the worst things about his country and its prejudices. He also meets a man from China for the first time in his life. It is this meeting that propels the novel forward and Brennessel not only gives us a love story but also a look at this country during a trying period and the emergence of California. We also get a look at racism in the way the Chinese in this country are regarded. Keep in mind that it was not that long ago that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were regarded as a mixed race couple and this was long before that when anti-Chinese sentiment in this country was at all time high. Add to that the lovers are both men and we get a good look at intolerance.
While the story is basically about Todd and Jian’s love for each other, they serve as the backdrop for hate and racism and the writer deals with these issues with grace and style. In writing a historical novel, one must be careful not to mess up in retelling what went on back then and I must add that Brennessel has done his homework and research well. Without giving away any of the details of the plot, the ending of the story left me wiped out. The writer is not only a wonderful story teller but he has also provided us with two wonderfully drawn characters thus giving us a read that will not be soon forgotten.
Nicosia. Gerald. “One and Only”, Cleis Press, 2012.
The Never-Before-Told Story of the Girl Who Went On the Road with Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady
Lu Anne Henderson lived in Denver in 1946 and she was fifteen years old. She met Neal Cassady who was a paragon of male sexuality and a macho man that made big promises and a big impression on her. He told her that he was going to Columbia University to become a writer and married her and took her with him to New York in her uncle’s car that he stole. Cassady never got to a classroom at Columbia and he and Lu Anne began to hang out with writers-to-be, among them Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Lu Anne soon discovered that she was the secret link between Kerouac and Cassady who started what became known as the “Beat Generation”. This relationship between the three eventually became the basis for Kerouac’s masterpiece “On the Road” which was to become the seminal novel of the twentieth century. “One and Only” is an important addition to the literature of Beat America and it gives us a new look at the creative movement that took America by storm in the late 1950’s. This new book is bold and Lu Anne Henderson remains the survivor of the period—a time of Bohemian life in this country whose influence is still here even though the movement is gone.
Stevenson, Richard. “The Last Thing I Saw”, MLR Press, 2012.
Looking for Eddie Wenske
Donald Strachey returns in this, Richard Stevenson’s, newest book. Wenske is a popular newscaster and investigative reporter who has written a very successful coming-out memoir as well as a book about drug cartels that has put many dealers in precarious situations. He was investigating a gay media conglomerate whose owner is considered to be a shady character who conducts business “his way”.
Strachey starts looking for him and his search takes him to Boston and New York City and eventually to California where he discovers that the world of the media not only is not glamorous but that it is very, very dangerous.
Stevenson’s Strachey has become on of gay literature’s heroes and icons and this is not just because Stevenson is such a good writer but also because several successful movies have been made from his books (by a gay media conglomerate that has had quite a shady life). He is a loveable detective and a larger-than-life character who we have been able to read about as he matures. However, it is almost impossible to write about Stevenson’s plot without spoiling the read for others and therefore I am not going to say anything else about the plot except that the author has once again built a story that will take you from the world as you read.
One of the things I really like about Stevenson’s writing is how he manages to make each story different as he shows us a side of gay life that we do not often see. Each of his books is a look at gay life and Strachey and Stevenson have developed quite a following. I just hope that we will follow the series for many book books.
“SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE — USEFUL TO YOU”
Peter Cameron’s Novel Comes to the Screen
I loved reading Pete Cameron’s novel, “Someday this Pain Will Be Useful to You” and now seeing the film, I realize just why I love it so much. It is both the sad and funny story of James Sveck (Toby Regbo) who is very bright and very sensitive who goes through a paralyzing identity crisis as he faces becoming an adult. He is a non-conformist and this causes him to make mistakes that once made are difficult to undo. He has no intention of going to college and staunchly refuses to do so even after being accepted at Brown University and he seems to have only one interest in life—visiting his grandmother, Nanette, (the wonderful Ellyn Burstein), a free-spirited, enigmatic woman and she seems to be the only one who understands him and just how lost he is. She understands the problems a 17 year old can face as he tries to navigate the world of adults.
It is not enough that he is suffering an identity crisis; James’s family is a disaster. His mother, Marjorie (Marcia Gay Harden) owns an art gallery which is known for its avant-garde exhibitions and this art does not sell. She has just thrown Barry (Stephen Lang) her third husband out of her life while they were honeymooning in Las Vegas. James’s father, Paul (Peter Gallagher), is vain and likes younger women and is suffering a mid-life crisis. Gillian, James’s sister (Deborah Ann Woll), is dating her semiotics professor and cannot find love with a man unless he is at least twice her age.
James finds his future becoming murkier and murkier and his parents force him to take therapy with a life coach (Lucy Liu) who uses unconventional methods and James succumbs to her treatment which causes him to be curious about life and therefore starts on a journey that is to change his life and he becomes empathetic and develops a sense of wisdom as his intelligence is raised daily.
Director Roberto Faenza has assembled a wonderful cast and he directs them to give outstanding performances all around and I was totally charmed by the entire experience. Cameron’s words gain new and beautiful life on the screen. The film is filled with passion and compassion as it examines a dysfunctional family that is loving despite all else. Mark this as a must-see movie.