Monthly Archives: November 2014

“The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire”by Adam D. Mendelsohn—Immigrant Successes

the rag race

Mendelsohn, Adam D. “The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire”, (The Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History) NYU Press, 2014.

Immigrant Successes

Amos Lassen

Between 1820 and 1924, America felt a large Jewish immigration. Many of these new Jewish immigrants were poor and really had very small incomes. Today the children of those immigrants are very, very successful. Finding out how this happened is what Adam Mendelsohn tells us in this book. It seems that those Jews are the embodiment of the America dream. We have always wondered how this success from such poor backgrounds came to be— how can we explain their dramatic economic ascent? Have Jews been successful because of cultural factors distinct to them as a group, or because of the particular circumstances that they encountered in America? 

One answer that Mendelsohn discovered was that the Jews who came to America were helped their association with the rag trade. Many Jews became involved with rags and this granted them some success of financial freedom. But there was something else here as well; the rag trade shaped both their societal status and the clothing industry. 

Here we see the differences here in the United States to those that went on in England at the same time. Comparing the history of Jewish participation within the clothing trade in the United States with that of Jews in the same business, we see the social and economic outcomes for Jews in both places. 

Involvement in the clothing trade left a significant legacy for both American economic and modern Jewish history.  I remember all too well how my parents would talk about their friends in the schmatta business. Mendelsohn gives us the connections between that involvement and the economic ascent of Jews in America. Mendelsohn drew his research from the historiographies of Britain, Australia, and the United States and then brings together the different historical threads to give us a wonderful look at the those who were involved in the rag trade. Jews came here after leaving their culture behind in the “old country”.

Jews were able to move from working in the sweatshop to success in other areas and in society. Early differences in Jewish settlement and the structure of the garment trade brought divergent Jewish trajectories in both the United States and Britain. As they made money from their careers, they moved into almost every aspect of American and British life.

“The Disappearance Boy” by Neil Bartlett— Meet Reggie Rainbow

the disappearance boy

Bartlett, Neil. “The Disappearance Boy: A Novel”, Bloomsbury 2014..

Meet Reggie Rainbow

Amos Lassen

Reggie Rainbow is an orphan and his name was given to him by the orphanage. Now in his twenties, as a child Reggie had been a victim to polio and had to depend upon crutches to get around and this caused him to have nimble fingers and strong hands. His dexterity made him ideal for illusions and this was why Mr. Brooks hired him. Reggie became a disappearance boy and for years he has made many assistants vanish. Mr. Brooks trick and misdirected the audience as Reggie performed.

As time passed, audiences became smaller and by 1953, the art of illusion had fallen out of favor with audiences. When Mr. Brooks finally get a chance to get his show into Brighton Grand, Reggie realizes that he is in a strange place, one he has no knowledge of. Then there was Pamela Rose, Brooks’ beautiful new assistant and as the time grew closer for the show to open, Reggie began to wonder if his own life was nothing but an illusion. It was at this point that he set out to find the person who disappeared from his life long ago.

The fact that the novel is set in 1953 is important in that the show in Brighton was to be in honor of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Author Bartlett gives us both a coming of age story and a romance in this book. Many felt that the reason the act was not as successful lately is because it had been done so many times that many were bored with it. In the show, a woman was confined in a mirror-lined box, spun about and made to vanish only to reappear from off stage as fully transformed as Eliza Doolittle. When Pamela came aboard, we watch Reggie transform from a boy to a man.

The title is not just about Reggie as we see deceivers and deceptions in other places too. The book has a gothic/Victorian feel to it and much is said about the dark areas of England and the shame of having illicit sex rendezvous’.

Reggie really has no friends and when Pam comes into the act, she teaches him not to be afraid of love and to let his feelings guide him. Reggie believes in the nobility of motherhood even though he has never met his mother. Reggie also believes in the power of redemption.

While Reggie is the man character, Mr. Brooks stands at the center of this novel and, in effect, the story revolves around his arrogant behavior and how he has the ability to misdirect perception. Brooks is not evil or bad but neither is he a role model. As readers, we feel nothing for him. He is a dictator and a philanderer. Reggie feels something for Pam but in a sisterly way. He begins to give into his homosexual yearnings.

The prose is beautiful as are the descriptions of England at that time. Where the book really shines is in the descriptions of Reggie’s loneliness and unfulfilled desires, as well as the how he deals with his feelings. We see the parallel between the illusionist’s act and what the characters do to survive. As Reggie goes through life looking

for his place and purpose as a gay man, we are right there with him.

“Graphic Intentions” by Randi Harmon— Finding Love

graphic intentions

Harmon, Randi. “Graphic Intentions”, Wilde city Press, 2014.

Finding Love

Amos Lassen

We often find Mr. Right when we are not consciously looking for him and that is the main premise of “Graphic Intentions”. Scott and Derek found each other when neither one was looking for a partner but they share a problem. Both men have inner demons that could destroy any chance of happiness and they know that they must battle with them.

Scott is a graphic novelist who is experiencing writer’s block and it is not until he meets Derek Reinhart that he becomes inspired again. He is also interested in Derek as a person. Derek is intrigued both by Scott and his work.

I think one of the things that makes this story so interesting is that each guy thinks the other is straight and therefore neither acts on his feelings. It took someone with a big mouth to get them to realize that they were both gay. When they begin their relationship everything is very hot but because each has his own troubled past that they are going to have to work to overcome. Whether they are successful or night you will learn only by reading this well-written and engrossing new novel.

“L’Histoire De Francois—Vampire” by Edward Kendrick— A Vampire in Love

l'histoireKendrick, Edward. , (Immortal Angst, Book 1), Wilde City Press, 2014.

A Vampire in Love

Amos Lassen

Francois became a vampire in 1022 and since then he has hated all humans. Burt then in 1347, he met and fell in love with a human but was betrayed when Giles told his liege lord that he was a vampire. Blackmailed by the lord who demands that Francois spy for him gave Francois time to think about avenging Giles and he finally accomplished through Giles’ son.

We move forward in time to 1876 and are in New Orleans where Francois has joined forces with Vasile one of the masters of the city. Their goal was to dispose of human vampire hunters but as they worked, Vasile’s human love died and he turned to Francois for solace and comfort. What happens next you will only learn by reading the book.

I must admit that I was quite over the whole vampire element in gay literature but then Anne Rice brought us a new novel about Lestat and vampires were in vogue again. When I read Kendrick’s book I was already immersed in vampire lore from Rice so I really could enjoy this and be aware of the difficulties in writing a convincing vampire novel. This is one you do not want to miss.

“The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart: A Novel” by Larry Kramer— The Wait is Over (Almost)

the american people

Kramer, Larry. “The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart: A Novel”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.

The Wait is Over (Almost)

Amos Lassen

We have been hearing about Larry Kramer’s opus of America for a long time and come April that wait will be partially over—he is releasing volume one of “The American People”. I understand that this is the book that Kramer has been working on for forty years and what it does is give us Kramer’s vision of America. As gay men we are all aware of how much he has influenced our lives and as Americans we are certainly aware of how he has affected American lives and letters. “The American People” is how Kramer reimagines our history and he sees this country as “a nation under a plague, contaminated by greed, hate, and disease and host to transcendent acts of courage and kindness”.

Volume one goes up until the 1950s and in it we read of “prehistoric monkeys who spread a peculiar virus; a Native American shaman whose sexual explorations mutate into occult visions; and early English settlers who establish loving same-sex couples only to fall prey to the forces of bigotry.” George Washington and Alexander Hamilton indulge in intimacies and we learn of quite a different John Wilkes Booth and see that his reasons for assassinating Abraham Lincoln are totally revised. The twentieth century contained fundamentalist religious sects and they are part of a conspiracy with eugenicists, McCarthyites, and Ivy Leaguers with the plan of getting rid of homosexuals. Of course there is a great deal about the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic as well as the devastation that came with it. There issues are set against the story of a middle-class family living outside of Washington, D.C trying to cope. The book is a satire and therefore is a look at America that we have not seen before. However, we sense that this was written with great love.

“CAGED” (“UITGESPROKEN”)— A Gay Best Friend

caged

“Caged” (“Uitgesproken”)

A Gay Best Friend

Amos Lassen

David and Neils are best friends and their love for each other as friends came about because of their love of sports. However, their friendship will be tested when David finds out that Neils is gay.

caged1

Written by Lazlo & Dylan Tonk, this is a depiction of the emotional rollercoaster of coming out within the macho environment of the sporting arena. Here the sport is track and the film feels very real. We see scenes that strikingly juxtapose outright prejudice with the open arms of sexual acceptance, frankly there’s a lot to like here, including an ending that’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Unfortunately we can only gather from watching what happens as there no English subtitles (yet). Nonetheless we feel the heartfelt message of love and acceptance comes through the Dutch celluloid loud and clear thus making this a delightful viewing experience.

The film stars Joël Mellenberg as David and Josha Stradowski as Niels, Yldau de Boer.

 

“Vermilion: Valentine & Lovelace #1” by Nathan Aldyne— A Murder in Boston

vermillion

Aldyne, Nathan. “Vermilion: Valentine & Lovelace #1”, Felony & Mayhem, 2015.

A Murder in Boston

Amos Lassen

 Daniel Valentine is a gay bartender and he and his straight friend Clarisse Lovelace, a real estate agent, are the investigative couple of this series of four light mysteries (originally published in the 1980s and now reissued) that are set in Boston in the 1980s. In this book they investigate the murder of a 19-year old gay male hustler.

Daniel Valentine and Clarisse Lovelace aside from being friends are two young adults who either have to take their lives seriously or find some way to live within their own choices.“Vermilion” is a look at a time when debauchery was well intended. It is one of those books that is both funny and serious at the same time. It also looks at the homophobia of the time and is a wonderful exploration of the relationship between a gay man and a straight woman.

Valentine is a bar tender in a very classy gay bar tends bar in an upscale gay club, after having lost his job as a prison social worker because of politics. having lost his job as a prison social worker due to political machinations. Clarisse putters in real estate. When a young hustler is found dead and his body is left on the front lawn of a homophobic politician they realize that they had seen him the night he was killed but no one seems to remember who he was with. This is our mystery but there is more—we are taken on a look at the eighties and learn of the sexual revolution, Boston at the time of gang wars, the marginalization of gay people and the looming dread of the AIDS epidemic.

There is sex but it is not graphically written about and what I think makes this so much fun to read is the wonderful dialogue between our two main characters. The mystery comes to us replete with a social conscience. As we read, we grow to love Lovelace and Valentine and I found myself already thinking about the next volume (each of the four books in the series takes the name of a color).

 

“OLD DOGS & NEW TRICKS”—Episodes for Thanksgiving

old-dogs-s3-ep3

“Old Dogs & New Tricks”,  Season 3 Episodes 2&3

 Giving thanks for found families

The Old Dogs are back and it’s not coincidence the new season launched just before Thanksgiving, as Episode 3 is set during the holiday. You can watch that below, along with Episode 2, and if you need to catch up, you can watch Episode 1 by clicking here.

In Episode 2, Nathan (Leon Acord) receives a business proposal from arch nemesis Nelson Van Eddy (Bruce L. Hart) that they merge talent agencies. It seems Nelson needs Nathan as much as Nathan needs cash! Nathan then discovers a new romantic interest in former model/now multi-millionaire Jake Tyler (Curtis Wayne Brown).

Then it’s time for the holidays in Episode 3. In that the gang gather at Ross’ house for the holiday, Lydia (Amanda Gari) is thrilled to introduce the guys to her new boyfriend (Andy Gates). But despite her happiness and Ross’ recent good news, it seems she’s the only one in a festive mood.

While the guys rave about Nathan’s new beau Jake (Curtis Wayne Brown), Nathan (Acord) can’t stop wondering how Damian is spending the holiday. Muscles (Jeffrey Patrick Olson) complains that dating Lucas is making him fat. Ross’ (David Pevsner)holiday is ruined when a drunken Neal (Parnell Damone Marcano) crashes. And then Brad (Curt Bonnem) drops a bombshell: he’s becoming a gigolo!

 

“EAT WITH ME”— Mother and Son

eat with me

“EAT WITH ME”

Mother and Son

Amos Lassen

David Au’s feature film debut is the story of an unhappy Chinese-American mother and her strained relationship with her son who is also unhappy. Emma, the mother, is married to a boring man who neglects her . One t he awakens and is determined to cut his wedding band off of his finger. Emma leaves and goes to her son, Elliott. Elliott has been doing a bad job of running the family restaurant. He also likes to have hot sex with another guy when he gets the urge to do so.

eatwithme1

 Emma and Elliott are almost total strangers to each other. The issue of Elliott’s homosexuality has never been discussed before but that could be because Elliott is not so happy being gay. He has never been in a relationship with another man. His neighbor, Maureen forms a friendship with Emma and somehow manages to get her to speak openly about her husband and her son.

eaywithme2

There were no real surprises here and unfortunately the script could use some work. It is, however, a noble attempt to discuss Chinese/American gay people. The title seems to indicate that if two people eat together they can become close. Perhaps that is true but it did not happen here like that.