Monthly Archives: February 2015

“American Guy: Masculinity in American Law and Literature” edited by Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum— “What a Piece of Work is Man?”

american guy

Saul Levmore and Martha Nussbaum (editors). “American Guy: Masculinity in American Law and Literature”, Oxford University Press, 2014.

“What a Piece of Work is Man”

Amos Lassen

Exactly what is an American guy? Is there a set list of items that comprise what and who he is or does it constantly change? “American Guy” examines American norms of masculinity and their role in the law by bringing a range of methodological and disciplinary perspectives to the intersection of American gender, legal, and literary issues. We begin this collection of essays with a group of papers that investigate the character of what we think of as American guys. Are they the “heroic nonconformists and rugged individualists that populate much of American fiction?” Diverse essays examine the manly men of Hemingway, Dreiser, and others, in their relation to the law and also highlight the underlying tensions that complicate this version of masculinity.

A second set of essays looks at “Outsiders” — men on the periphery of the American Guys who proclaim a different way of being male. These include counter-traditions of masculinity ranging from gay male culture to Philip Roth’s portrait of the Jewish lawyer.

The purpose of the book is to reinvigorate the law-and-literature movement through original, cross-disciplinary insights. We hear from a variety of voices from both within and outside the academy, including several contributions from prominent judges. These contributions are particularly significant, not only as features unique to the field, but also for the light they throw on the federal bench. This volume shows “a side of the judiciary that is imaginatively engaged, aware of cultural trends, and reflective about the wider world and the role of the of law in it.”

The essayists here are mainly jurists or law professors and these men are readers who may not represent what we believe or how we think but they do bring a fresh and new interpretation as they are seen in literature.

 

 

“EFFIE GRAY”—- Effie and John

effie gray

“Effie Gray”

John and Effie

Amos Lassen

John Ruskin, an art critic and Effie Gray, a teen, are married and their story is presented to us against the background of the Victorian Age in England. Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay that looks at society through the marriage of the two. The film shows a secret world of passion that is unrequited at a time when women were not to be heard from or even seen. The relationship between Effie and Ruskin is intricate and as we see sexual intolerance, repression and desire, we realize that some of this still exists in our modern world today. This is the story of the unconsummated marriage between Ruskin and his Scottish wife, Effie, but the way it is told here, raises more questions than it answers, and I was quickly bored with Ruskin ten minutes into film. The fact that he is Thompson’s husband does not save him in anyway. He is terribly miscast and way too young to play the part effectively.

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 Emma Thompson gave herself the supporting part of a kindly and well-heeled confidante of sorts to Effie but unfortunately all I remember about the character is her extraordinary hairstyle. What a pity for such a fine actress and two time Oscar winner.

EXCLUSIVE: Stars On The Set Of 'Effie' In London (USA & OZ/NZ ONLY)

The British know how to make costume dramas and they do that here in this visually gorgeous film but the raves end there. Effie Gray tells the true story of the unfulfilled marriage of John Ruskin (Greg Wise) with his teenage bride (Dakota Fanning). Their relationship was never consummated and in the old Victorian times depicted here propriety reigned supreme. Fanning simply walks through the part and if I were John Ruskin I could see why he never bedded her.

Here is the story of a marriage loaded by Victorian prejudice. Director Richard Laxton tells the story from a single, trapped point of view in his attempt to give u s a creative interpretation of a famously bad relationship from the point of view of the wife. If the film has any strength it that we see it as a domestic thriller.

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Effie leaves a poor family to marry a man she has known and respected since childhood. Everything in the movie is restrained—from the acting to the cinematography and when there is relief but it is slight. Effie is a fascinating character and someone one day will make a brilliant film about her, this is not such a film. Effie wants to be a proper wife but her husband’s parents are controlling and they stop her from helping her husband. Ruskin refuses to consummate the marriage.

Effie feels trapped and becomes depressed and Ruskin thinks that she is evil or wicked or both. When they go to Scotland ( for her health), they take a young artist, John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge) with them, who has been commissioned to paint Ruskin. Out of this came one of the Victorian era’s greatest sex scandals. Effie began to find ways to escape.

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Effie Gray had a difficult journey to the screen as even after it was in the can it was delayed due to a lawsuit that challenged Emma Thompson’s script, with another screenwriter making a copyright claim over her screenplays about Effie. Once that was dismissed that path was cleared for it to hit the screen, but unfortunately it’s not half the movie is might have been.

In Fannig’s depiction of Effie, she is not only repressed, she is nothing and we cannot tell what is really going on between man and wife. In fact, we never feel like we are getting the complete story of what went on.

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There are hints about why Ruskin won’t touch his wife (such as the possibility of him being asexual, gay, interested in younger girls or completely oedipal) but we never know. It is too bad the movie does not work and I am not sure where the blame goes.

There’s a lot of promise here and it’s a massive shame the film doesn’t really get to grips with Effie’s story – she is an incredible figure, but we will have to wait for a movie that does her justice. If Ruskin was not impotent, this movie is.

“LIFE PARTNERS”— Humor and Honesty

lifepartners-

“LIFE PARTNERS”  

Humor and Honesty

Amos Lassen

Paige (Gillian Jacobs) is straight and Sasha (Leighton Meester) is a lesbian yet they are codependent best friends. They are both in their late 20s and for the last ten years they have depended upon one another. One is the ying to the other’s yang. Then came the night that Paige met Tim (Adam Brody) who was the kind of guy that a girl marries. As the relationship between Tim and Paige grows more intense, Sasha is on her own and she begins to look at herself and her own problems. A conflict comes between the two girls and they have to face the issue of whether or not their friendship will survive their growing up.

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Sasha now is alone and she begins to examine herself her pluses and minuses. She is a but panicky about turning 30. We realize how the circumstances that we face in life alter any plans we might have made. Here we see friends being forced apart and director Susanna Fogel presents a very serious problem with comedy and wit. A platonic friendship of two women nearing the ages of thirty is torn asunder when one of them falls in love. They were both unlucky in finding love until Paige meets Tim on the Internet and the seeds of romance are sown. Sasha, in the meantime, began moving toward younger and impressionable women. As Paige grows closer to Tim, the friendship of the two women begins to come apart.

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Sasha and Paige are by no means perfect people and they don’t always make the best choices for themselves or for each other. The film is a look at a codependent friendship that falls apart for a variety of reasons with romance being just one of them. There are also the issues of age and lives that are heading in different directions. We are at that transitory moment when the dynamic shifts and one person is left behind. Sasha is forced to relinquish her central place in Paige’s life to Tim, at a time when she is dealing with becoming a true adult at 30 years old.

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It is the characters that propel the film. Our two female leads can be selfish and inconsiderate but their friendship seemed totally sincere. I began to think about relationships and where do we draw the line at what we tell a friend as I watched. We want the girls to reconcile their friendship and the picture shows that this is not easy. In order to do so, they must reconsider and redraw the borders of what friendship is.

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In regard to Sasha’s sexuality, we see it as incidental to the central relationship and whose dating issues are never seen as different or separate from the heterosexual life that Paige represents. Because we can so easily relate to what we see in the film, it represents something that many of us deal with. We do not see gay experiences as different from straight experiences and the movie does a wonderful job of knocking down that wall of difference. There is a unique touch when we see the characters making decisions which are not the best. The two actresses really take on their roles completely. They give us characters that we care about. When it ends, it is like losing two friends.

“BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”— The Opera Now Available on DVD and Blu ray

brokeback mountain the opera

“Brokeback Mountain”

The Opera Now Available on DVD and Blu ray

Amos Lassen

Charles Wuorinen is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer who loved Ang Lee’s 2005 film, “Brokeback Mountain” and found it inspiring—so much so that he approached Annie Proulx, the original author of the story with the idea of turning it into an opera and to ask for her okay on it. Proulx surprised him completely when she offered to write the libretto. Wuorinen knew that the story had the makings of a tragic opera and he saw the concept of same/sex love as representative of some of the techniques used by classic operas. Work on the opera began in August 2008 and completed in February 2012.

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Wuorinen saw “Brokeback Mountain” as “a struggle toward the possibility of expression, about a groping toward language and awareness and self-knowledge. “I take the position that since it takes a long time for any word to get out, that what is laconic on the page can seem quite expansive on the opera stage.” The opera had its world premiere on January 28 2014 in Madrid and was directed by Ivo van Hove and the orchestra was conducted by Titus Engel. It is relatively short as operas go running two-hours opera with no intermission.

Wuorinen used Schoenberg’s half-sung, half-spoken “Sprechstimme” as a way for the character of Ennis to express himself in the first part of the opera. He does not actually sing until Act II and that is because he was unable to acknowledge who he was until later. Wuorinen understood that he could support Proulx’s idea through his music, but also that he needed a great formal conception to avoid sentimentalism. He thought that the film was “rather sentimental” and he wanted to use , the essential dimension of Annie Proulx’s fabulous story. Thus his Brokeback is rugged and wild like the landscape that shapes the lives of the characters.

In the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini described it as “a serious work, an impressive achievement. But it is a hard opera to love.” He further said that Wuorinen had written “an intricate, vibrantly orchestrated and often brilliant score that conveys the oppressiveness of the forces that defeat these two men” but he also suggested that the complexity of his music at times weighed down the drama. The production was described as “starkly beautiful”. Proulx gave Ennis a “kind of plain-spoken elegance” in the libretto and she opened her original story. Ennis becomes somewhat reflective after he and Jack have their first sexual encounter and sings “We look down on them hawks./We look down on them pine trees./We’re like eagles, Jack.” Andrew Clements of “The Guardian” said that the music was rather dry and “etiolated” and seldom “transcends the text enough to enhance the drama rather than just adding rather terse punctuation and commentary to it. The performances of the singers and orchestra were excellent”, but he thought it should have been staged with a more spare setting. He added that he felt that Proulx had added too many elements to the libretto, clouding the plot and they clouded the plot.

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“Brokeback Mountain” is the very sad tale of the impossible love between two Wyoming cowboys and the composer was enchanted with it. It is a serious work, an impressive achievement. But it is a hard opera to love. The score is intricate, vibrantly orchestrated and brilliant It totally conveys the oppressiveness of the forces that defeat these two men, whose lives we follow over 20 years, starting in 1963, when they take a summer job herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain. However the same qualities that are attractive and that captivate the audience also weigh on the drama. There is no melodrama or fake sweetness here and we kind of wish there were songs to convey the happiness of the two men, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar.

 In Proulx’s libretto, she opens up the story line and, now and then, lends poetic elegance to the dialogue. In the original short story, Ennis is defined by his inarticulate ways: He mostly speaks in short, stunted phrases. In the libretto, he sometimes speaks with a kind of plain-spoken elegance. After he and Jack have their first impulsive sexual experience, Ennis becomes unusually reflective and this is a poignant touch, matched by a fleeting burst of lyricism in Mr. Wuorinen’s vocal writing.

Brokeback Mountain, opera, 2014

“Brokeback” opens hauntingly with a low, droning pedal tone in the orchestra, over which dashes of music emerge, swell and fade away. In his score, Wuorinen strives to show that the mountain terrain of Wyoming is a dangerous region where one can easily die from sudden hail, bitter cold, precipitous cliffs or attacking animals. In the opening scenes, the mountains are seen as flowing and ominous videos, shot in Wyoming. Every member of the cast uses every moment to make the opera more lyrical. Daniel Okulitch is Ennis—he is tall and handsome and he is the character that he plays. Wearing the cowboy hat cocked on his head, he walks nervously and haltingly onto the stage speaking his early lines. We have to wait for Jack and Ennis to be together before we hear him sing. Tom Randle, a tenor is Jack, a man who knows what he wants and does not hesitate to request it. He wants Ennis to do the same but he is unable to do so. The scenes of the two bare-chested men in bed together are tender and natural.

An addition to the story is that Alma, Ennis’s wife, gets an introductory scene that is not in the story or the film. We see her bright and hopeful as she shops for a wedding dress with her mother and spends more than the meager family budget allows. As sung by soprano Heather Buck, we see Alma is an impulsive young woman who thinks the sullen Ennis may actually be her means of escaping ranch life and living properly in town. She is not stupid, however and she learns the truth about her husband. Mezzo-soprano Hannah Esther Minutillo is the tough-talking, college-educated and ambitious Lureen, Jack’s wife.

 In one scene when Jack is dead, Ennis, now alone, holds two old shirts, his and Jack’s, bloodied from a fight they had during their last night that first summer, shirts that Jack kept, in secret, for 20 years. Ennis sings an emotional soliloquy. You cannot imagine the Ennis of the short story, or the film, saying what is sung here—“It was only you in my life, and it will always be only you.” But this is opera, and Wuorinen gives Ennis an extended passage of disarming lyrical elegance. If only there had been more such passages.

No matter how striking the music is, it sometimes recalls late Schoenberg, sometimes serial Stravinsky, but it rarely transcends the text enough to enhance the drama rather than just adding rather terse punctuation and commentary to it. The tenebrous opening certainly signals the tragedy that is to come, but when it does, with Jack’s death almost two hours later, there’s nothing to deliver the gut wrench needed; Ennis’s final monologue merely hints at the expressive world the music might have explored.

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There are way too many words. Proulx’s original short story is a model of economy and where many librettists pare down their sources, Proulx expands hers by adding explanations and back story, even whole scenes.

The relationship between Ennis and Jack is never quite as movingly believable as it ought to be, even in Ennis’s final farewell to Jack and to the life they might have had together, even with Okulitch’s careful delivery. Yet it cries out to be seen and heard and it is certainly a wonderful addition to LGBT culture.

“Between These Walls” by John Herrick— Dealing with Faith and Sexuality

between these walls

Herrick, John. “Between These Walls”, Segue Blue, 2015

Dealing with Faith and Sexuality  

Amos Lassen

If you are a reader of my reviews, you know that I have a special feeling for books that deal with sexuality and faith and the reason for that, I believe, is because so many have a hard time reconciling the two. I must state at the onset that I am an observant Jew and my religion today is very, very important to me. If you ask me why, I have no answer—my faith is personal and I choose not to discuss the whys of it. However, like many other gay people I went through a period when the two were at odds and strangely enough this was when I was living in Israel, a place where faith blooms and what is written in the Bible is everywhere. I felt no need for religion; I was in the land where it all started and this went on for many years. I knew that I was Jewish and even though I had been raised in a religious home, I felt no need for organized religion while I lived in “God’s country”. It was not until I returned to the States a few years ago that I found myself dealing with the issue.

I know that others have problems with it and perhaps that is why I spend so much time thinking and philosophizing about it. There is certainly room for both in our lives and I look at it from the point of view that is there if you want it. It will never be said that I forced someone into religious thought and likewise, I do not believe that anyone can pull me in the other direction.

My latest discovery is a new book by John Herrick that is the story of Hunter who is 26 years old and a gay Christian salesman with a nice and devoted girlfriend, Kara. (Yes, you read that sentence correctly— he is gay and has a girlfriend). He is totally in the closet and it torments him. When work was not going so well, Hunter decided to get a massage to relieve muscle tension and stress. He called Gabe Hellman, a handsome masseuse and what began as a simple friendship became something a good deal more and this forced the two men to think about the borders of attraction between them. As Hunter is dealing with this, his secret gets out and he has to face himself, his past, his reputation, his sexuality and his faith. “Between These Walls” is his story and it is about the crossroads of love and religion. It is beautifully written and deals with inner conflict and outer values yet it can say different things to different people. Because religion is so personal, it is difficult to write about it. In reading about Hunter we also, to some degree, we read about ourselves and the difficulties of life.

This homosexual side of Hunter is not new; he has been struggling with it since he was a teen. He cannot discuss it with anyone because to discuss it is to own it and he is not ready for that. Gabe is also religious and like Hunter, he has a secret. He also would like to be able to discuss what is going in inside of him. As Gabe and Hunter become friendlier, they are both aware of the similarities they share. Neither can either ignore the mutual attraction he has for the other. They both do not know how to deal with what they feel.

Now this is where this book differs from others—it is the story of a romance but it is also the story of two men who are lonely and meet by chance and discover a chemistry that is hard to ignore. Yet, they try to look the other way but as happens, desire takes over and they begin a journey together. It is fascinating to me that these two men deal with the emotional aspects of their journey rather than the physical and sexual aspects. (How often do we get a chance to read a novel about two men in love that is not erotic or sexual? I make this an important point here because for too long gay men have defined basically by their sexuality and little else). It was not sex that brought them together—sure, there was physical attraction but if you read carefully, it was the idea of finding a friend that both was so important to both. I am sure, like most men, carnality is an important issue but we see here is mutual need and not a quick roll in the sack.

They face a rough road because not only do they have to accept themselves, they also have to deal with family and friends. Hunter, for whatever reason, thinks that there is something abnormal in the way he feels and goes so far as to talk to a pastor who tries to convince him that he is okay. Then there is an event that lets him know that acceptance and love come from within.

I have to wonder what a gay Christian is. If, as so many say, being gay is an affront to God than the term “gay Christian” really does not exist or is an oxymoron. Here with Hunter we read about his secret and the fact that he has had to hide himself and, in effect, live a lie. However, being untrue to one’s self is also an affront and perhaps even more of a transgression that being open about who we are. To pretend to be what we are not is the same as dishonesty and not only do we hurt ourselves but we hurt those we know and love. Hunter has struggled with his sexual conflict because of fear of loss of grace.

Herrick shows us that organized religion uses gossip and seems quick to condemn someone who does not conform to what it considers as the straight and narrow. Churches and religious leaders as well as followers can be judgmental against those who really need and want the love that a religion can offer. However, it only seems to offer that love to those who adhere to its principles. Who is to say that being gay is a sin especially since this does not appear in any of the sacred writings of all religions.

I am not going to tell you how Hunter deals with this and I am not going to disclose any of what is written here. This is because I think that this book will affect everyone differently and this is what makes it such an important read. Not only is this a beautiful story but it is written beautifully and as a sensitive man, I had to wipe tears from my eyes a few times. Of course you want to know if there is a “happily ever after” so I say to you to ask Hunter or Gabe—they may be willing to confirm or deny that statement.

“SUKKAH CITY”—- Designing a New Kind of Sukkah

sukkah city

“SUKKAH CITY”

Designing a New Kind of Sukkah

Amos Lassen

I remember so well when we would build our family sukkah in New Orleans when I was a kid— it was a time of great fun and family togetherness. There was a standard formula back then and we never varied from it. Then when I moved to Israel, I saw sukkot (the plural of the word “sukkah”) all over and I was always amazed that they were decorated with Christmas decoration that had probably been overstock (although I am sure that Israelis had no idea that they were anything but festive). Then when I lived in Arkansas, Home Depot began selling prefab Sukkot and they became quite the rage among the seven Jews in the state that actually erected Sukkot.

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When author Joshua Foer decided to build his first sukkah, (a small hut that Jews build and dwell in every fall for the holiday of Sukkot), he wanted something new and imaginative unlike the ones he had been used to seeing. In the Hebrew bible we have the exact parameters as to what a Sukkah should be and how it is to be used But not much more. Because not every detail is written down, we have space to add our own diverse variations. Foer had an idea—what if contemporary architects and designers were challenged to design and construct twelve radical sukkot? This was the birth of a new design competition to be held in Union Square Park, in New York City and it was to be known as Sukkot City.

This film is the story of that competition. We go behind the scenes as the huts are being constructed, exhibited and judged and it is great fun. It follows the competition and we watch a group of architects, academics and critics that includes Thom Mayne, Paul Goldberger, Ron Arad) discuss the 600 submissions. We see the construction, installation and exhibition of the twelve winning structures in Union and the critical and popular response of some of the 200,000 New Yorkers who came to the two-day exhibition. We also get a fascinating look at the artistic process of architects and look at the documents as to how an ancient building was reinvented for the 21st Century, and reveals how there is a good story behind all interesting architecture.

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 Director Jason Hutt is respected for filming unique cultures and innovative individuals found within the contemporary Jewish landscape and beyond.  They are universally screened.

One of the beautiful things about Judaism is that it has retained its strength an importance for thousands of years. It has survived interpretation and reinterpretation over and over again. We constantly find new and interesting meanings through our lives and experiences as well as through serious study. It is one religion that can mean different things to different people.

Foer saw potential in the sukkah idea and he thought that a modern take on an old idea would bring about a renewed interest in the holiday and what it means. The film gives audiences a new understanding of the Sukkot holiday and as we listen to the architects share the stories behind their designs, we see how and why the winning structures were chosen; as well as the labor that went into their construction. While you might have to be Jewish to enjoy the holiday, you do not have to be Jewish to enjoy a good movie and good architecture. It does help to have a little bit of a bible background since the architects are updating a tradition that is four thousand years old.

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Each newly designed dwelling was a sukkah, described in the Old Testament Book of Leviticus when God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to live in “booths” for seven days. However these 12 were not the common variety of the small, modestly constructed shacks where Jews symbolically celebrate their freedom from slavery in Egypt. The ones we see here are architectural re-interpretations of the sukkah. One was made entirely out of discarded cardboard while another had a huge log as its roof, resting on glass walls. Yet another looked like a huge tumbleweed. These were the winners in this unusual design competition.

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Director Jason Hutt’s film follows the event in phases, including the “jury” debate on more than 600 creative sukkah designs, construction of the 12 winning designs, and a two-day exhibition. Several years after Sukkah City, Hutt said that his 67-minute film provides a new angle for those who experienced the event in varying degrees.

The DVD extras include two bonus shorts and a gallery of submissions.

“The Surrender Gate” by Christopher Rice— Magic and Mystery

the surrender gate

Rice, Christopher. “The Surrender Gate”, Evil Eye Concepts, 2o15.

Magic and Mystery

Amos Lassen

Emily Blaine is standing in front of huge changes in her life. Her surrogate and multi-millionaire father, Arthur Benoit, has informed her that he a short time left to live and he is leaving his entire estate to her. Emily is moving up from a restaurant manager to becoming one of the richest and powerful women in the city of New Orleans. There is one tiny detail—Benoit has a son, Ryan, but the two men are estranged. He has written to Ryan and hopes to mend what happened between them; he wants Emily to take the letter to his son. The problem is that Ryan has been missing for a very long time and finding him will be a chore. He had once been linked to a mysterious organization, “The Desire Exchange” but it has been thought that it was nothing more than an urban legend. On the other hand, the rumors about it could very well be true and it might just be a secret club where the wealthy can indulge in their most private sexual fantasies.

Emily knows that she cannot do looking for Ryan alone and she knows one man who has the qualifications to help her. He just happens to be her very good looking and self-confident best friend, Jonathan Claiborne. Emily has had her suspicions about Jonathan and one them is that he has been

working as a high-priced escort for months now, and she is fairly certain that while being involved with some of the most powerful men in the city, he has been able to get some leads that will take her to the private club and ultimately to Ryan.

As Emily tries to get information on Jonathan’s secret life, both of them find themselves in trouble. If they are to escape from one of Jonathan’s dangerous and powerful client, they will have to deal with the desires that they have for one another. Jonathan insists on helping Emily as her search become an undercover activity and Jonathan demands that they also explore the way they feel about each other.

Benoit hired Marcus Dylan, an ex-Navy SEAL Arthur to keep Emily safe. There is another reason why Marcus has been hired and that is that he also has a passion for Emily and that might just keep Emily from being distracted and confused by Jonathan who has claimed that he might be able to become straight for her. While Marcus is rough and controlling, Jonathan is sensual and reckless. Emily therefore also must decide which of her fantasies should be turned into reality.

Emily is totally captivated by his every move Marcus makes. She also has questions about the Desire Exchange and they are basically unanswered.

 I am not sure how to categorize this novel. It is somewhat paranormal without being paranormal and it is filled with unromantic suspense. It is very erotic; in fact I can say that it is romantically erotic yet it is totally unconventional. As Emily, Jonathan and Marcus get closer to The Desire Exchange itself, they learn that their destination isn’t just mystery, but it is also magic.

Three characters control the action and the plot is as driven as it is unpredictable. Some points are not resolved which means that there will probably be sequels. I can describe the sex as both wild and kinky and wonderfully described by Rice. The novel pulls you in and does not let you until you close the covers.

“A History of Forgetting: A Novel” by Caroline Adderson

a history of forgetting

Adderson, Caroline. “A History of Forgetting”, Biblioasis , 2015.

An Exploration of Love and Hate

Amos Lassen

I supposed we should be used to the themes of hatred and grief in LGBT literature but we aren’t and they keep popping up again and again. Yet in this new novel we see it quite differently.

Malcolm Firth is an aging hairdresser who is both reclusive and bitter. He is dealing with his partner’s Alzheimer’s disease. Alison is an ingénue and an apprentice in a beauty salon. When one of their colleagues is murdered by neo-Nazis and the two of them go on an unplanned journey to Auschwitz. Both of the characters are badly shaken by the murder and Alison begins reading about the history of the Holocaust while Malcolm has an even harder time dealing with his lover’s fading memory and the eventual loss of the man he has loved for so long. Set in Vancouver, Canada, author Adderson tries to find similarities in gay bashing and the Holocaust. The two main characters are seriously affected by the murder and they begin to remember what most want to forget.

It is impossible not to notice the contrast between the relationship that Malcolm and Denis share and the cruelties that happened because of simple hatred. I realized immediately that fiction can be used to teach us history especially because fiction allows us to bring in several perspectives. We, as fiction readers, can actually become participants in a story on emotional and imaginative levels.

The salon clients with whom they dealt were basically a group of elderly women and one of them is a survivor of the Holocaust. She is the one who gave Alison an introduction to the sorrows and loses of the human race. Then the murder heightened her awareness even more. It was that murder that pushed her into the journey she takes as she deals with sorrow— but she also gains wisdom from it. The death of her gay friend haunts her and she gets Malcolm to join her to visit the camp.

It was Alison’s obsession that takes them to post-communist Poland where they struggle to reconstitute the past in the killing grounds of Auschwitz. They both want to know if it is even possible to look at the Holocaust and remember what it caused. In my own experience I must say that what happened in Nazi Germany still affects us today (but perhaps not on the same scale). What Alison wants to know is how did Hitler get the idea to even build such a camp and then carry out his system of genocide.

The Holocaust looms over the novel and it is fascinating to see how a naïve girl like Alison (who we understand never thought about history) makes history her own personal hobby. She begins to speak like a very smart person and we see the effect that dark period in history has on her.

Malcolm’s who is in the final stags of Alzheimer’s, has inexplicably become hateful towards all Jews. When on of the gay salon workers is terribly beaten by a group of queer-bashing Nazis, Alison wakes up to a world that is still full of crimes against gays and Jews and we get a look at the dangers of intolerance.

Caroline Adderson writes with a rare understanding of human frailty and her debut novel is a moving, intelligent and beautiful novel. It is shattering in scope written in gorgeous language and she is a wonderful story teller.

“GRINDERS”— Gay People and Skateboarders

grinders

“Grinders”

 Gay People and Skateboarders

“Grinders” is a fake trailer that explores how the world perceives skateboarders. For many people in the “real world”, a skateboard is nothing but a useless wooden toy, something that gets thrown away when you grow up. This film is for the misunderstood people who never threw it away.

And in the process of showing that, it offers a great analogy to being gay, feeling the need to hide their desires – as well as hang out in toilet cubicles with other guys.

“ONE DEEP BREATH”— Coping with Suicide

one deep breath

“One Deep Breath”

Coping with Suicide

Amos Lassen

Mael’s partner, Adam (Thomas Laroppe), has taken his own life and he is having a hard time dealing with it and the fact that their past together was often troubled. When one of Adam’s lovers (he had more than one), Patricia, tries to help Mael she finds herself in danger.

one deep breath

This is the story of a couple, two lovers and how the death of one affects the other (or so you think at first). With Adam’s death, Mael is beside himself in grief. As we watch the film, we learn what happened as well as the consequences of suicide. A friend of mine, a psychiatric social worker, describes suicide as the ultimate “fuck you” and that really plays out here. When someone dies that we are close to we not only feel mental anguish but often physical pain as well. Mael personifies this—he suffers and he has to deal with what comes after a loved person takes his own life. Mael is so lost that he is like one of the living dead as he relives the time that he and Adam shared together. He is lonely and he wonders if he had done things differently might Adam be alive today. Blanc gives a multilayered performance as Mael, quite a complex character who has to find a way to deal with the tragedy of death and how it transforms who he is.

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Antony Hickling directs the screenplay that he co-wrote with actor Andre Schneider who also acts in it. There is something unique about every Hickling film but that is for you to discover for yourself when you see “One Deep Breath”. Director Hickling throws us into a world of sex and dark feelings and we are immediately aware that this is a complex film by the choppy way the narration is given to us. There is a triangular relationship between Adam, Mael and Patricia (Stéphanie Michelini) and it is complicated especially when two of the three involved persons have to deal with the death of the third.

Let me stop right here and catch my breath for a moment. I am still dealing with what I saw in the film and perhaps I should not be writing this review until I totally come down from the viewing of the film. It is the sign of a good film when we continue to think about when its over and I really want to write my feelings down. Hickling uses ideas of modernity and lyricism to captivate us and it works perfectly. Our eyes remain glued to the screen because we do not want to miss a single word or action. What had once been a promising past became a difficult present but I am not going to explain because to do so would be to give away too much of the plot. The trio shared quite a history that moved from memories to realism and back again. There is a touch of the French New Wave here as well and I personally love a film that keeps me thinking.

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I realize that some of you might think that I have written this review using double-talk because I avoid saying too much. You will understand why when you see the film—take my words for it and find a way to see it as soon as possible. You will not regret it for a second.

The photos here are by Lucile Adam.