Currier, Jameson, editor. “With”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2012.
New Gay Fiction
What can David Bergman, Michael Carroll, Lewis DeSimone, Jack Fritscher, Ronald M. Gauthier, Michael Graves, Shaun Levin, Dan López, Jeff Mann, Vincent Meis, Matthew A. Merendo, Joel A. Nichols, David Pratt, Tom Schabarum, Stefen Styrsky, and William Sterling Walker have in common aside from being gay writers? I will tell you—they are good writers who happen to be in the new anthology “With” edited by Jameson Currier for his Chelsea Editions Press. The overall theme is relationships and we get 16 views from 16 writers on relationships between and among gay men. I am not necessarily thinking about long term relationships but rather the word in its broadest definition of how we relate to others. Here are stories about relationships with friends, with lovers and partners, with dates and with tricks, with brothers and fathers and with family and so on. There is something here about everyone and for everyone:
“A Sentimental Education” by David Bergman*
“Dependencies” by William Sterling Walker*
“Gold Mines” by Michael Graves*
“Andrew Barbee” by Dan López
“We Are the Revolution” by Vincent Meis*
“Follow Me Through” by Tom Schabarum
“Jimmy” by Stefen Styrsky
“What is Real” by David Pratt*
“Angels on Water” by Joel A. Nichols
“Sunflower” by Matthew A. Merendo
“Werewolf” by Michael Carroll
“The Beautiful Boy” by Shaun Levin*
“Eagle Rock” by Jeff Mann*
“Pride” by Lewis DeSimone*
“Second Life” by Ronald M. Gauthier
“Blown With The Wind” Jack Fritscher*
Those with an asterisk are writers that I have reviewed in the past but what is even more interesting is that there are seven writer that I read for the first time. I love when an anthology brings the new and the old together. I am taking my time reading this collection so I am going to reserve my review for a later date. I simply want my readers to know that this is available and I am sure it is a wonderful way to spend some time during this holiday season.
Friedman, Jason K. “Fire Year”, Sarabande, 2013.
Seven Short Stories
The moment I heard about Jason Friedman’s “Fire Year”, I knew that it was a book that I had to read if for no other reason than it is a collection of short stories that explores Jewish gay life in the South something I have lived with every day of my life.
Growing up Jewish in New Orleans was no great pleasure but when I came out it became a real burden. Here I was, like some of Freidman’s characters, unwanted in two worlds but I was determined to find my place both religiously and sexually so I moved.
Here Friedman looks at art, sexuality, identity, religion and love and his seven stories are as different as they are alike. The stories are set in either Atlanta or Savannah and what we get is a look at what religious, cultural and sexual minorities in the South have to deal with. Traditional mores are broken down and sexual desire is pent up.
In “Blue” we meet a young man (at least a young man by Jewish standards as after a bar mitzvah, a boy is regarded as a man) and read as he comes to terms with his religion after being inspired by veal Parmesan. This religious awakening means that he can no longer be fascinated with male bodies. He has to come to terms with girls and with God as he takes his first steps about not only be a man but also to become aware of who he is. Now that he has dealt with Torah as part of his Bar Mitzvah but now he is dealing with the mundane of everyday life.
“Reunion” is set in Savannah and it about a young man who goes to his high school reunion and is pursued by the man who as a high school student was once Mr. Popularity. Having lived in New York, our young man sees himself as worldly but he had no idea that he was going to be seduced by the guy who was an athlete when they were in high school but he knows that his background will always make him different than others.
“There’s Hope for Us All” features Jonathan Weitz, an assistant curator who learns of an erotic secret between an art exhibition and about his own life. He struggles over a painting that was created 500 years earlier and then his boyfriend sees something in it that will challenge art criticism. Jonathan having graduated from Yale is having a rough time at his first job in Atlanta. When Ali, his partner shows him something in the painting, Jonathan finds a new interpretation that changes the life of the artist and reveals how weak his own love affair is.
Miriam is confronted by her sons in “All the World’s a Field”. She is attached to a milk cow which represents the confusion the family is having while assimilating into American culture. The sale of the cow allows the family to move.
In “The Cantor’s Miracle” we meet a cantor who is forced to hustle to get tips for his singing. He resents this especially because he trains the children to become good Jews.
“The Golem” is about Artie who works in an auto repair shop. His boss, Blaustein, is a miserly and greedy businessman and we learn that Artie had been assaulted as a boy by some Irish thugs but he is wonderful at supplying the shop with parts from junkyards. Blaustein both values and resents this.
Finally, “Fire Year” for whom the collection is named is set in St. Petersburg. Zev whose father is a rabbi silences himself because of scholarly superstitions that deal with numerology in the holy texts. Then when his older brother questions his faith, everything falls apart. We get a sense of homoeroticism here. Zev’s father tries to get him to turn to holiness but Zev tells him that it just does not work.
There is wit in the stories which deal with sensitive issues and characters wrestle with questions of faith and religion. We are made aware of the moral issues that are at stake and while stories are diverse, the theme of sexual coming-of-age ties them together. We see the new-South irony here and being from the area, the stories really spoke to me. The characters are not able to reach resolutions in this “post-modern exploration of the Jewish experience in the American South which is shaped by defined, sympathetic characters and ironic humor”. Jason Friedman was awarded the Mary McCarthy Prize for this debut winning collection and let me tell you that reading it is a real treat. Humor is pit against despair and the prose is gorgeous and we see the characters through the perspective of Jewish culture which is made even stronger by the way we see the characters and how they come to terms with their sexual identities.
Soper-Cook, JoAnne. “Come to Dust”, Inspector Raft Mystery #3, Dreamspinner Press, 2013.
London, Winter 1891
Philemon Raft has been given the job of finding out who kidnapped Alice Dewberry. We are taken into the dark underworld of upper class Victorian London. Class distinctions are very important at this time. The city was just recovering from a bank crisis and the upper class trying to hold onto their “rightful” place in the society of London. In this underworld, the upper classes are involved in sneaky business deals and criminal activity to insure that they stay where they feel they were meant to be. Dewberry is a peer in Parliament has been kidnapped but there is yet no request for ransom. Raft has not only been given the case but he is also given a new aide to work with him—Prentiss Cholmondely and both men feel the attraction for each other.
This is England during the Victorian Age where one must keep his sexuality hidden and is certainly not addressed in public communication. There is something of a code between gay men so that they can deal with their feelings and attractions. Raft has a bit of a ticklish situation—his lover and partner, Freddie, is out of the country dealing with an addiction to Laudanum. Since he has not heard from him, Raft thinks that he is probably dead but the hold between the two men is so strong that Raft still sees him in apparitions. This makes him particularly uneasy and he thinks that he may be losing his hold on reality.
Both Raft and Cholmondely cannot ignore their feelings for each other and eventually they find themselves acting on their desires all the while realizing that they have to solve the case.
Soon dead bodies began to amass and they do not have anything to do with the kidnapping. However, as the case moves forward, evidence comes in bit by bit and there seems to be something tying the murders together. Raft learns that an old nemesis, John Gallant, is back in London and he knows enough about Raft to wreck his career and this can also cost him his life. Raft believes that there are dark forces at work in London and he seems to have reached a dead end.
The clues are set in such a way that the reader cannot really guess how the case will turn out. Soper-Cook has combined mystery with romance and does so skillfully. We are kept guessing all the way through the narrative. I understand that this is the third book in the Raft series. I have not read the other two but that did not really affect the reading with the exception perhaps of knowing more about the characters.
Yet the characters are drawn in a way that we feel we can see them and we learn a great deal about them through their dialogue. What really stood out for me is how they represent the time and the era in which the novel is set. Raft is a truly unique character who has his own way of approaching and solving crimes which is unorthodox and fascinating to read about.
The novel looks at Victorian England though the layers of society and we see that class does not determine goodness. Soper-Cook gives us a solid mystery and challenges us, along with Raft and Cholmondely, to solve it.
“Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment” by Jay Michaelson— Meditation without Religion
Michaelson, Jay. “Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment”, Evolver Editions, 2013.
Meditation without Religion
Meditation has, of late, become very popular in our culture. Now Jay Michaelson shows us not only how this happened but why. He shares his own stories and gives us the background why both meditation and mindfulness have decided that this is a beneficial way to live our lives. Michaelson gives us a total guide to meditation here. To me, it still seems strange to refer to the 1960s forward as the previous century, but that it what they were. The 60s on fostered several counter culture movement of which Buddhism was one and that brought meditation. Today we see meditation as separate from the religion that it came here with and it now is secular. Michaelson looks at the history of postmodern Buddhism and shows us the path that it has taken as it moved into the culture of the West. He looks at the core of meditation by reflecting on his own experiences and then relates where it will go in the future. He feels that meditation is a way of dealing with the improvement of the human mind. There have been some problems with the traditional approach to meditation which are probably because of the relationship to Buddhism, the religion which is at odds with the scientific and rational approach that exists in Western culture. Looking at Buddhism, Michaelson does not shy away from the sexual and power aspects of it and he shows us that meditation is a “compassionate examination of mindfulness”. It is changing our world by changing how we live. It is important to stress that this meditation is secular in nature. By mainstreaming meditation, wisdom is democratized.
Michaelson approaches this as part analysis and part spiritual autobiography. He looks at the issues that are relevant to us—Buddhism and science, secular meditation, spiritual attainment, community and identity, sexism and patriarchy and authority and power.
If you have read Jay Michaelson, then you know that he is a scholar of religious thought and we see this here especially when looking at the issues of gender and sexuality but as he discusses the history of Buddhism in the West, he gives us his personal observations. He is persuasive in his observations and we immediately catch that. The focus here is on mindfulness and meditation and we see that there has been a tremendous change in the way these have been seen in the West. The practice of these no longer is the property of a small counter culture of Buddhists, their sympathizers and those who look to build an alternative culture. We now see them used for stress, depression and pain.
Mindfulness and meditation are now separate from religious Buddhism. Even though these practices were developed within the context of Buddhism as a way to reach enlightenment, they are now used for other goals. This has been done with difficulty but it is nonetheless the way it is now.
There is scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness have a measurable effect on the brain and this is why they have found their way into the healthcare industry, for example, as well as in schools and prisons. Understanding them to be technologies and not just religious practices is important.
Michaelson describes his own identity as both a Buddhist and a Jew. He explains that Buddhism provides him with indispensable techniques for ‘upgrading’ his mind and Judaism provides him with “a way of being in relationship with that which is beyond my personal concerns and my human, self-centered nature. We know that Judaism is a religion based on the idea of a shared community and it is there that he has his “sacred moments of life.” He states that his brain is Buddhist but his heart is Jewish. This is problematic for me as an observant Jew. While he states a case for “secularized, post-Buddhist Buddhism, the kind of Dharma-as-technology”, I find myself less than satisfied with his conclusions but if it works for him than that is fine with me. What seems to be missing for me is the religious traditions of Judaism. I understand that each person must find what he needs from his religion and we all approach this differently. It is certainly very true that the younger members of society no longer blindly accept spirituality that is packaged and presents as is. They want to be free to create a personal kind of spirituality and in some cases arrive at a hybrid kind of spirituality. The traditionalists, like myself, might find this radical but I believe that some spirituality is better than none.
Michaelson throws traditional Buddhism to the side and picks what is relevant to him and to others. Again, we do not have to agree with him (and I do not always agree with Jay Michaelson) but we do have to allow ourselves to accept what he writes, if not for us than for others. Michaelson is an excellent writer who posits himself clearly and is convincing. I have read reviews of this book that go into great philosophical detail about what the author thinks—some agree, some do not but I did not find a middle-ground. But then we are dealing with the human mind and the one thing we have that is truly ours is the ability to discern and decide. There is no argument about that.
Enszer, Julie. “Sisterhood”, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013.
Let me start by saying that Julie Enszer has so much going for her—she is a new PhD, a wonderful writer and an excellent poet and if that is not enough, in her new poetry collection, she takes on a word that is so familiar—“sisterhood” and gives it many new meanings. Reading her poems is like taking a journey as she looks at the meaning of sisters and sisterhood and she throws down a somewhat necessary challenge to a male poet to follow her lead and write about brotherhood. Enszer goes one step further in that she includes her Jewish heritage into her writing which for me made it become vitally alive and meaningful. This is profound poetry that deals with all of the important issues of sisterhood and life. She deals with loss here and we feel the pain of those no longer here, of the loss of innocence and we feel the joy of love, of belonging. Enszer gives us an affirmation of life and of love, of the desire to remain among the living.
There are poems that bought me to tears and there are those that made me grin with pride. Enszer dares to write about the issues facing the LGBT community as well as her own personal issues which he shares with us. She looks at the meaning of family and what it means to be part of a broken family that exists in a broken world. Even more than that, she looks at the meaning of the word “broken” and whether she can repair the breaks in her own life.
There is an aspect of this collection that really moved me. When writing of a relationship or a family or anything is “broken”, we tend to omit ourselves from the part that we played in that dysfunction. Julie Enszer takes that responsibility and even tells us about it.
“My Mother’s Vanity”
Visiting, I need to wash my hands.
She replaced the vanity with this
oak cabinet when Ronald Reagan was
President. There is only a small space
for water to drizzle into the faux marble sink;
the bathroom is packed. Pots and palettes,
powders, compacts, and applicators
stored ramshackle in plastic containers.
I want a trash bag to empty it all:
counter, small shelf, back of the toilet,
the entire medicine chest. I want to throw
it all away. Give my mother a clean
slate, but I wash my hands. Rub soap
from a pile of four half-used bars
then dry on threadbare hand towels
and walk downstairs. There are no new
beginnings, no fresh starts for mother,
only a lifetime collection of make-up—
mauve, purple, burgundy, silver.
The many reasons my face is bare.
Enszer is a brave poet who opens the door to her heart and invites us in. As for me, I am planning to stay there for a while. Sharing the poet’s pain means something very special to me and that is that she trusts to listen but not to judge. She tells us,
“This is my burden.
This, my joy”.
And she relates this all to us with the beauty of her language and the beauty of her soul.
A Personal History
Ari Shavit is an influential Israel journalist and he shares with us his personal history of his country. He reflects on the pressures that Israel is now facing after giving us a look at the most moments of Zionist history.
Shavit’s great-grandfather was a British Zionist. In 1897, he visited the Holy Land on a Thomas Cook tour and understood right away that this was to be the future of the Jewish people. He bought land there and in the 1920s, he began to grow Jaffa oranges and they went on to be an integral part of the economy of the country. In the 1940s, he became a youth grew leader and went on to transform Masada into a powerful symbol of Jewish resistance and the Zionist movement. We are reminded of stories once heard and probably forgotten. Here we read of a small country surrounded by enemies and that plays such a crucial role in world politics.
The existence of Israel is, without question, one of the great accomplishments of Jewish history and we must not only appreciate that but it must also be a part of us. Granted we did always do the right thing but we must accept the fact that the state is ours and we achieved it at great cost. Shavit gives us a book about Zionism yet not bound by it. He understands Israel and he shows us how to do the same. We also sense his love for his country and his reverence for history and tradition.
The strongest aspect of “My Promised Land” is when Shavit writes about individuals and while his portrait of Israel is not optimistic, it is honest. He sees the peace progress as no longer alive and this is because the Palestinians have no single, strong leader who can see a solution through that will grant national security for Israel. If this is not a condition of peace, then there will never be a solution to the situation. When he was a member of the Israel Defense Forces, he served on the West Bank and is convinced that the control that Israel. He looks at all of Israel and while much is not to his liking, none of what he sees is strange. He sees the reality of the Jewish state and he truly loves it.
Shavit is one of Israel’s leading columnists. He voices his empathy for the tragedy of the Palestinians and the Israel/Arab struggle for the land. He is able to bring the history of Israel to life and through his writing, we learn of the politics of the country and we are aware of what it means for Israel to sit at the center of world politics.
We also know that he is aware of his own political biases—he is a left wing journalist who is opposed to occupation but he is also fair and balanced. As a man who is very pro-Israel (and who sees and understands the problems), I feel a bit troubled about this book. It is Shavit’s position that the present Israel/Palestine conflict dates back to 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel. He maintains (and will probably be challenged) that it was Ben Gurion and Rabin who ordered the expulsion of 35,000 Palestinians from the city of Lod (Lydda).
On the other hand he writes of the glory of Zionism and the miracles that have come about because of it. He is extremely critical of the Israel peace movement because it sees that the threat to the existence of Israel can be solved by withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza. He describes the threats from the Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians as well as from Iran with her nuclear power. We do not feel comforted while reading this book but that comes from what he sees as truth.
There is one major problem with the book and that is the lack of citations and footnotes. Because of that, it cannot be considered the definitive book on Israel. On the other hand, Shavit writes as if the reader and the author are engaged in a conversation. Even with my criticism about the lack of citations, the book is totally worthwhile for the character sketches it provides. Shavit criticizes Israel of the way she behaves in the occupied territories yet he totally embraces Zionism. However, he skips over the role of religion and it seems to me, at least, that he does not understand or else just chooses not to show the differences between the National Religious Party and the religious communities in his country. In fact, some maintain that the religious divide is a greater problem than the Arab/Israeli divide. Many religious Israelis do not work nor do they do military duty. Shavit claims not to praise and not to blame yet he does both.
The story here begins with the creation of the state. He has his opinion of what the Zionist mission was and still is. He condemns those who are guilty of crimes against the state yet he acknowledges had it not been for those who committed these crimes, there would not be the nation of Israel.
The Gay-Themed Naz + Maalik, Which Explores Stereotypes About Muslims, Seeks Funding
There are all sorts of gay-themed films released but very few of them concentrate on queer Muslims. However the upcoming indie Naz + Maalik take that on, while exploring stereotypes and the pressures put on young Muslim men. The film has already been shot, but it’s now looking for funding on Kickstarter to get it completed and into film festivals.
Here’s the synopsis: ‘A decade into the War on Terror, two first-generation Muslim teens – friends, classmates, business partners, lovers – spend their Friday hustling the streets of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. While deciding whether to tell their community about their homosexuality, Naz and Maalik’s ambiguous and secretive relationship unknowingly sets an FBI agent on their trail. As the agent grows convinced that the boys are engaged in “violent radicalism,” her pursuit becomes increasingly menacing and the stakes surrounding the boys’ hapless hustling and lies grow. What began as a struggle to protect their sexual identities evolves into a crisis much larger – a fight to stay alive.’
The film was inspired by interviews director Jay Dockendorf’s conducted after being appalled by FBI and police tactics following 9/11. He did indeed find that one couple’s secret relationship was enough to get the authorities investigating them.
The director commented to HuffPo, “The film considers Islamophobia through the lens of homophobia and homophobia through the lens of racism. I know they’re very separate issues, but for some people, real people on whom these characters are based, they’re completely linked and the balance is delicate. ”
If you’d like to help out, head over to Kickstarter.
Grey, Dorien. “The 9th Man” (A Dick Hardesty Mystery), Audiobook, 2013.
Listening to Dorien
I am somewhat new to audiobooks having only “listened to books” a handful of times but I must say that what I have heard, I have liked a great deal. Dorien Grey’s has now released “The 9th Man” as an audiobook and it is read beautifully by Jeff Frez-Albrect. I am familiar with the Dick Hardesty series as they have appeared in print and when I have reviewed them in the past, they have garnered praise from me. Hearing a story now puts it in a whole new perspective.
The story, quite basically, is about a serial killer who randomly targets gay men and kills them in very strange ways. The police force is bound up in homophobia and has no interest in solving the murders. The number of dead continues to grow. Private detective Dick Hardesty takes on the case and he wants who and why and if the dead had something in common.
Grey, aside from being a good writer, knows the formula for a good mystery. I wondered how he would transfer it to sound and I can tell you that he does so beautifully. I am used to looking at how a writer draws his characters and it is really interesting to hear this instead of just read it. Hardesty is the narrator so we see everything through his eyes. We have the crimes, the man responsible who is yet unknown, suspects, intrigue and clues so we would think that all Hardesty has to do is follow what he knows and solve it. Bit of course it will not be that easy. Grey wants us to know Hardesty and slowly we learn about him as we are given now and then a little bit of information. In effect we are following both the man and the crime at the same time. We also learn about him through the way he interacts with the other characters. As we discover what happened during the crime, we also learn about Hardesty. We really need to know him in order to understand how he soles the crime. We come to know him as one of the old-fashioned detectives. Grey gives us some clues but just enough to keep us guessing. I love that Hardesty is a kind of everyman. He could be anyone of us and for me that make him special.
Grey also manages to include both humor and a bit of eroticism but this is not a story about sex. It is a crime story first and foremost and that a character study of the protagonist, Dick Hardesty. The way it sounds makes it seem very real. Now my curiosity is piqued and I want to hear all of the Hardesty stories but I guess I will just have to wait.
BE IN A KINSEY SICKS MUSIC VIDEO — WITH YOUR FRIENDS, FAMILY, CO-WORKERS, PETS, STRANGERS ON THE STREET, ETC