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~生まれた町で夢見てきた...~
"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Still on a gay fiction kick. No apologies. 
7th-Sep-2005 04:25 pm
Siesta
Bopping back and forth between helpful book lists, the bargain bin, and the bookstore, I made a large number of great literary finds in the genre. I even landed myself autographed copy of Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, upon which the film Gods and Monsters is based! Okay, okay, the book is pretty beat up, but it was only a buck-fifty, and it is autographed.

Now here's a question for all of you: Is it author, subject matter, target audience, or some combination of the three that makes it "gay fiction"?

"Brokeback Mountain" (in Close Range: Wyoming Stories) by Annie Proulx
I saw the trailer for the upcoming Ang Lee film the other day, and oh, oh, OH! It looked BEAUTIFUL, and one plaintive, shouted line in particular lodged itself securely in my brain, "I wish I could quit you!" So of course yours truly had to track down a copy of the original stort story (which does indeed include that declaration). A part of its power was its timely debut; only a few months after it was originally published in the The New Yorker, a gay teenager was brutally murdered for his sexuality. Things have cooled since then, thankfully, and the story seems correspondingly less immediately compelling. (Let's say that's a good thing.) Still, what we have here is a more-than-solid piece of prose about two cowboys in love. Though Jack dreams of building a life together with Ennis, Ennis is terrified of the societal reprecussions; he remembers what may have been an openly gay man being tortured and killed. What ensues is a short lifetime of illicit meetings that are never enough, and naturally neither man is very good at living a lie. By the end Jack is dead, and all they ever had was that brief time of freedom on Brokeback Mountain. This is another of those nature as escape from approbation gay literature piece, but it is one of the most coherent and well-written I've ever seen. And it is affecting without being preachy--a very fine line to walk.

Song of the Loon by Richard Amory
Speaking of preachy, can you believe that this recently back-in-print gay-themed pulp from the 60's was written by a man whose REAL last name was "Love"? *snickers* I kid not. In five "books" worth of almost unbearably cheesy prose, Amory tells the story of Ephraim, a 19th century trapper who has escaped to the wilderness after a falling out with an abusive (male) lover. There, he learns of the Loon Society, a group of Native American men who live an idyllic life of homosexual couplings timed to coincide with the seasons. Of course how they live is ridiculously idealized--there's no jealousy to be found in spite of multiple partners and true love. *rolls eyes* Still, what you find in this novel are the glimmerings of a conceptualization of gay culture--a culture and community apart from the mainstream--that crystallizes in a very big way after the Stonewall riots, which occurred a few years after the book was published. However, what distiguishes this book from the usual naturalistic escapism that I see in so many other places is that the pastoral setting is used to REDEFINE reality. Ephraim brings what he has learned back to civilization in his own way. The jerk-off fantasy of his sexual awakening and journey to self-acceptance ends, and he uses what he has learned to live a life decidedly more normal if not the least bit less happy. Anyway, a fascinating historical and literary footnote, but not something I would recommend to the casual reader. The prose GRATES horribly, and the poetry (yes, the characters break out into random bits of "inspired" song at the least provocation) is even worse. I leave you with this bit of verbal horror: "I am glad that I excite you, for I wish to make love to you, to kiss you wherever I wish, take your penis in my mouth and drain your love from you, because you are beautiful and handsome." Ouch. Would you really want that bullshitting mouth on YOUR privates?

The World of Normal Boys by K.M. Soehnlein
The gay literature that Kensington Books publishes generally fails to impress me, so my expectations weren't all that high when I hunkered down to read this novel, in spite of the accolades it has received. What I got was a story a good bit better than I was expecting...even though for the life of me I can't figure out where in New Jersey the fictional (?) town of Greenlawn is really supposed to be. Is it Union? I haven't the slightest clue. In any case, the story is about Robin MacKenzie, a boy growing up in the 70's, whose younger brother's tragic injury and eventual death precipitates his own (homo)sexual awakening. I was reminded alternately of Jim Grimsley in the bluntly genuine depiction of youth, but the prose style is much less experimental than Grimsley. Thematically, the novel has a lot in common with Get Real, a British high school coming out flick. The key here is that denying one's "genuine" self is ultimately not to be encouraged, and there's no point in trying to be "normal" because some are simply not born this way. Thus, it becomes a message of self-acceptance even as it means divorcing oneself from certain societal expectations--and if one's love will not do the same, drop him like a hot potato. This book is also about coping with and learning from the premature death of a loved one--so you know right away that this is a post-AIDS novel. In any case, it was a good novel, just the right length, and definitely a good read if the subject interests you. I believe Soehnlein has recently published a second novel; perhaps at some point I will check that one out as well.
Comments 
7th-Sep-2005 08:52 pm (UTC)
Is it author, subject matter, target audience, or some combination of the three that makes it "gay fiction"?

That's a damn good question. I heard a lot people tossing around things like, Ann Rice's Cry to Heaven being gay fiction but I just saw it as a novel with gay sex in it.

My opinion is, if it's written by someone who 'self-identifies as gay' [been waiting to use that one!!] and is about either drama, sex, crime whatever told from the viewpoint of a 'gay' character - then to me it's Gay Fiction. Now I've written fiction that has Gay characters in it [not BL novels or yaoi fiction, but serious and sexual about and with homosexual characters], but I don't know if it would ever be considered Gay Fiction. According to Amazon et al, it would be, but to the more serious 'self-identifiers' I don't think Poppy Z Brite or anything written by non-Gay's featuring Gay's remotely qualifies.

-G
7th-Sep-2005 09:10 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree that whatever in the heck Poppy Z. Brite is writing, it isn't gay fiction. I've read a number of books written by and about gay men living in New Orleans, and she obviously has no conception of the gay (yes, miriald) subculture that exists (existed? >_< ) there. Her New Orleans and kitchens might have been very authentic, but her characters were ripped off of some slash fic fantasy.

On the other hand, many writers who are gay profess tremendous influence on their work by such authors as Anne Rice and Mary Renault, so it may well be a slippery slope.

Though I doubt there is any one right answer to this, and I bet the scholars are still arguing about the "canon," I most like to define gay fiction as an an intersection of those themes that are relevant to people who, yes, self-identify as gay and prose style.

Speaking of prose, what did you think of that horrid little snippet of Amory's? ^^;;;;;;;;
7th-Sep-2005 11:08 pm (UTC) - reposted to proper place...
"I am glad that I excite you, for I wish to make love to you, to kiss you wherever I wish, take your penis in my mouth and drain your love from you, because you are beautiful and handsome." <--CRAP

"You like me fucking you?" he breathed into my ear.
Fucking. Just hearing the word, thinking the thought, excited me. I was being fucked by a man. "Yeah, I like you fucking me. Fuck me good." <-- GAY FICTION.
7th-Sep-2005 11:16 pm (UTC) - Posted Above
from Arkansas heat by Jack Whitestone
7th-Sep-2005 11:23 pm (UTC) - Re: Posted Above
<--CRAP

Personally, I think it deserves far worse than one-word expletives. ^^;;;;

Maybe I should show you the metered poetry that rhymes "cock." >_< There were times that I honestly felt a bit embarassed on the author's behalf.

<-- GAY FICTION.
Arkansas heat by Jack Whitestone


a.k.a. Gay porn? *giggles* Most evocative.

I have this irrational stipulation in my private definition of "gay fiction" that says it has to *sound* like it was written by a man (and "lesbian fiction" by a woman). Often sex scenes are one of the easiest places to tell.
7th-Sep-2005 10:14 pm (UTC)
take your penis in my mouth and drain your love from you

Not sure I’d refer to semen as love, but whatever ^^;;;
7th-Sep-2005 10:50 pm (UTC)
*dies laughing* Yeah. No kidding. Definitely one of the more interesting euphemisms for a substance that doesn't have all that many. :P

The worst part of that sentence for me, though, was "beautiful and handsome." Even though they aren't really synonyms when you think about it, it still sounds painfully redundant. And I can't believe language has changed *that* much in a mere forty years.
8th-Sep-2005 12:29 am (UTC)
Definitely one of the more interesting euphemisms for a substance that doesn't have all that many.

And not many that wouldn’t make you go just "Ewwww!" ^^;;;

The worst part of that sentence for me, though, was "beautiful and handsome." Even though they aren't really synonyms when you think about it, it still sounds painfully redundant.

Yeah really, beautiful would have been quite enough...

And I can't believe language has changed *that* much in a mere forty years.

Pffft... The 60s, what can you expect.. When else would someone make up an idealized gay Native American culture? In harmony with the seasons no less.... It was generally an era of ridiculous levels of naivety ^^;
8th-Sep-2005 12:37 am (UTC)
Pffft... The 60s, what can you expect.. When else would someone make up an idealized gay Native American culture?

We~ll...

The author *does* admit that he never intended his characters to be accurate portrayals of Indians. He says he was just doing it for aesthetic purposes. At least he admits it. It's still an arguably tasteless move. :P
8th-Sep-2005 12:44 am (UTC)
Hee... Did he say that when he wrote the book, or more recently when he realized how silly it is? ^_^
8th-Sep-2005 12:52 am (UTC)
It was an introduction to the original printing of the book. ^^; He was also explaining the literary influences on his work. "Literary." Scary, huh?
8th-Sep-2005 01:03 am (UTC)
He was also explaining the literary influences on his work. "Literary." Scary, huh?

And I’m sure they’d all be thrilled with the association ^^;;
8th-Sep-2005 01:07 am (UTC)
They were all dead when he wrote it, I believe (not up on my Spanish lit at all) and thus thankfully past caring.

The novel had its appealing moments, though, I admit--it was so earnestly SINCERE in its cheesy prose.
16th-Sep-2005 01:30 am (UTC)
There was a pulp porn parody of this book called FRUIT OF THE LOON...
16th-Sep-2005 11:19 am (UTC)
Ha! It did sound ripe for parody at that.. Great title too!
8th-Sep-2005 03:27 am (UTC) - Ang Lee
Anonymous
I'm pretty excited that Ang Lee is getting back to what I first saw in his movies that made me a fan of his: genuine exploration of human relationships.

Have you seen The Wedding Banquet? It was actually pretty interesting on how "tame" it was - most likely because someone somwehere along the way (the producers, the actors, the audience, etc... ) was or would not have received the movie very well if it showed more. I still hold the movie in high regard. It was the first Ang Lee film I ever saw.

I wonder how the movie will be recieved by the mainstream population in the states. It did very well in the film festival, but I have a feeling that the movie won't even be mentioned in some regions/communities in US.

I'm not so much interested in it because it's a gay love story, but because, from the trailer I saw (while waiting to watch The Constant Gardener), it looks like a very compelling love story.

... and it doesn't hurt that Ang Lee directed it. :P

-Glo
15th-Sep-2005 11:20 pm (UTC)
Right now my favorite gay lit novel is Paul Russell's WAR AGAINST THE ANIMALS.

I also really liked the first half of Adam Berlin's BELMONDO STYLE, some really beautiful writing, but the second half goes off in another direction.

And I'm a big fan of James Howe's middle grade novel THE MISFITS, which has a gay character in it, but is just such a wonderful and amazing and moving novel (I think). The sequel focused on the gay character, TOTALLY JOE, which was just published, is OK, but not nearly as brilliant as the ensemble in THE MISFITS.
16th-Sep-2005 12:42 am (UTC)
Right now my favorite gay lit novel is Paul Russell's WAR AGAINST THE ANIMALS.

I read that novel a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it...though the ending just as absolutely broke my heart. I understand why it worked from a literary perspective and all, but Cameron was such a wonderful character, and he didn't deserve to die alone in a ditch. Some of the details Russell included, such as the deer munching away at the hosta in Cameron's garden, were wonderfully evocative. Deer really do love hosta, and my mother was at war with them (reference to the title that I'm sure the author intended) for years.
16th-Sep-2005 01:16 am (UTC)
So glad to hear from someone else who has read and liked WAR AGAINST THE ANIMALS.

:-)

The BELMONDO STYLE book I recommended is also by the same editor who publishes Russell. FWIW. (There are great descriptions of running in BELMONDO, and life in the city, and the father and his relationships, and etc. Until everything goes askew in the second half. But worth looking for, I think.)

Same editor also did THE YEAR OF ICE by Brian Molloy, which was a well-written (although somewhat bleak) gay coming of age novel set in the midwest.

I'm fonder of the three books by Australian Neal Drinnan, again from the same editor (one learns to trust his taste! he also publishes the brilliant Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mystery series by S. J. Rozan, but read those in order because the relationship between the characters grows over the course of the books) which I find to be ultimatly hopeful and romantic novels, although many people find them very dark...
16th-Sep-2005 01:33 am (UTC)
Ah, so all of these St. Martin's Press books have the same editor? I purchased a bunch of them (including The Year of Ice and The Pussy's Bow by Neil Drinnan, actually) as remainders and have been slowly working my way slowly through the shockingly tall pile over the past few months.
16th-Sep-2005 01:43 am (UTC)
Not all of th gay books at SMP have the same editor, but all of those happen to.

PUSSY'S BOW has a horrible title and a horrible cover. And I think it is the least-interesting of all three of Drinnan's novels (GLOVE PUPPET and QUILL are the other two), but I enjoyed it and in general find him more-interesting as a writer than many other gay novelists (compared to, say, much of what Kennsington is publishing these days, which is why being able to trust an editor's taste is a good thing).

16th-Sep-2005 02:00 am (UTC)
I didn't realize that the quality work that St. Martin's has been putting out was due to the "intervention" of an editor. They seem to put out lots of high-quality books in general (not just gay fiction) including nonfiction, moreso than Kensington, that's for sure. I haven't noticed anything new on the shelves from St. Martin's Press in awhile, though.
16th-Sep-2005 02:18 am (UTC)
BELMONDO STYLE was the most recent of the gay fiction titles, I think.

The John Morgan Wilson gay mysteries are also from the same editor, although the earlier ones were much stronger (and darker, admittedly, but they were better books).

Kensington is publishing William J. Mann, they did his sequel to THE MEN FROM THE BOYS, for instance. Not as literary, perhaps, as some of the other books we've been mentioning, but a solid writer (at least MEN FROM THE BOYS was).
16th-Sep-2005 02:36 am (UTC)
BELMONDO STYLE was the most recent of the gay fiction titles, I think.

It was published a year and a half ago, actually. Perhaps it's just a matter of authors of the requisite caliber being few and far between, but they do not seem to be as committed to gay fiction and as they used to be. I don't think that Stonewall Inn imprint they used to use is active anymore.

Kensington is publishing William J. Mann, they did his sequel to THE MEN FROM THE BOYS, for instance.

Ah yes, I recall when Where the Boys Are first came out, but by that time I had become wary of Kensington and gave it a pass. >_< I was thinking of reading his debut work, though.
16th-Sep-2005 06:37 pm (UTC)
I liked the debut novel, it was actually much stronger than I'd been expecting, and think the sequel may be fine. The middle book (THE BIOGRAPH GIRL) didn't interest me at all.
16th-Sep-2005 06:40 pm (UTC)
Oh, and SMP did cancel the Stonewall imprint. So the individual editors get to fight to publish any gay titles, since there is no overall support any longer for them.
16th-Sep-2005 09:01 pm (UTC)
I wonder why. On one hand it's nice to see some of these novels treated not as niche or genre fiction but as "serious" literature that deserves the widest possible audience. On the other hand, that may well mean that certain things will not see the light of day. (Not to mention that a lot of those Stonewall Inn books have gone out of print altogether.)
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