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.