Archive for July, 2013

Pulp Friction – Michael Bronski

PFThe modern gay movement is usually thought to have begun with the Stonewall riots of 1969 but before that there was an underground subculture with its trashy erotic writings from the late Victorian age to the late 1960s. They included crotch-hugging trousers and marble-topped coffee tables, “blood-filled dagger” is pitched against “throbbing lance” in one Civil War story, heavy manhood that pulsed and throbbed. lean saber, the sap of my loins was full-blossomed and ripe for harvest, and moist sheath. All this was endangered as gay liberationists had a negative attitude to older groups which amounted to a rejection of the past.

They provided a chance for inexperienced authors to prove themselves. The smaller firms didn’t edit and the more explicit books were more profitable so there was a high turnover.

Some thought that they had a teaching function but were they purveying positive or negative images? Did there always have to be a tragic ending? ‘Novels are to be read for enjoyment or relaxation, not instruction…That is why you study from textbooks in school. The art of fiction is the art of reflection, not of shaping.’

Usually a lone person finds another lone person – a gay community is very recent. There was a gradual change from ‘inverts’ or talk of women trapped in men’s bodies, to psychology.

1930s saw fly-by-night publishers – the beginning of gay press. They used Mailing lists from sales of non fiction study but being on such a list was dangerous.

As early as the 1940s, respectable publishing houses wrote gay characters. There was a wartime idolisation of macho bodies: ‘he had never associated masculinity with abnormality until tonight.’

By the 1950s there were happy endings and moving in together.

In the mid 1960s censorship laws were relaxed and mainstream publishers started to produce gay stories so these earlier books were pulped – hence the title of this book. More men became brave enough to buy them and straights were interested to learn. The stories become lengthier and some became political – industrial tribunal stuff such as: ‘the branch line of the Santa Fe was a shifting, shuddering ribbon of dual-engined trains that bore hurriedly into the heart of America’s wheat belt like hungry snakes and then crept away like politically protected looters with their easily plundered burdens.’

There’s a story devoted to hairy armpits. There’s also S & M.

The behaviour in a 1959 New York bathhouse could have been anywhere at any time.

We read about one older man rebuffing a younger and then wondering whether it would be more moral not to – corrupting younger or saving him from rough first encounter with another? Wait until he is old enough to know his true nature.

We get families who never talk about sex, a young man whose father hadn’t told him the facts of life.

There are scenes of showering, comparing sizes, attempted rape

We get stereotypes: being gay and wearing girls’ clothes and makeup, using people for sex – yet most loving couple are gay, doting mothers and distant fathers. One story wonders if there could be a drug in the water, left-handed in a right-handed world turned on straights

There’s a quest for some sort of cultural equivalent – like the Red Indians, people on a spiritual quest, hippies.

“Gay Revolution” has characters called Alexei Cogsugeroff and Gaylord le Claire

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Probation by Tom Mendicino

ProbAndy is on probation after being arrested for soliciting in a ‘tea room’ in North Carolina. His wife throws him out and his boss, who happens also to be his father-in-law, sacks him so he has to go and live with his mother (who never discusses the incident) and gets a job as a travelling salesman. The court ordered him to see a psychiatrist (who is also a Jesuit priest) and this meeting becomes the highlight of his week.

Some in our group identified with him because they had formerly tried to be “normal”.

During a thought-provoking identity crisis, wondering if his infidelity sentences him to a lifetime of never finding true love and happiness he is forced to face his own mortality in dealing with his mother’s lymphoma diagnosis.

His life is mundane: whiskey on his breath, sticky armpits, itchy balls, sales totals, mortality arithmetic – how many more chops will he eat before he dies?

There’s the usual stereotypes: living with mother, remote father, distant wife after a miscarriage, scratching palm when shaking hands = secret signal of closeted homosexuals? The priest/therapist seems to hint at overbearing mother idea

There’s typical closet behaviour: how will he explain his car breaking down in the parking lot of an adult book store?

Then there’s his sister – a stranger that once shared same surname.

What is it about priests and closet gays? A seminar work about married men using toilets is the PhD thesis of a priest, Laud Humphreys, called ‘tearoom trade’.

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The Page Turner – David Leavitt

TPTPaul Porterfield wants to be a concert pianist. He is his page turner to Richard Kennington. On holiday with his mother, Paul bumps into Richard – coincidence?

Paul has a doting mother who straightens his tie. He learned Italian for the holiday.

Is 40 year-old Kennington predatory or is it that Paul is stalking him? He gives him a massage as an excuse to go further with him. He clearly doesn’t intend to meet him again as he doesn’t give him his phone number

 The doting mother realises something is going on when Paul lies to her, telling her that he is unwell, in order to get out of a meeting he’d arranged with her. She comes to visit him on his sickbed and discovers some of Paul’s clothes in his hotel room.

Joseph, Richard’s lover is at an age where he is frightened of growing old alone whereas Richard at 40 is frightened of missing out on youth

One laugh out loud moment: a patient said that a lemon got in his rectum because he fell on it in shower

I always remember this novel when I go to concerts where there are page-turners (though they aren’t often as good-looking as Paul in the film version of this story.).

What is the significance of stars, Ganymede and an alabaster moon on the bedroom ceiling?

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More Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

MTOTCHaving read the first book, we thought we’d work through the series but, so far, have only got as far as this, the second book.

Some good bits:

Mouse: I don’t waste time with well-adjusted people

Frannie: The Lord doesn’t have to go go

Emma: even at 59 she was not an adult

A gay old folks’ home -= I suspect there will be demand for such here in the UK soon if there isn’t already.

Scratch and sniff Hustler magazine

A transubstantiation cult

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By Nightfall – Michael Cunningham

BNSo you’re forty-four, well-established in the art world, married for twenty years and you fancy your brother-in-law (aged 23, returned from ‘finding himself’ in the Far East, a drug taking Narcissus.)! You’ve walked in on him in the shower, thinking, from the view of his back, that it is his wife.

“By Nightfall” is a line from Rilke “Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.”

Well written but typical midlife crisis novel except that the man falls in love with a boy rather than girl. Reminiscent of the film ‘American beauty’ with the mention of a plastic bag. Some have also seen traces of Death in Venice in this story.

Peter’s regards himself as a “servant of beauty.” He starts to feel “[a] conviction, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that some terrible, blinding beauty is about to descend and, like the wrath of God, suck [the world] all away, orphan us, deliver us, leave us wondering how exactly we’re going to start it all over again.”

He becomes insomniac, talking to himself and wandering through the streets of lower Manhattan in the early hours.

At one stage, he thinks: “We–we men–are the frightened ones, the blundering and nervous ones; if we act the skeptic or the bully sometimes it’s because we suspect we’re wrong in some deep incalculable way that women are not. Our impersonations are failing us and our vices and habits are ludicrous and . . . we have no idea about anything that actually matters.”

There’s a good description of the routineness of married sex, a telling comment about a wise child sent to live among common people until his time comes, in a family where ‘most people think they’re not most people’, who didn’t torment their son as they suspected the world would do enough of that later on and who insist on family time’ even when, especially when no one enjoys it any more.

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A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood

ASingleM24 hours, covering a 58 year-old man’s thought processes. He teaches at a University and ruminates on death and life and the small pleasures you can get from simply living, even when tragedy strikes (the death of his lover Jim).

It’s different from his Berlin novels.

There’s teacherly reserve – he never enters a classroom with another student, preferring a grand entrance, and he can’t exit like a clown and slink into the crowd after removing his  make up.

It is during the time pf Christmas shopping adverts and the recent Cuban missile crisis when sheltering with food is useless as it requires lots of water.

He goes to sleep, trying to get a masturbatory fantasy right so as to aid a good night’s sleep.

The day ends as it begins –his body, dying.

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Now is the Hour – Tom Spanbauer

NITHRigby John left the Idaho farm where he grew up at the age of 17 and hits the road for San Francisco. He left behind his friendship with an Indian/Italian named George.

Tom Spanbauer is the founder of Dangerous Writing (written in first-person narrative and often dealing with cultural taboos. Fiction, as he describes it, is the lie that tells the truth, and, as one of his characters explains, “the best stories are the true stories.”

“Now Is the Hour” is a traditional Māori song:Po atarau E moea iho nei…….Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye……Soon I’ll be sailing, Far across the sea. While I’m away, Oh please remember me. When I return, I’ll find you waiting here

This is a dysfunctional, Roman Catholic family from the days of the desiccated spirituality pre-Vatican 2 and it contrasts with the open spirituality of a Jewish girl and an Indian.

The author could have researched the Church stuff better. You won’t find a chalice in the tabernacle or hear the words ‘Lord I am not worthy’ during benediction. Nor will; you has his strange translation of creed or encounter frankincense and myrrh

Rigby’s mother catches him masturbating (how many times does this happen in books? It must be common for many of us have experienced such) and makes him go to confession. The rosary is said daily in this house but it’s always the Sorrowful mysteries – there is no joy in this house.

Rigby wears a clip on bow-tie, gets a rosary as a prize and enjoys popular songs and the piano as an escape. He sees salvation in Billie and George – I loved God then, their eyes were full of Jesus.

The happy ending is somewhat improbable though maybe autobiographical as the author grew up in  Idaho.

The message, though, that ‘Miracles are out there. You’ve just got to find them’ is good.

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