Book Marks

The Distance Between Us
by Bart Yates
Kensington Books
304 pages
$24 hardcover

Hester Parker is a quirky, cheap-wine-sipping, septuagenarian piano teacher with a simmering cauldron of issues. Her virtuoso concert career was cut short by a hand injury. Her husband has left her for a younger woman. Two of her children don’t want much to do with her. And her sensitive son Jeremy—a talented but tormented musician—leaped to his death from his bedroom window, a death for which her entire family blames her. Enter Alex, a sweet-tempered but socially awkward college kid with identity anxieties, who rents an attic room—Jeremy’s old bedroom—in Hester’s elegant Victorian, becoming something of a surrogate son to the lonely, bitter woman. Yates’ third novel is a searing depiction of family dysfunction told primarily through flashbacks, in Hester’s sharp-tongued but immensely sad voice. Though gay Alex’s coming-out is certainly a substantial half of the engaging odd couple’s winter-spring dynamic—his own first fumbling attempt at seducing a classmate is pretty traumatic—Yates has written a novel that transcends the gay genre to achieve an intense, emotional universality.

Midnight Melodies
by Megan Carter
Bella Books
302 pages
$13.95 paper

The first half of this mix of vivid historical fiction and contemporary comic romance recounts the harried love of two early-20th-century young London ladies, Ann and Bridget, whose censorious families condemn their passion. Forced to flee when their relationship is about to be revealed, Bridget steals money from her repressive father. With Ann now passing as slender but strong-limbed Howard, the couple buys first-class passage for America, on the Titanic, where they meet an irrepressibly warmhearted Texas couple, and, in the frenzy that follows the liner’s sinking, rescue a baby girl. Flash-forward to present-day Texas, and Carter’s novel morphs with ditzy adroitness into near-slapstick. Erica, a descendant of “Howard” Taylor and his “wife” Bridget, is frustrated by an unfulfilling clandestine affair with the small town’s closeted mayor. Meanwhile, Erica’s mother is spearheading plans to honor long-deceased Howard and Bridget, Erica’s grandmother is guarding a diary that spills the cross-dressing beans, and a scrumptious professional historian comes to town to research the past—and roil the Sapphic waters.

What They Always Tell Us
by Martin Wilson
Delacorte Press
304 pages
$15.99 hardcover

The fluid boundary between queer fiction for grownups and young-adult coming-out, coming-of age stories is blurred smartly in this captivating novel about teenagers on the cusp of self-realization. Alex is a moody high school junior, a social pariah after a suicidal brush with a bottle of Pine-Sol. James, a year older, is an athletic, socially adept senior, ashamed of his brother and increasingly bored by his hearty-partying chums. Both are drifting through the school year, until James’ close friend Nathen—the epitome of wholesome masculinity—encounters Alex on a jogging trail. Idle conversation leads to shy flirtation and a secretive romance that eases the younger brother’s angst and converts James’ anger at Alex into protective, big brother compassion. This insightful debut novel is labeled suitable for ages 14 and up, but teens lucky enough to find it in the library—or to receive it as a gift from a perceptive gay uncle who may well have enjoyed it himself—will tune in to the perfect pitch of its adolescent voices.

Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer, Vol. 1
by Jack Fritscher and Mark Hemry
Palm Drive Publishing
740 pages

Where to start? Fritscher, an early editor of Drummer, the storied S/M magazine, and Hemry, his longtime partner (and now husband), have embarked on a monumental four-volume project chronicling San Francisco-centered S/M history from the early 1970s to the turn of the 21st century (two more volumes are scheduled for next year, the last for 2010). The magazine published 204 issues over a quarter century. This massive compilation of essays, memories, reprints, photographs, and artwork showcases work from just seven of them—but not before providing a riveting “eyewitness” account, exhaustively documented from Frtischer’s and Hemry’s own archives, of S/M’s coming of age. The anthology opens with 10 different introductions—by leather historian Joseph Bean, British artist Edward-Lucie Smith, Old Reliable photographer and porn director David Hurles, and the late S/M master Larry Townsend, among others—even before getting to Fritscher’s foreword. On page 131. Followed by seven of Fritscher’s essays. And finally: the reprints, from Drummer issues 14 to 20, starting on page 279—a lot of foreplay, but a climax worth building to. This almost-overwhelming collection of archival pictures and prose illuminates a subset of the queer community with undeniable passion.
Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-’70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at [email protected]

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