Queer Book Reviews

These are book reviews that appeared in Queer Zine Explosion #15, published in March of 1998. All reviews by Larry-bob. For more book reviews, see book reviews from QZE 16 and book reviews from QZE 17.

Tiny Stars (70s 80s 90s) by Michael Atavar: Michael Atavar is a gay performance artist, and this book contains text from his performances. Although I've never seen him perform, I get the sense of listening to him speak from reading these pieces. Many of the pieces are pop culture oriented, exploring the ways in which certain pop figures may have saved many a queer kid's life, whether that figure is a woman singer or a porn star. (Rosamond St., BCM Box 5524, London WC1N 3XX UK. £14.99 + £4.00 postage to US, Cheques payable to Michael Atavar.) web: http://www.atavar.com/atavar

Real: The Letters of Mina Harker and Sam D'Allesandro by Dodie Bellamy and Sam D'Allesandro. To read the letters of two people to each other is an invasion of privacy. Perhaps not as much so as reading a diary. A journal is kept with an audience of one -- the writer -- if it is kept with the thought in mind of any other reading it it is not a true honest journal. A journal is also filled with writing that cannot be understood by others, private messages uninterpretable, but requiring no explication, because the reader is the writer. A correspondence may also have a coded aspect to it, but it is a code shard by two people, with more keys, since two correspondents may share information from past letters or from interaction outside of the correspondence. Prose written with an audience in mind is even more explicit, less coded. Was the correspondence in this book, which includes a game of assumed identities (Dodie as Mina Harker, sprung from the pages of Dracula, and Sam possessed by the malevolent SX), intended for eventual public consumption from its inception, and if so, was it colored by a desire to make its symbols understandable to outsiders, or was it completed, intentionally or not, as a private dialog, which we only now eavesdrop on. How well did the correspondents know each other outside of this correspondence? Within its text, it's said that they mostly met each other at parties and only got together alone once. What do they discuss in the letters? Everyday events, a play act of Bram Stoker's characters? But I am playing this wrong if it's all intellectual, since this is very emotional, loss coming at us as Sam slips away with AIDS, and five years later Dodie writes a last letter to his ghost and SX's that still haunt. (Talisman House Publishers, P.O. Box 3157, Jersey City, NJ 07303-3157)

Toward the New Degeneracy by Bruce Benderson. This essay makes the argument that the literary avant-garde is bankrupt because it has lost touch with the underclass. Benderson traces the way that gay liberation has gone from being a countercultural phenomenon to one that upholds middle class values. Benderson is also the author of the books Pretending to Say No and User. An excerpt is available here. This "excerpt" appears to be an out-take. (Edgewise Press, 24 Fifth Avenue #224, NY NY, 10011)

White Trash Debutante by Jennifer Blowdrier. A short autobiography of growing up in the San Francisco punk scene of the late 70s, covering such adventures as being in a band with lesbians, and hanging out with transsexual scenesters Bambi Lake and Ginger Coyote. It ends early (perhaps even before 1980), and without discussing the titular band, but since it says volume I on the copyright page hopefully further volumes are in the offing. (Galhattan Press, 270 East 10th St, NY, NY 10009)

Wigger by Lawrence Braithwaite. You can get your head around it - it's a bite-sized chunk so don't worry about the experimental aspects. Last time I thought about characters sliding around each other like this interacting in a web it was with Alfred Chester's Exquisite Corpse. A dozen guys with sex and drugs -- they meet in twos and threes on the streets and what happens happens. You haven't read about this in a book before. (Arsenal Pulp Press, 100-1062 Homer Street, Vancouver, BC Canada V6B 2W9)

The Harvest by Perry Brass. A science fiction novel of the not-so-distant future, a rather likely future dominated by corporations, one of which raises humans (but they don't call them that) to be slaughtered for organ transplants. A young man from poverty adopted by a rich man is the protagonist, his lover an escapee from the organ farms. There are sex scenes, but they are well integrated into the story. The female characters are somewhat weak, but it could be argued that this is a portrayal of a very patriarchal society. (Bellhue Press, 2501 Palisade Ave, Suite A1, Bronx, NY 10463, http://www.perrybrass.com)

Bite Hard by Justin Chin. Poetry and prose by this San Francisco based writer and performance artist. I remember one performance he did where there was a can't look -- can't look away video of needles getting inserted into testicles. Some of his greatest hits are here like the one that starts "I want to be a buffed fag." While there's certainly transgressive stuff, fisting and videobooths, there's also a wholesome side with a visit to his parents in Singapore. (Manic D. Press, Box 410804, SF CA 94141)

Guide by Dennis Cooper. Before you call up the FBI and report Dennis Cooper and his kiddie-porn making, drug-taking, rockstar-mickey-slipping, child-killing friends, repeat to yourself "it's only a book."

This is the Wes Craven's "Scream" of Dennis Cooper books, in which people have read his other novels and ask if he's really the serial killer you'd think. Dennis tells the pierced-face poseur kid who asks that just like him, he only decorates himself, but it's on the inside instead.

Like an episode of Seinfeld, there's no moral lessons in Dennis Cooper's writing -- but perhaps they are present by their negation. To portray someone having safe sex does not make it correct -- likewise writing of a kid getting fucked without a condom doesn't make it good either. Either fiction is equally a lie.

It's because Cooper is a character himself that it's hard to tell yourself that it's only a movie. The actual movie made from Cooper's writing, Frisk, was doomed from the beginning of production by its casting of all-wrong modelly-type gay actors instead of the fucked-up kids that should've inhabited it -- it came off as a staged reading by sophisticated adults instead of an actual production, therefore not believable or disturbing.

Disturbing is what we want from Cooper -- proof that we're not totally jaded, still capable of being shocked. If we read a novel about A-gays we might be disappointed that we could never be as successful as them, but this way we'll always be morally superior to these conscienceless monsters.

The name of one character, Mason, is only a little off of Manson. He's sort of Dennis' worse half, the older artist who does actually slip a mickey (or more precisely, a roofie) to a rock star and molests him while he's passed out.

If you were confronted in real life by a kid kept by child pornographers the dilemma would be to turn in your pals or not, to wonder if the kid would end up more fucked by the legal/juvenile home system than by the situation he was in. As far as I can tell, nobody in this book judges anyone else as depraved or even considers putting an end to their sick fun. Maybe it's that they all know they're fucked up enough to kill someone. (Grove Press)

Horror Hospital Unplugged, words by Dennis Cooper, Art by Keith Mayerson. I wasn't initially drawn to Mayerson's "trippy" style, but it's only one of his styles upon styles, and when he draws a room full of celebs as dogs in the Viper Club and they actually are recognizable I was convinced. There a lot of wit here in the music industry satire in this story of a rock band with a young and doomed lead singer. Cooper's books are usually pretty dialog-heavy (even if it is mostly Ums and Uhs.) But the narrative voice here is replaced by Mayerson's drawings. Mayerson goes through a number of styles which change throughout the book. Especially appropriate is the big-eyed manga style used for the romantic bits. (Juno Books, 180 Varick St., 10th Floor, NY, NY 10014.)

Mala Noche by Walt Curtis. In addition to the story of Walt and two youths from Mexico he befriended, penned 20 years ago and the basis for Gus Van Sant's first feature film, this book has material about another guy Walt met and then visited in Mexico. It's a compendium of his accumulated knowledge about people from Mexico and Mexico itself. And there is aftermath of the film version, all wrapped up in here. Also the book is an embodiment of the involvement in the underclass that Bruce Benderson discusses in Toward the New Degeneracy. But Walt is scarcely more privileged than these kids. It doesn't seem like slumming. (Bridge City Books, 1717 SW Park Ave Suite 616, Portland, OR 97201.)
Walt Curtis web page: http://elaine.teleport.com/~samc/Curtis/Curtis.html

Dangerous Drawings. A selection of interviews with artists who work in comix and other media. Among them is G. B. Jones, one of the editors of the groundbreaking queer zine JDs. Another queer artist in the book is Keith Mayerson. In addition, there are interviews with Art Spiegelman, Julie Doucet, Aline Kominsky Crumb, Chester Brown, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, and others. (Juno Books, 180 Varick St., 10th Floor, NY, NY 10014.)

My Face for the World to See: the Diaries, Letters, and Drawings of Candy Darling, Warhol Superstar. In a padded cover pink diary with lock and key are the secret diaries of Candy Darling. A scrapbook of the remnants of a life - facsimiles of notes, letters, drawings, photos. I wonder about the photobooth photos of Candy as a young boy -- when did she draw the hair on, transforming the images by voodoo into a girl. (Hardy Marks Publications, PO Box 90520, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96835.)

Private Nation by N. A. Diaman. Maybe science fiction is a literature of ideas, but when the ideas are so obvious and the characters such cardboard cutouts, what's the point? A boy and his sister run away from their family. It's such a consumer society that everyone is named after products. The boy leaves on a motorcycle with a man he meets. They ride around for a while, have sex occasionally, eventually live for 15 years at a commune. They then move to a utopian San Francisco -- my favorite touch is a subway under Geary. But geez, isn't there any conflict in this utopia, any jealousy when the characters sleep with other people, any missing of their families? The only blessing is that it's short enough that I finished it in an hour while doing my laundry. (Persona Press, Box 14022, San Francisco, CA 94114-0022)

Bruce La Bruce: Ride, Queer, Ride, edited by Noam Gonick. A collection of writings by and about filmmaker Bruce La Bruce. There's a transcript of a chat with Bruce and Vaginal Davis, a diary from the shooting of Hustler White, and the scripts to No Skin Off My Ass (it might have helped patch up the feud with G. B. Jones if he'd given her partial credit for the script) and Super 8 1/2. Plus some writings about Bruce by Gus Van Sant, David McIntosh, and that letter from Kurt Cobain to the Advocate. (Plug In Gallery, 286 McDermot Ave, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3B 02T web: http://shop.plugin.org/ride.queer.html)

Jerome: After the Pageant, edited by Thomas Avena and Adam Klein. Jerome's art is in miniature, the medium makeup, fingernail polish icons of depravity. Clowns, death, birds, eggs, and images of himself -- that is the iconography. And there are photos of the artwork Jerome made of himself. Jerome may have dressed like a clown in drag, but here, to quote the title of one of his paintings, "Bozo fucks Death." (Bastard Books, PO Box 422820, San Francisco, CA 94142-2820)

Little Men by Kevin Killian. A collection of short stories. Who is Kevin Killian? The auto-interview of that title here might answer the question, or the Kevin interviewed might simply be a character as the Kevin in other stories in this book is a character. Like the father he plays at being to [name removed at person's request]'s son in the story they collaborate on. Another joint creation is the exquisite corpse he fashions along with Stephen Beachy. Dodie Bellamy's Mina Harker letters are distorted like funhouse mirror images into letters of Myra Hindley. (Hard Press, PO Box 184, West Stockbridge, MA 01266)

Bull's Balls by Ralf Koenig. German gay cartoonist Ralf Konig's comics are the basis of the recent movie The Killer Condom. Unfortunately, though they have been available in the past, English translations of his comics besides this volume are currently unavailable. Bull's Balls is a comic about gay lovers who have grown somewhat tired of each other. Paul develops an obsession with a straight and unavailable construction worker, and Conrad has a piano student who's coming to terms with his own homosexuality. (BK Press, 3010 Cedar St., Austin, TX 78705.)

Reflections from a Cinematic Cesspool by George Kuchar and Mike Kuchar. The Kuchar brothers were teenage underground moviemakers. Now grown up, but still making movies, this is a retrospective look at the -- has it really been 40 years? Told by the brothers themselves, it is quite a hilariously entertaining and interesting journey. You'll find stories here involving such films as "Hold Me While I'm Naked," "Sins of the Fleshapoids," and "Thundercrack!" (Zanja Press, PO Box 11813, Berkeley, CA 94701)

The Reluctant Pornographer by Bruce La Bruce. A collection of writing by Bruce gathered from his columns for the periodical Exclaim. Much of it is from Bruce's travels shooting and promoting his films. The shooting diary of Hustler White is here as well as in the book Ride, Queer, Ride. (Gutter Press, PO Box 600, Stn Q, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4T 2N4) web: www.gutterpress.com

Flaming Creature: Jack Smith: His Amazing Life and Times edited by Edward Leffingwell et al. This book serves as the catalog for the recent retrospective of Jack Smith's art. It includes photographs and collages by Smith, and essays about him. It's an amazing compendium of work by one of the queer pioneers of experimental film and performance. (Serpent's Tail)

Psychoboys by Bertie Marshall. Psychoboy Rez starts out in Moscow, goes through the clutches of Ms Thing, and winds up in Berlin, along the way eavesdropping on Nico and Patti Smith. Actually, despite Ms Thing's decrepit, disgusting self, he doesn't seem to mind her much, and since an aged queen has lived through more than a teenage psychoboy she steals the scene as long as she's around. Witty and obscene, with a certain Genet sais quoi. (Codex, PO Box 148, Hove, BN3 3DQ UK -- available through AK Distribution)

Ask Dr. Mueller by Cookie Mueller. Cookie Mueller is best known as an actress in John Waters' movies, but she was also a writer in her own right. This book collects material from her other books, columns for the East Village Eye and Details, and unpublished works. By the way, I advise Mueller fans to pick up the second Poetry in Motion CD-ROM (from the now-defunct Voyager), since it contains footage of Cookie reading an otherwise unavailable story. Also look for the ArtRandom book "Putti's Pudding" with text by Mueller and illustrations by her husband Vittorio Scarpati. (High Risk/Serpent's Tail)

Death Wore a Smart Little Outfit by Orland Outland. Someone is murdering artists in San Francisco, and it's up to crossdressing Doan and his best girl friend Binky to solve the crime. Plenty of local San Francisco color and in-jokes from Mr. Outland, who by the way is a former zine editor. (Berkley Books)

Execution, Texas: 1987 by D. Travers Scott. This book has the totally wrong cover art. It should be an illustration by Andy Dog or more new wave decadence courtesy Leigh Bowery or Pierre et Gilles (de Rais.) Not some shirtless generic cornfield boy -- Texas aside, this book isn't Country and Western, it's Goth. Are the Poppy Brite fans who need to read this thing going to find it? In this instance of the gender ambiguous 1980s, a bisexual guy and his girlfriend and a guy he has a crush on roam around in the ending days of highschool as change is in the wings. I felt a bit cheated that there wasn't a hetero sex scene. Psychic flashes, crazy hippy mom, it falls in place like real life. Your parents may be hypocrites and too right wing but you still love them. Look back at snapshots which only catch half of your weekly changes of plumage. So daring but not half as daring as you'd become. Relive it here or for the first time. (St. Martin's Press) D. Travers Scott's web site.

Wait For Me at the Bottom of the Pool by Jack Smith. A collection of Jack Smith's writing. Much of this material has been nigh impossible to come by. Although he's best known as a filmmaker, and many of those films are silent, he has an inimitable verbal style in which intricate skeins of words are strung together. Witness titles such as "Amonia Pit of Atlantis: Evil in the Art World, or Walter Versus the Giant Knick Knacks." Keep an eye open for the release of a couple of CDs of recordings of Jack Smith. (Serpent's Tail/High Risk)