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Saturday 11 April 2015


New reads for gay/bi men

Posted in: Books
By compiled by Jacqui Stanford - 30th June 2013

Fancy a fresh bit of gay/bi men’s fiction? Here are some of the novels which have been creating a buzz among readers and critics.


What the Family Needed by Steven Amsterdam

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In this incandescent novel, a family’s superpowers bestow not instant salvation but the miracle of accepting who they are.

“Okay, tell me which you want,” Alek asks his cousin at the outset of What the Family Needed. “To be able to fly or to be invisible.” And soon Giordana, a teenager suffering the bitter fallout of her parents’ divorce, finds that she can, at will, become as invisible as she feels. Later, Alek’s mother, newly adrift in the disturbing awareness that all is not well with her younger son, can suddenly swim with Olympic endurance. Over three decades, in fact, each member of this gorgeously imagined extended family discovers, at a moment of crisis, that he or she possesses a supernatural power.

But instead of crimes to fight and villains to vanquish, they confront inner demons, and their extraordinary abilities prove not to be magic weapons so much as expressions of their fears and longings as they struggle to come to terms with who they are and what fate deals them. As the years pass, their lives intersect and overlap in surprising and poignant ways, and they discover that the real magic lies not in their superpowers but in the very human and miraculous way they are able to accept, protect, and love one another.


Lovers by Daniel Arsand

For Sébastien Faure, the experience of love is so profound, so complete and transformative that, in its wake, he will be left with an almost occult understanding of the world, a potent knowledge bequeathed to him by passion that will endure even when the object of his love is no more. Sébastien is fifteen years old and already versed in the medicinal properties of plants and herbs when he meets the young nobleman Balthazar de Créon, whose life he saves after the latter is thrown from a horse. De Créon, struck by the boy’s beauty as much by his talents as a healer, orders Sébastien to his manor some months later so he can instruct him in the ways of the court, hoping thus to install him as Louis XV’s surgeon. His motives, however, are clouded by his lust for Sébastien, and after a brief period of restraint Balthazar and Sébastien abandon themselves to their passions and imaginations. But it is 1749 and their affair scandalizes the French court, bringing the king’s wrath down upon them. Balthazar is eventually presented with an ultimatum: repudiate Sébastien and live, or do not, and die.

Daniel Arsand’s slim, sublime Lovers is many things: a song of love and an ode to sensual abandon; a richly imagined, atmospheric evocation of the French court; a fable about freedom and the heart’s indifference to social and class barriers; a heartfelt cry against those who, poor of soul, refute the legitimacy of unconventional love. Above all, with its delectable prose, Lovers is itself a delight for the senses.


The Absolutist by John Boyne

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A masterfully told tale of passion, jealousy, heroism and betrayal set in the gruesome trenches of World War I.

It is September 1919: twenty-one-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to deliver a package of letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, the man he fought alongside during the Great War.

But the letters are not the real reason for Tristan's visit. He can no longer keep a secret and has finally found the courage to unburden himself of it. As Tristan recounts the horrific details of what to him became a senseless war, he also speaks of his friendship with Will--from their first meeting on the training grounds at Aldershot to their farewell in the trenches of northern France. The intensity of their bond brought Tristan happiness and self-discovery as well as confusion and unbearable pain.

The Absolutist is a masterful tale of passion, jealousy, heroism, and betrayal set in one of the most gruesome trenches of France during World War I. This novel will keep readers on the edge of their seats until its most extraordinary and unexpected conclusion, and will stay with them long after they've turned the last page.


Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

"My sister Greta and I were having our portrait painted by our Uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying." There's only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that's her uncle, the renowned painter, Finn Weiss. So when he dies far too young of a mysterious illness that June's mother can barely bring herself to discuss, June's world is turned upside down. At the funeral, she notices a strange man lingering just beyond the edges of the crowd, and a few days later, June receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn's apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, inviting her to meet up with him at a local train station. As it turns out, June isn't the only one who desperately misses Finn, and the secret and forbidden friendship that springs up between the two of them will break your heart, even as it heals theirs. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is the story of a meeting of two lost souls - a lonely girl and a mysterious stranger - and the ways in which their lives become intertwined as they each try to come to terms with their grief.


A Horse Named Sorrow by Trebor Healey

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Award-winning novelist Trebor Healey depicts San Francisco in the 1980s and ’90s in poetic prose that is both ribald and poignant, and a crossing into the American West that is dreamy, mythic, and visionary.

When troubled twenty-one-year-old Seamus Blake meets the strong and self-possessed Jimmy (just arrived in San Francisco by bicycle from his hometown in Buffalo, New York), he feels his life may finally be taking a turn for the better. But the ensuing romance proves short-lived as Jimmy dies of an AIDS-related illness. The grieving Seamus is obliged to keep a promise to Jimmy: “Take me back the way I came.”

And so Seamus sets out by bicycle on a picaresque journey with the ashes, hoping to bring them back to Buffalo. He meets truck drivers, waitresses, college kids, farmers, ranchers, Marines, and other travelers—each one giving him a new perspective on his own life and on Jimmy’s death. When he meets and becomes involved with a young Native American man whose mother has recently died, Seamus’s grief and his story become universal and redemptive.


The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Grant Ashley Davy says it’s a wonderful book which “comes at homosexuality through all facets. Plus it is inter-generational and looks at the effects of a homosexual relationship in 1913 and how scandal and gossip warps the story over the decades.”

In the summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate—a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance—to his family’s home outside London. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him. That weekend, Cecil writes a poem that, after he is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried—until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.


London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp

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Three men, three lives and three eras sinuously entwine in a dark, startling and unsettling narrative of sex, exploitation and dependence set against London's strangely constant gay underworld. Jack Rose begins his apprenticeship as a rent boy with Alfred Taylor in the 1890s, and finds a life of pleasure and excess leads him to new friendships - most notably with the soon-to-be infamous Oscar Wilde. A century later, David tells his own tale of unashamed decadence while waiting to be released from prison, addressing his story to the lover who betrayed him. Where their paths cross, in the politically sensitive 1950s, the artist Colin Read tentatively explores his sexuality as he draws in preparation for his most ambitious painting yet - 'London Triptych'. Rent boys, aristocrats, artists and felons populate this bold debut as Jonathan Kemp skilfully interweaves the lives and loves of three very different men across the decades.


Spreadeagle by Kevin Killian

Set in San Francisco, fiftyish gay novelist Daniel Isham presides over a complicated ménage financed not only by family money but by the huge success of his kitschy, feel-good “Rick and Dick” novels. His forty-year-old boyfriend, health care activist Kit Kramer, had once been romantically involved with another kind of writer entirely, the handsome experimentalist Sam D’Allesandro, now clinging onto the last shreds of life after several decades fighting off AIDS. The young, unstable art student Eric Avery, a fan of D’Allesandro’s, finagles a room in the vast California Street brownstone Isham and Kramer share. On the fringes of the story lurk two shady brothers—Gary Radley, a grifter who lives by selling fake anti-AIDS drugs to deluded New Age San Franciscans, and Adam Radley, a perfectionist porn director specializing in gay spanking videos. When D’Allesandro, who has lost his savings to Radley, threatens to expose the racket, things turn violent.


These Things Happen by Richard Kramer

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A domestic story told in numerous original and endearing voices. The story opens with Wesley, a tenth grader, and involves his two sets of parents (the mom and her second husband, a very thoughtful doctor; and the father who has become a major gay lawyer/activist and his fabulous "significant other" who owns a restaurant).

Wesley is a fabulous kid, whose equally fabulous best friend Theo has just won a big school election and simultaneously surprises everyone in his life by announcing that he is gay. No one is more surprised than Wesley, who actually lives temporarily with his gay father and partner, so that he can get to know his rather elusive dad. When a dramatic and unexpected trauma befalls the boys in school, all the parents converge noisily in love and well-meaning support. But through it all, each character ultimately is made to face certain challenges and assumptions within his/her own life, and the playing out of their respective life priorities and decisions is what makes this novel so endearing and so special.


Hairdresser on Fire: A Novel by Daniel Levesque

This is not a hair book. It's a dark comedy of a spiritual misfit, a child with a dream born into the wrong town. Religious cults, corporate cults, insane clients—Francis can't catch a break. Francis has observed his own inability to fit in since birth, and his decision to be a professional cosmetologist only exacerbates his innate oddness.


The Paternity Test by Michael Lowenthal

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Having a baby to save a marriage—it’s the oldest of clichés. But what if the marriage at risk is a gay one, and having a baby involves a surrogate mother?

Pat Faunce is a faltering romantic, a former poetry major who now writes textbooks. A decade into his relationship with Stu, an airline pilot from a fraught Jewish family, he fears he’s losing Stu to other men—and losing himself in their “no rules” arrangement. Yearning for a baby and a deeper commitment, he pressures Stu to move from Manhattan to Cape Cod, to the cottage where Pat spent boyhood summers.

As they struggle to adjust to their new life, they enlist a surrogate: Debora, a charismatic Brazilian immigrant, married to Danny, an American carpenter. Gradually, Pat and Debora bond, drawn together by the logistics of getting pregnant and away from their spouses. Pat gets caught between loyalties—to Stu and his family, to Debora, to his own potent desires—and wonders: is he fit to be a father?

In one of the first novels to explore the experience of gay men seeking a child through surrogacy, Michael Lowenthal writes passionately about marriages and mistakes, loyalty and betrayal, and about how our drive to create families can complicate the ones we already have. The Paternity Test is a provocative look at the new “family values.”


The Marrying Kind by Ken O'Neill

Wedding planner Adam More has an epiphany: He has devoted all his life’s energy to creating events that he and his partner Steven are forbidden by federal law for having for themselves. So Adam decides to make a change. Organizing a boycott of the wedding industry, Steven and Adam call on gay organists, hairdressers, cater-waiters, priests, and hairdressers everywhere to get out of the business and to stop going to weddings, too. In this screwball, romantic comedy both the movement they’ve begun and their relationship are put in jeopardy when Steven’s brother proposes to Adam’s sister and they must decide whether they’re attending or sending regrets.


The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne (2012)

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In this stylish, haunting novel, journalist and novelist Lawrence Osborne explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of Moroccan Muslims and Western visitors who converge on a luxurious desert villa for a decadent weekend-long party.

David and Jo Henniger, a doctor and children's book author, in search of an escape from their less than happy lives in London, accept the invitation of their old friends Richard and Dally to attend their annual bacchanal at their home deep in the Moroccan desert – a ksar they have acquired and renovated into a luxurious retreat. On the way, the Hennigers stop for lunch, and the bad-tempered David can't resist consuming most of a bottle of wine. Back on the road, darkness has descended, David is groggy, and the directions to the ksar are vague. Suddenly, two young men spring from the roadside, apparently attempting to interest passing drivers in the fossils they have for sale. Panicked, David swerves toward the two, leaving one dead on the road and the other running into the hills.

At the ksar, the festivities have begun: Richard and Dally’s international friends sit down to a lavish dinner prepared and served by a large staff of Moroccans. As the night progresses and the debauchery escalates, the Moroccans increasingly view the revellers as the godless "infidels" they are. When David and Jo show up late with the dead body of the young man in their car, word spreads among the locals that David has committed an unforgivable act.

Thus the stage is set for a weekend during which David and Jo must come to terms with David's misdeed, Jo's longings, and their own deteriorating relationship, and the flamboyant Richard and Dally must attempt to keep their revellers entertained despite growing tension from their staff and the Moroccan Berber father who comes to claim his son's body.

With spare, evocative prose, searing eroticism, and a gift for the unexpected, Osborne memorably portrays the privileged guests wrestling with their secrets amidst the remoteness and beauty of the desert landscape. He also gradually reveals the jolting back-story of the young man who was killed and leaves David’s fate in the balance as the novel builds to a shattering conclusion.


Lake on the Mountain: A Dan Sharp Mystery by Jeffrey Round

Dan Sharp, a gay father and missing persons investigator, accepts an invitation to a wedding on a yacht in Ontario's Prince Edward County. It seems just the thing to bring Dan closer to his noncommittal partner, Bill, a respected medical professional with a penchant for sleazy after-hours clubs, cheap drugs, and rough sex. But the event doesn't go exactly as planned.

When a member of the wedding party is swept overboard, a case of mistaken identity leads to confusion as the wrong person is reported missing. The hunt for a possible killer leads Dan deeper into the troubled waters and private lives of a family of rich WASPs and their secret world of privilege.

No sooner is that case resolved when a second one ends up on Dan's desk. Dan is hired by an anonymous source to investigate the disappearance 20 years earlier of the groom’s father. The only clues are a missing bicycle and six horses mysteriously poisoned.


Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Benjamin Alire Sáenz's stories reveal how all borders—real, imagined, sexual, human, the line between dark and light, addict and straight—entangle those who live on either side. Take, for instance, the Kentucky Club on Avenida Juárez two blocks south of the Rio Grande. It's a touchstone for each of Sáenz's stories. His characters walk by, they might go in for a drink or to score, or they might just stay there for a while and let their story be told. Sáenz knows that the Kentucky Club, like special watering holes in all cities, is the contrary to borders. It welcomes Spanish and English, Mexicans and gringos, poor and rich, gay and straight, drug addicts and drunks, laughter and sadness, and even despair. It's a place of rich history and good drinks and cold beer and a long polished mahogany bar. Some days it smells like piss. "I'm going home to the other side." That's a strange statement, but you hear it all the time at the Kentucky Club.


Sighs Too Deep For Words William Jack Sibley

Sighs Too Deep For Words is the story of a man in prison who falls in love, through lengthy correspondence, with a woman he's never met. Getting out, he goes to find her and discovers that the love letters he's received were written not by a woman but by a closeted gay man -- a small town minister. Not only did the minister deceive the prisoner, but he sent a photograph of his sister (who lives with him) as a picture representing himself. And not only is the sister unaware of the ruse, but she herself happens to be a lesbian. The ex-prisoner has fallen in love physically with a woman who doesn't know he exists, and mentally with a man he doesn't know how to love. Set in the scenic Texas Gulf Coast fishing village of Rockport, SIGHS TOO DEEP FOR WORDS is a darkly humorous and contemplative examination of the parameters of love, sex, sexuality and cultural perspective.


The Lava in My Bones by Barry Webster

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A frustrated geologist studying global warming becomes obsessed with eating rocks after embarking on his first same-sex relationship in Europe. Back home, his young sister is a high-school girl who suddenly starts to ooze honey through her pores, an affliction that attracts hordes of bees as well as her male classmates but ultimately turns her into a social pariah. Meanwhile, their obsessive Pentecostal mother repeatedly calls on the Holy Spirit to rid her family of demons. The siblings are reunited on a ship bound for Europe where they hope to start a new life, but are unaware that their disguised mother is also on board and plotting to win back their souls, with the help of the Virgin Mary.

Told in a lush baroque prose, this intense, extravagant magic-realist novel combines elements of fairy tales, horror movies, and romances to create a comic, hallucinatory celebration of excess and sensuality.


Jack Holmes and His Friend by Edmund White

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Jack Holmes and Will Wright arrive in New York in the calm before the storm of the 1960s. Coworkers at a cultural journal, they soon become good friends. Jack even introduces Will to the woman he will marry. But their friendship is complicated: Jack is also in love with Will. Troubled by his subversive longings, Jack sees a psychiatrist and dates a few women, while also pursuing short-lived liaisons with other men. But in the two decades of their friendship, from the first stirrings of gay liberation through the catastrophe of AIDS, Jack remains devoted to Will. And as Will embraces his heterosexual sensuality, nearly destroying his marriage, the two men share a newfound libertinism in a city that is itself embracing its freedom.

Moving among beautifully delineated characters in a variety of social milieus, Edmund White brings narrative daring and an exquisite sense of life's submerged drama to this masterful exploration of friendship, sexuality, and sensibility during a watershed moment in history.



compiled by Jacqui Stanford - 30th June 2013

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