fiction

Memoir or Fiction: Exploring Queer Lives

A beautiful young man pursues sex, love and a modeling career in the exhilarating and heartbreaking gay circles of New York City circa the 1970s and 1980s. Fiction or memoir? Why not both? The authors are celebrated writers in the LGBTQ community known for their achievements in the fields of literature, memoir and biography: Edmund White and Brad Gooch.

Our Young Man by Edmund White, clearly a modern take on The Picture of Dorian Gray, paints a rather bland portrait of Guy, a French model who does not seem to age as he partakes in the gay whirl of New York, Fire Island, and Paris. Guy is remote, almost untouchable; failing as a boy-toy, trying again as the trophy partner of a wealthy older man, and playing the fool for a young ne’er-do-well who ends up in prison.  While surrounded by beauty, money, desire and success, Guy seems to be a stereotype of the shallow model, never really rising above a vaguely misanthropic irritability.  All around him AIDS rages, and he finds himself caring for his dying older partner, and then entangled with a younger one. Despite having all the right ingredients for a moving and exciting tale, the novel portrays a man who seems bloodless, his beautiful exterior a passport into a world he can’t fully feel. Perhaps a stunned survivor of these decades would require a measured distance to tell such a tale. 

Smash Cut : a Memoir of Howard & Art & the '70s & the '80s by Brad Gooch details his real-life love story with Howard Brookner, a film maker, in the artistic crucible of New York in the 70’s and 80’s. It is more than lust at first sight. The two pursue their creative endeavors in a shared life full of art, parties, sex, drugs, and long letters to each other; hobnobbing with notables like William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe and Madonna. The bittersweet wisdom of hindsight permeates Brad’s memories. He casts his own successful modeling career as the villain that comes between the lovers, with a minor role for Howard’s drug use. Like most great love stories, this is a tragedy. Howard contracts HIV; Brad doesn’t. In this confessional yet crafted tale, I found the juice that seemed missing from Our Young Man. I felt like I knew the author by the end of this book, or at least the Brad Gooch that stood at his lover’s graveside and wept, and I shed a tear with him.

Have you ever read a novel that led you into the biography section of the library, or visa versa? Leave us a comment or recommendation.

(Note: Smash cut is available through Link+ until a copy is received for OPL's collection.)

Photo of Brad Gooch from NYTimes Review April 2015

 

 

Fiction That Changed Our Lives

One of the fun things about being a librarian is getting juicy readers advisory questions, so when Rockridge librarian Emily Weak was asked by a young woman, "What fiction have you read that changed your life?” she instantly sprang into action, sending the query around the library system.  We nerded out about it for a while, giving it all the weight deserved by a question regarding the transformation of one’s very life. Emily compiled a list of nearly 100 titles. That ought to prepare our young friend for the rest of her life, no? Here is a mere sampling, with a focus on less current titles:

 

Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund

 A rich epic, drawn from the classic Moby Dick, chronicles the life of Una Spenser, wife of the immortal Captain Ahab, from her Kentucky childhood, through her adventures disguised as a whaling ship cabin boy, to her various marriages.           

 

 

The amazing adventures of Kavelier and Clay by Michael Chabon

 In 1939 New York City, Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Hitler's Prague, joins forces with his Brooklyn-born cousin, Sammy Clay, to create comic-book superheroes inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams.

 

 

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Tired of being labeled white trash, Ruth Anne Boatwright--a South Carolina bastard who is attached to the indomitable women in her mother's family--longs to escape from her hometown, and especially from Daddy Glen and his meanspirited jealousy.

 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Somewhere in South America terrorists seize hostages at an embassy party, and an unlikely assortment of people is thrown together, including American opera star Roxanne Coss, and Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese CEO and her biggest fan.

 

Blindness by Jose Saramago

In a provocative parable of loss, disorientation, and weakness, a city is hit by an epidemic of "white blindness" whose victims are confined to a vacant mental hospital, while a single eyewitness to the nightmare guides seven oddly assorted strangers through the barren urban landscape.

                                                                                                                                               

The good earth by Pearl Buckman

A graphic view of China during the reign of the last emperor as it tells the story of an honest Chinese peasant and his wife as they struggle with the sweeping changes of the twentieth century.

 

 

The house on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

For Esperanza, a young girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, life is an endless landscape of concrete and run-down tenements, and she tries to rise above the hopelessness. Told in a series of vignettes.

 

 

I know this much is true by Wally Lamb

Dominick Birdsey, a forty-year-old housepainter living in Three Rivers, Connecticut, finds his subdued life greatly disturbed when his identical twin brother Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic, commits a shocking act of self-mutilation.

 

 

If Beale Street could talk by James Baldwin

A love story in the face of injustice set in Harlem in the early 1970s. Told through the eyes of Tish, a nineteen-year-old girl, in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin’s story mixes the sweet and the sad. 

 

 

Interpreter of maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

A collection of short fiction that blends elements of Indian traditions with the complexities of American culture in such tales as "A Temporary Matter," in which a young Indian-American couple confronts their grief over the loss of a child, while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout.

                                                                                                                                       

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

In nineteenth-century England, all is going well for rich, reclusive Mr Norell, who has regained some of the power of England's magicians from the past, until a rival magician, Jonathan Strange, appears and becomes Mr Norrell's pupil.

                                                                                                                                               

                                                                                                                                            The name of the rose by Umberto Eco

In 1327, finding his sensitive mission at an Italian abbey further complicated by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William of Baskerville turns detective.

 

 

                                                                                                                                          The once and future king by T.H. White

Describes King Arthur's life from his childhood to the coronation, creation of the Round Table, and search for the Holy Grail.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                       Prodigal summer by Barbara Kingsolver

Wildlife biologist Deanna is caught off guard by an intrusive young hunter, while bookish city wife Lusa finds herself facing a difficult identity choice, and elderly neighbors find attraction at the height of a long-standing feud.

 

 

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

Macon Dead, Jr., called "Milkman," the son of the wealthiest African American in town, moves from childhood into early manhood, searching, among the disparate, mysterious members of his family, for his life and reality.

 

 

Wild sheep chase by Haruki Murakami 

Blending elements of myth and mystery, this literary thriller features a cast of bizarre characters, including a sheep with a mysterious star on its back, caught up in a Nietzschean quest for power. 

                                                                                                                                             

Now your turn: Share some fiction that changed your life.                                                                                               

Wealth, Youth, Beauty, Misery: Gatsby

I've just finished The Great Gatsby, first time since high school (hey Ms. Mac!) and thanks to John Green, object of my latest author-crush, I have a newfound appreciation. Seriously, you should check out this video.


Oh ya, and the latest screen adaptation is coming to a branch near you. 

James Gatz fell in love with Daisy when he was a soldier and she was a teenage debutant. Daisy went through gentlemen callers by the dozen, but clung to Gatz, for a time. But James was a "Mr. Nobody from Nowhere" and Daisy couldn't wait around for him to become a somebody from somewhere, so they both moved on. Some years later, Jim Gatz became Jay Gatsby, a charming, wealthy "Oxford man" and Daisy Fay became Daisy Buchanan, with a summer mansion and a philandering husband and a baby daughter.

Gatsby may have come across his newfound wealth by questionable means, but that didn't deter anyone from attending his outrageous parties at his beachside mansion.  Besides, he did it all for Daisy, he wanted her back.

Talk about lack of sympathetic characters.  The major players of the book are all from the Midwest and are young, handsome and, to varying degrees, rich.  It's the age of prohibition, but that doesn't stop our richlings from indulging in fine liquor at lavish parties on luxurious east coast beaches. Tom Buchanan,  Daisy's husband is an ex-footbal star.  He's old money, a bit racist, having an affair, and what's worse, he's just a jerk. Daisy seems to have no input on control over any aspect of her life. Our narrator, Nick Carraway and his summer fling, Jordan Baker are perhaps unwitting voyeurs to the Gatsby-Buchanan drama, but they seem to revel in it. Nick is decent, but even he doesn't want to like Gatsby, a caricature of perfection, who had a smile that “...concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.” They are all young, beautiful, rich, carefree, and ultimately miserable. 

What holds the novel together is that you can empathize with Gatsby, and maybe all of them. Who doesn't want to be young and carefree?  Who doesn't want to relive their golden past? Perhaps you would have made different life decisions, but you have the benefit of hindsight and as a reader, not a character, also of being omnipotent.  I don't want to give away the ending, but I'll just say that there's a horrific car crash, and a murder-suicide in the end.  Tom and Daisy come away physically unscathed.

I think that Tom and Daisy are meant for each other.  "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy -- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made." They blow into town for a frantic summer and leave death and destruction in their wake.  In the end they simply move on to the next fashionable town or whirlwind vacation.  

Does being rich mean that you can brush off your responsibility toward your fellow man? And Is the pursuit of wealth for love and acceptance a worthy pursuit?  Of course, these are loaded questions, because if the answer is "no" then why do we continue these pursuits?

Posted on: September 20, 2013, by Jenera Burton, Piedmont Ave branch