Book Lovers: Detour
Author: Dick Smart
August 23, 2011
If you’ve been detoured from your fabulous summer vacation by this crappy economy, these four tales of re-routed journeys will take you places you may not have expected to go while lazing about on your chaise lounge on your staycation.
Down the Rabbit Hole is a 2011 reissue by loveyoudivine Alterotica of the 1969 Greenleaf gay pulp classic originally published under the title, Leather. Vanden has been acclaimed by Wayne Gunn in Lambda Literary.org as one of the fathers of the gay pulp movement and his work is noted twice in the classic 1995 gay literature survey The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage, edited by Claude J. Summers. Loveyoudivine Alterotica is reissuing all of his books as part of their Gay Lit Classics series.
I picked up Rabbit looking forward to a fun and horny pulp from the pre-Stonewall gay scene, full of retro gay slang, politically incorrect stereotypes and lots of pre-condom sex. But I quickly discovered that Vanden’s exploration of all aspects of male love is as universal as it is serious. The novel’s hero, Ron Bartlett, is on a journey of self-discovery presented in a series of graphic sexual vignettes that in less talented hands would have merely been pornographic. But Vanden uses the sex to explore such serious issues as the male search for the Father, in Ron’s love for Colin, his “S” top:
“’Come on, Ron. Let’s get something going. Who am I? Your father? Huh? Should I be your father for you?’
‘Why not? Come on. Tell me.’
‘I hate him.’
‘Bullshit. None of us really hate our fathers. We just say that because it seems like they don’t love us, but they do. They’re just afraid to show it. Listen, Ron, I dug my old man. We didn’t get along, but, hell, that was natural—I was queer and he wasn’t. But I used to watch him get drunk and wish I had the guts to suck his cock while he was blasted. Huh? Try to imagine what your old man would do. What did he look like, your father? He must have been hot, with a son like you. Was he?’
‘Yes. I thought so.’
‘Did he look anything like me? Anything at all?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe. A little.’”
Colin pushes Ron further:
“’He loved you…’
‘I wanted him to.’
‘Do you? Do you want me to, Ron?’”
But before Ron can surrender himself to the spiritual father he has discovered in Colin he must push himself to the inexhaustible limits of sexual desire. He reflects, “I slipped into a calculation of how many available cocks there might be in the world at this moment.” In one of the most graphic S/M scenes in the book, Vanden rips open the beauty and the pain of the limits of physical consummation. Ron discovers that material desire can never be satiated, that satisfaction only comes in love:
“…I am content to explore Colin. He is eminently worth exploration.”
Some readers may be taken aback by Vanden’s frequent scenes of sexual water sports, but the author grew up in the Mormon faith where the sacramental wine is replaced by sacramental water, so the scenes of Ron and Colin drinking each other’s piss should be read as spiritual exchanges of the water of life.
The book’s back cover blurb compares Vanden to Genet or Joyce, but Huxley may be a more adept comparison. Vanden portrays characters in a state of drug-induced altered perception in several scenes that believably capture that state without losing the reader in all the marijuana smoke.
On his website, www.dirkvanden.com, Vanden promises a forthcoming autobiography, Pissing in the Ocean. I’m thirsty to read it.
I Bought It For the Cover
L.A. Affair (Bruno Gmunder, 2011) by Kriss Rudolph and translated from the German by Jeffrey Essmann, features a b/w cover photograph by David Vance of a model with one of the most adorable bubble butts I’ve ever seen—after all, the book is published by Bruno Gmünder, the erotic coffee table book publisher. But, hey, it is a pretty good book between the covers, too. This picaresque novel follows our rogue hero, Ben Sandlot, in a satirical romp through the beds of Los Angeles searching for his lost on-line love, the hirsute Adam. Rudolph sets the tone with a funny send up of all things L.A.:
“This is Los Angeles, California…Where there are basically three archenemies: age, cigarettes, and body hair…On a digital ad on Santa Monica Boulevard, one of the most-traveled streets in Los Angeles, you can read how many people have died so far in the past year from nicotine-related causes. Yet the number of those who have bled to death from armpit-, chest-, leg- and toe-shaving goes unrecorded.”
Luckily, Adam hasn’t gotten the memo, “The treasure trail just below the navel in Adam’s case was like a six-lane freeway.” But we are as frustrated as Ben at not being able to go down that trail, when Ben, having journeyed all the way from Berlin in pursuit of Adam, is stood up upon arrival at LAX. Driving around Los Angeles in a lovelorn daze, Ben immediately gets in a car accident, which leads him to meet his first friends, which leads him to look for an apartment, which winds him up in jail, which leads him to a part on TV , which leads him into several beds—but not Adam’s. Ben thinks he’s found his true love in the gym bunny, James:
There’s a scene in Thelma and Louise where the women spend the night in a motel and Geena Davis spends the night with Brad Pitt. When she appears at breakfast the next morning, she’s beautiful and is beaming this amazing smile…When I looked in the mirror after spending the night with James, I knew: Geena Davis had actually slept with Brad Pitt.
Ben’s friend, Paula, back in Berlin, warns him, “Happy endings exist only in Hollywood.” To which, Ben replies, “But Paula, I am in Hollywood.”
Alas, Paula knows better, and next Ben is experiencing a series of sexual disasters that end in a penicillin shot:
He bought me a couple of drinks. I showed my gratitude in the bathroom. ‘Man oh man!’ he whispered as he disgustedly pulled a crinkly hair out of his mouth. ‘If you were my boyfriend, you’d have to shave yourself down there. And who knows, maybe it’d make your dick look bigger.
Rudolph opens each chapter with a funny prologue that introduces the motif:
You shouldn’t have sex with guys who afterwards immediately stick a cigarette in their mouth unless: the only alternative is to have sex with guys who stick a cigarette in their mouth right before, or the sex with them is so good that you want to have a cigarette right afterwards.
Rudolph uses a magical realism motif through Ben’s daydreams that makes the reader unsure sometimes about what’s real and what’s not. The intriguing last line leaves the reader wondering if Rudolph has given us a Hollywood ending after all—or not. It just might make you want to reread the book from the start. Hello, Last Year at Marienbad.
Check out Rudolph’s website, if you read German. Several bücher are listed there that make us want Bruno Gmünder to bring out more of this guy in translation.
The Heat Gets Hotter
P.A. Brown changes locations for her latest (and best so far) L.A. Heat romance/police procedural series entry, Bermuda Heat, (MLR Press, 2011). The series features L.A.P.D. detective David Laine, a swarthy “Joe Friday,” and his husband—they were legally married in Canada in L.A. Bytes—the handsome computer whiz, Chris Bellamere. When David learns that his “dead” father is alive and living in Bermuda, the couple takes off for what seems like will be an island idyll as David contemplates possibly retiring from the force. Brown who lived in Bermuda paints the island beautifully in her book. David and Chris arrive at their vacation cottage:
This particular house was a two-story butter-yellow house made of the ubiquitous plastered walls with hunter green shutters and a wooden door set into a stone lintel. The windows were simple mullioned stone under a fake portcullis. Like all the roofs Chris had seen so far, the roof was made of sloping white tile. An open terrace ran along the front of the house, partially screened from the street by several burgeoning plant hangers in varying states of bloom.
Brown’s meticulous detail is lovely to read, even while one is literally racing ahead in the excitement of the story. Because as lovely as Brown paints Bermuda, she doesn’t make it sound like a place a gay couple would like to spend their vacation. David’s new-found father warmly welcomes them, but his handsome Bermudan half-brother, Jayvyn’s reception is icy when he meets David and Chris, “’My God,’ he said. ‘My brother be backin’ up? That’s fat.’” Brown explores the risk of being out as a gay couple in a world that sees gay marriage as a perversion.
David soon finds himself framed for a murder he didn’t commit and under the arrest of a police force even more viciously homophobic and corrupt than the L.A.P.D. It is up to Chris to try to find the real murderer, “backatawn” in St. George amid the lowlife dives and transgendered hookers, even as a tropical storm builds into hurricane fury.
Brown pays homage to the first positive gay book she says she ever read, The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick, to introduce the motif of mixed race heritage for David. Brown layers in fascinating historical detail about Bermuda to deepen the theme of David’s journey of discovery of his own past. The exciting storm that slowly builds throughout the novel ends in a terrifying climax that evokes such works as High Wind in Jamaica and Key Largo.
The newest entry in Neil Plakcy’s Have Body, Will Guard romance adventure franchise, Teach Me Tonight has just been released from Loose ID and I look forward to reviewing it in my September, “Back to School” Book Lovers column. But it is more than worthwhile to reread the debut novel in the series, Three Wrong Turns in the Desert (Loose Id, 2010) while we’re waiting. Three Wrong Turns was a Lambda Award finalist for Romance this year and it remains my favorite in the series, so far. Frankly, a lot of romance doesn’t bear rereading. I mean, it’s fun while it lasts, but…However, Plakcy is in a whole other league.
Young English teacher Aidan Greene is an innocent abroad caught up by accident into intrigue and adventure when ex-Navy SEAL and professional bodyguard Liam McCullough mistakes him for a client he had arranged to meet in a Tunis gay bar—think James Stewart in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. The client ends up dead, and when Liam asks Aidan to impersonate the dead man, the two are soon on a roller coaster ride through the Tunisian desert chased by secret agents for a million dollar prize.
Plakcy evokes the sensual and colorful North African desert as a perfect romantic backdrop for one of the most romantic male couplings in the m/m genre.
But Plakcy avoids the over-seriousness of so much romance and this adventure has as many laughs as Indiana Jones. In the amusing opening scene of mistaken identity and intention, Aidan thinks Liam is trying to pick him up, while Liam thinks Aidan is the client he’s been assigned to body guard:
The white wine in this place tastes like horse piss. You’ve got to drink the red.’…Aidan’s dick sprang to attention. ‘Have you tried it?’ he asked. ‘Horse piss?’ Liam laughed, ‘You bet, Camel piss too. Horse is saltier.’ He beckoned to the bartender and said something in Arabic. Aidan caught the words Vieux Magon, which he assumed was the name of the wine…Aidan was too astonished to even tell the man his name. That fact that his fantasy had come to life, and was talking to him, was so surprising, so erotic, that all he could do was nod along. The bartender brought two balloon glasses of rich, ruby-colored wine, and Liam said, ‘Let’s take a table.’…Up close he smelled like lavender…’We’re going to be spending a lot to time together,’ Liam said. He smiled, and Aidan’s heart did a quick flip-flop. ‘So let me spell out some ground rules. I have to know where you are all the time, and if I say you can’t go somewhere, you can’t go. You don’t know Tunisia like I do.’ He took a sip of wine. Aidan just stared at him. Who the hell did he think he was? And he’d thought Blake was controlling.
Plakcy said that he wanted to write an adventure that just happened to have two gay guys as protagonists. His publisher thought that he needed to move the gay romance front and center for the second novel in the series. Yet the reader’s dick will scarcely think that the gay love scenes have been underplayed in this very erotic first coupling between Aidan and Liam. Plakcy may drive his plot through the device of misdirection, but the reader certainly won’t be taking a wrong turn to pack this book in their beach bag.