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04/19/2007


Janette Jenkins' 'Firefly': Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

This short, beautiful novel takes place over a brief period in 1971, as the British playwright and composer Noël Coward, in the final years of his life, suffers from a weak heart and a slipping mind. Having fled both the gray skies and the high taxes of London, Coward spends his days at his Jamaican estate, Firefly, sunbathing and painting and sharing the occasional dinner or (more often) drinks with friends. But mostly he reminisces, increasingly disoriented as he slips between his diminished present and his glorious past. 

FireflyI can think of only a few books (Paul Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers among them) that evoke so movingly a consciousness adrift in old age. It’s a strategy that allows Jenkins access to Coward’s whole biography, while freeing her from any burden of biographical linearity or exhaustiveness. The book shifts with virtuosic fluency between the bright heat of Jamaica and London’s chill damp, bringing childhood memories, artistic triumphs, and sexual conquests to life with exquisitely curated detail.

We see Noël as a boy, speculating about the lives passing in the houses he can see from his bedroom window, and then, imagining himself being watched in turn, giving “a flick of a bow” as he lets the curtain drop. A little later, after his first sexual encounter, “colliding and laughing” with another boy on the wet rocks by a stream, “he can see a frog springing from the bank side; a splash as it leaps into the water.”

Jenkins’ Coward isn’t always a pleasant character, especially in the present-day scenes. He’s always ready with a withering remark, and he lashes out, at times violently, at the Jamaican servants on whom he depends for the most basic tasks. (When, with great difficulty, he manages to do up his own shirt buttons, “he doesn’t know whether to shout, ‘Hurrah!’ or to burst into tears.”) But he still possesses, at least in snatches, the quick and sometimes cutting wit that fills his plays. “Oh, you know everyone,” one unlucky acquaintance says to him over dinner. “‘No,’ says Noël, ‘Everyone knows me.’”

One of the most moving aspects of Jenkins’ portrait is how clearly she shows that the very wit for which he’s famous has become a prison for Coward, an elaborate armor that no longer enables expression, but prevents it. Coward tosses off stylish witticisms and ironic bons mots with ease, but statements of genuine emotion seem beyond him, even as his inner life throbs with feeling. When asked whether he loves his companion of three decades, Graham Payn, the best Jenkins’ Coward can manage is “We’ve certainly had our moments.”  

Janette-jenkinsPayn and other friends make appearances in these pages, but for the most part Coward has left them behind, retreating to a small studio at some distance from the main house. Here, through most of the book, he’s attended only by Patrice, his Jamaican servant. Twenty-two, desperate to escape Jamaica, excited by the prospect of life as a waiter in London (his dream is to work at the Ritz), Patrice’s chatter and enthusiasm are juxtaposed with the jaded cynicism of Coward, who at the end of a brilliantly accomplished life seems nearly finished with the world and its delights.

It’s the relationship between Coward and Patrice—patient and caretaker, patron and supplicant, master and servant—that provides the emotional center of the novel. Jenkins has made a vivid, caustic, funny, deeply sympathetic portrait of an artist who is finally as limited as he is brilliant. “Hearts aren’t meant to be noticed, they’re just meant to work,” her Coward thinks as he struggles to finish the afternoon walk his doctor has prescribed. As the novel comes to its at once delicate and devastating end, it’s a different working of the heart he can’t ignore.

Previous reviews...
Gengoroh Tagame’s ‘The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame’
Jason K. Friedman’s ‘Fire Year’
David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’
Thomas Glave’s ‘Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh’
 
Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. He is currently an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.


Sofia Coppola to Adapt Gay-Themed Memoir 'Fairyland'

Fairyland

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father, is headed to the big screen with Sofia and Roman Coppola producing and Sofia Coppola and Andrew Durham co-writing the screenplay, ScreenDaily reports:

Sofia Coppola and Roman Coppola will produce the film. Sofia Coppola and Andrew Durham will co-write the screenplay.

Fairyland is a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s cultural scene in the 1970s and ’80s, both before and after the AIDS epidemic. Abbott’s father, the poet and gay activist Steve Abbott, would later die of AIDS.

Said Coppola:

"It’s a sweet and unique love story of a girl and her dad, both growing up together in 1970’s San Francisco. I think it will make an engaging and touching movie on a subject I’ve never seen before."

Our book critic Garth Greenwell agreed. Check out his review of the book HERE if you missed it.


Gengoroh Tagame’s ‘The Passion Of Gengoroh Tagame: Master Of Gay Erotic Manga’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

PassionI tend to cover my eyes at horror movies, if I can’t avoid them altogether; I hate violence of all kinds; Law & Order has about as much gore as I can manage. And yet, when I first flipped through this collection of Gengoroh Tagame’s erotic manga, which is obsessed with the domination and  torture of burly, hyper-masculine men, all of it depicted in sexual explicitness, my reaction shifted quickly from cringing shock, to fascination, to something like amazement.

In the most brutal of the seven graphic narratives here (there are also helpful essays by Edmund White, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins), men are kidnapped, drugged, beaten, and raped in horrible ways, often for the entertainment of an audience. In no way is this book for everyone, as Tagame himself acknowledges in discussion with Kolbeins. But neither is it a book only for those whose fantasies tend in the direction of Tagame’s own. I loved this book by the time I finished it, and I found myself lingering over even very brutal panels, not out of titillation but wonder.

This has mostly to do with Tagame’s art. Even in depicting violence, his drawings have an extraordinary delicacy, conveying extremes of emotion—humiliation, pain, despair, but also arousal, relief and, in one story, heartbreaking devotion—with incredible economy. The essays offered here discuss Tagame’s debt to Japanese woodblock prints, and I found myself marveling at the fine textures of his work, the gorgeous patterning of clothing, floor tiles, landscapes, the hairs on a man’s legs or the sweat on his face. 

Most of Tagame’s panels are too explicit to be shared here. But my own introduction to his work came through this wonderful short video my brilliant friend Max Freeman made as part of an interview he did with Tagame for the Huffington Post. (Max is also one of the creators of the fabulous queer web series The 3 Bits, whose Kickstarter campaign you should rush over to support.) In the video, Max films Tagame making one of his sketches (this one is rated PG) and talking charmingly about how he became an artist. 

 

For all their beauty as art, the narratives collected in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame—appearing here for the first time in English—are also compelling as stories. They range across genres, styles, and historical periods, and often have elements of fantasy or science fiction. (One story features a drug that turns men into sexual beasts; another has a detective who receives psychic revelations through sexual experiences of certain kinds.) Though all of them have at their center sexual interactions defined by domination and submission, not all of them are brutal. In four of the stories, the sex is consensual, and in my favorite, the very moving “Exorcism,” a world of samurai warriors is the unexpected setting for almost unbearable tenderness. 

TagameIt may be precisely this emotional range that lifts Tagame’s manga. In “Missing,” a story of political kidnapping that has some of the most excruciating scenes in the book, what seems like an unremittingly dark narrative transforms suddenly into a story of love, if of a disquieting kind. These kinds of moves elevate Tagame’s stories above simple narrative frames for sexual acts, and they kept me dizzied and invested as I read. As did the intelligence that's everywhere evident in these pages, a restless interrogation of phenomena with which we’re all complicit, whether the ritualization of violence in sport and entertainment or the cult of masculinity that Tagame’s stories repeatedly undermine and exploit.

I don’t think it’s likely I would have found this collection without Max’s video and the recommendation of other friends. Had I stumbled upon it in a bookstore, I’m fairly sure I would have set it down after the briefest of glances. But reading it through I felt what is one of my measures of meaningful art: having spent time in Tagame’s imagination, I turn from it with a richer sense of the world. As I say above, this book certainly isn’t for everyone—but don’t be too quick to conclude that it isn’t for you. 

Previous reviews...
Jason K. Friedman’s ‘Fire Year’
David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’
Thomas Glave’s ‘Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh’
Duncan Fallowell’s ‘How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. He is currently an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.


Gay Details Removed from U.S. Version of Morrissey Autobiography

3_morrissey

A two-year relationship Morrissey had with photographer Jake Owen Walters has been edited out of the version of Smiths frontman Morrissey's Autobiography published in the U.S. by G.P. Putnam, SPIN reports:

MorrisseyWhen the book first hit shelves in the U.K. via Penguin Classics, one of the major revelations came via the anecdotes that detailed Moz's time spent with the man. Though the book didn't specify whether they were lovers, the author's fondness is quite clear.

SPIN reports that not only does the U.S. edition remove a photograph of Walters as a boy included in the UK version, it also deletes other details:

It also seems Walters' name has been removed from a story about a night out with Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. WENN reports that these are two of "many details" that have been modified or redacted for this version of Autobiography. The two-year relationship, which inspired Moz to dub himself humasexual, took place in the mid-'90s.


Jason K. Friedman's 'Fire Year': Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

Fire YearIt’s not surprising that a collection centered on gay Jewish experience in the American South would be filled with outsiders. The seven stories in Jason K. Friedman’s rich, funny and finally very moving debut all feature characters who feel like transplants in a strange land, even though often enough it’s the land to which they were born.

In several of these stories, sexuality is among the reasons for this sense of displacement. In “Blue,” the opening piece, a boy takes refuge in religion after a night watching hotel porn, when he realizes his excitements are different from those of his classmates. In “Reunion,” a forty-year-old gay man returns home from New York to find himself embroiled in a brief and bewildering affair with the star athlete of his class, now married with kids. “A little air started to leak in around the edges of the me who was filling the space of my body,” the narrator says, “the confident new me I was presenting." 

But these characters’ sense of apartness persists even when sexuality in itself is no longer a source of conflict. In “There’s Hope for Us All,” the book’s longest story and also one of its best, a young art historian finds himself working at a small museum in Atlanta, having failed to find an academic job after earning his Ph.D. from Yale. Adrift in the sprawling urban landscape of the New South, “a city of suburbs and ring roads,” and estranged from his Guyanese boyfriend, he makes a discovery that will bring him sudden fame and also a fuller sense of his own isolation. 

Friedman has already been compared to Philip Roth, and the first two stories here have something of Roth’s erotic comedy and brilliant sense of Jewish life in the suburbs. Salvatore Scibona, who selected Fire Year for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, also invokes Saul Bellow in characterizing Friedman’s work. But as I read this collection, I found myself thinking most often of the third in that trio of 20th-century Jewish American greats, Bernard Malamud, whose stories and novels are sriking, like Friedman's stories, both for their elegance and for the extraordinary compassion they show for their characters. 

Jason_Friedman_Photo This compassion is most evident in the book’s tremendously good title story, the last piece in the collection and the only one that takes place outside of America. In an unspecified country in an unspecified time, a boy comes of age in a Jewish town cursed to burn every seven years. The son of a great Rabbi, feared for his mysterious tie to the fires that plague the town, Zev’s own fears center on the desire that seems to blight his life, separating him both from his father and from the brother he loves, making him “a sapless tree, a dry well.” With its gorgeous, surprisingly redemptive end, “Fire Year” is among the best stories I’ve read all year.

Having recently published Caitlin Horrocks’s tremendous first collection of stories, and with Kyle Minor’s much anticipated second collection out in February, Sarabande Books is cornering the market on exciting young writers of short fiction. Fire Year is an excellent addition to their list. Friedman’s bio suggests that he may have a novel in the works; if it’s anything like these terrific stories, I can’t wait.

Previous reviews...
David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’
Thomas Glave’s ‘Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh’
Duncan Fallowell’s ‘How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits’
Frank Bidart’s ‘Metaphysical Dog’



Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. He is currently an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.


Ricky Martin Stops By GMA to Share the Inspiration Behind His New Children's Book: VIDEO

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Santiago the DreamerIn celebration of the release of his first children's book, Santiago the Dreamer in Land Among the Stars, Ricky Martin stopped by Good Morning America to share why his experience as a father inspired him to become a children's author in the first place.

Later, Martin was also tested on his knowledge of children's books with a quiz on classics like Where the Wild Things Are and Green Eggs and Ham.

Check it out, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Ricky Martin Stops By GMA to Share the Inspiration Behind His New Children's Book: VIDEO" »


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