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04/19/2007


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.


Strangers Raise Thousands of Dollars for Bisexual Teen Kicked Out by Parents: VIDEO

Nick, a freshman at Kennesaw State University, was kicked out of his family's home in mid-October after his father and step-mother found out that he is bisexual. Left without a car, and with very few possessions (which his family threw onto the front yard while he was at work), Nick is now on the mend, having been taken in by a work relation, Steve Bevers. Bevers set up a crowd-funding page on GoFundMe to help Nick pay for a place of his own as well as a car that would allow him to get back and forth from his college.

NickbigeorgiaHuffPost reports on the effort:

"When I heard about what happened to Nick I was flabbergasted," Bevers said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "I couldn't understand how a parent could do that. While I'm sure there are multiple sides to the story, I just was amazed. I was hurt. The first thing I asked was, 'Does he need a place to stay? Does he need some money?'"

According to a statement on the GoFundMe page, Bevers believes, "[Nick] has felt that the people most responsible for loving and protecting him through anything have turned their backs and don't care where he's sleeping, or how he's going to feed himself." He added, "We're working to show Nick that he is loved, even by strangers. That the horrible acts of some people will not be enough to stop him, and that with the help of people everywhere, he can get through this."

In just a few days, nearly 400 people have donated more than $12,000.

Nick uploaded several videos over the past couple of weeks thanking those who have donated and telling his story. He has said that he is working on registering for his spring semester and plans to buy a car with the donated funds. Both Nick and Bevers have expressed their awe at the kindness of strangers.

In response to the already incredible success of the GoFundMe campaign, Bevers told The Huffington Post, "[I am] absolutely blown away. Amazed, humbled, and once again, I had my faith in humanity restored. Bad things happen -- that will always be the truth. But what this showed me is that people want to help. People want to give, and to trust."

Watch Nick tell his story, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Strangers Raise Thousands of Dollars for Bisexual Teen Kicked Out by Parents: VIDEO" »


Ghanaian President Would Rather Not Discuss Gay Marriage

Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama paid a visit to Kennesaw State University for the school's final portion of its year long study of the Republic of Ghana. The Year of Ghana marked the 29th annual country study for the University; next year, Japan.

MahamaghanaIn his discussion with University president Dan Papp, Mahama was cagey regarding his opinions on same-sex marriage, opting to discuss the Ghanaian public's feelings on the matter.  Earlier this year, however, Towleroad reported on his more staunchly anti-gay stance: "Homosexual conduct which is unnatural carnal knowledge of one person or another is criminal and punishable by the laws of Ghana."

The Marietta Daily Journal reports:

Mahama was asked on Monday whether he supported gay rights in Ghana, specifically gay marriage. 

“Well, like you’re saying, even here the question is not settled,” Mahama said, referring to how some states in the U.S. allow gay marriage and some do not. “It’s controversial. And it’s the same, it’s controversial everywhere else, especially in Africa. It’s a difficult situation, but I guess it’s something that –– it’s very difficult to comment on because often it creates more problems. People have a certain cultural hostility towards it, but I believe that laws must prevail. For instance, people must not be beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, but in my country there is a strong cultural hostility towards it.”

Mahama laughed when asked if he would support gay marriage in Ghana in the future. 

“It’s very difficult for me to ... I’d rather not comment on it,” he said. 

Mahama's visit to the University marks the first time the school has hosted a current head of state.


Georgian President Warns of Putin's Anti-Gay Influence in Ex-Soviet States

SaakashviliAt the United Nations General Assembly last week, outgoing Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili expressed growing concern that Russia's anti-gay law is being used by Putin to gain influence in ex-Soviet states. Buzzfeed reports that Saakashvili also used his address to rail against Putin's larger foreign policy, calling it "fueled by intolerance." 

Saakashvili says the Kremlin's embrace of anti-gay policies is Putin's last despereate attempt to rein in his old empire. "He had nothing to offer to his former zone of influence. He has no soft power. He has no economic benefits to offer them," Saakashvili says. "So what he's telling them: 'OK, Europe is promising you much more, it's a better market, they might give you subsidies, they might give you lots of new opportunities and openings. But what you should know is Europe is all about gay rights. If you go to Europe, your family values will be undermined, your traditions will be destroyed. So we as Ortodox unity, we should stick together.'"

The larger issue of Russia's using its anti-gay regime as a rallying point is vital to understanding Putin's underlying motivations and goals. Indeed, many ex-Soviet States such as Ukraine and Armenia have already followed in Russia's footsteps in considering "gay propaganda" bans of their own. Saakashvili's concern is that this wave of anti-gay pressure inspired by Russia's law may eventually spread to Georgia and lead to even greater hostility towards the country's LGBT community. Back in May, we reported on the horrific footage of thousands of people - led by Orthodox priests -attacking Gay Pride marchers in Tblisi, Georgia

Saakashvili, to his credit, acknowledged that Georgia still has a long ways to go before attitudes towards homosexuality line up with Westernized attitudes. But he doesn't see it as much more than growing pains. 

"It's all about way of life, it's not about gay pride or whether your son will become gay because you are in Europe or Russia," he said. "This is all about whether political opponents are held in prison, whether there is freedom of speech, free elections, meritocracy or nepotism, criminal authorities directing everything. It's really fundamental issues that are at stake." 


NEWS: Egypt, Google, Privacy, Lawsuits, Private Parts, Rape Culture

Road Clashes between protesters and police have turned deadly in Egypt as Security Forces invade Pro-Morsi sit-ins. 

Road That Russian TV host isn't done making homophobic remarks. Now he's taking victim-blaming to a whole new levelGoogle

 Road Google recently issued a brief in response to a class-action lawsuit brought against the company for invasion of privacy. In it, they argued that Gmail users cannot realistically expect for their emails not to be scanned. 

Road North Carolina's new oppressive voter registration law is facing another new lawsuit filed by a 92-Year-Old woman who was previously subjected to "literacy tests" before being allowed to vote. 

Road A hostage situation at a bank in rural Louisiana finally ended early this morning with the gunman dead and two hostages shot. 

Road San Diego mayor Bob Filner continues to face controversy as the national restaurant chain Hooters has announced that he is no longer welcome in any of their franchises. 

Road Those attending Aaron Carter's performance at Chicago's Market Days "got lucky" when the singer stripped his shirt off and began grabbing his crotch on stage. 

Road Until last week, it was the policy of authorities in Norfolk, Virginia to assume that all women who reported rapes were lying, until proven otherwise.  Aaron Carter

Road A Georgia teen was previously denied a heart transplant due to his prior run-ins with the law. Luckily, the hospital has announced that it has reversed its initial decision

Road A pair of brand new parents were forced to change their child's name from "Messiah" to "Martin" after a judge declared use of the name "unchristian".

Road Kanye West reportedly asked Anna Wintour to put Kim Kardashian on the cover of Vogue. Her response was less than supportive. 

Road Niall Horan flashed his bare butt all over British TV. It's okay, though, he was just showing off his new tattoo...

Road Nerd deity George Lucas recently welcomed a new baby girl with his newlywed wife. 

Road Kick-Ass himself, Aaron Taylor-Johnson recently appeared shirtless in an issue of Men's Health UK. Homeboy is looking pretty good...

Road Alachua County, best known as the home of the University of Florida, has announced new protections for its LGBT residents

Road Kristen Stewart is reportedly going to pursue a college degree. Let's hope she majors in something like public speaking...

Road Gwyneth Paltrow was reportedly at an Author's Night fundraiser in the Hamptons yesterday, and not everyone appreciated her attendance. 

Road "Ex-Gay" singer Donnie McClurkin was recently kicked off the performance list of an upcoming MLK memorial concert due to the "potential controversy" his attendance could bring. 


NEWS: Turner Field, Drug Sentences, The Deficit, Clinton 2016, Musicians, and Superheroes

 Road President Obama has announced the leader of its new independent committee that will be investigating potential ethics violations by the nation's surveillance programs. At the head of the committee is James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who has already previously misled Congress. Turnerfield

Road A Georgia man fell to his death last night at Atlanta's Turner Field during a match-up between the Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies. 

Road US Attorney General Eric Holder announced yesterday that he will work to cut mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses, stating that "too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long."

Road Current peace talks taking place between Israel and Palestine are facing potential problems as 26 long-term prisoners were moved by Israeli officials shortly before their release.

 Road North Dakota's U.S. attorney Timothy Purdon addressed a crowd of hundreds during a recent joint Pride Celebration hosted by Fargo and Moorhead, MN. During his impassioned speech, he told the state's LGBT citizens point-blank: "you have an ally". 

Road The U.S. Government announced yesterday that its budget deficit through July of next year will be 37.6 percent, and that the budget starting in September 2014 is on its way to having the smallest deficit in five years. 

Road Rihanna and Katy Perry recently reunited during a restaurant opening in NYC. No word yet as to whether there were any more "quasi-bi" antics this time around. 

Road Anthony Weiner, intentionally or not, teased a 2016 bid by Hillary Clinton for President of the United States, telling Buzzfeed that he "knows his wife's role" in the upcoming campaign. 

Road Adele is currently in talks to make a cameo appearance in Mathew Vaughn's upcoming film The Secret Service. If successful, she will be appearing in the film alongside David Beckham and Elton John. 

Road Those wishing to partake of fried food without the sting of racism can breathe a little easier

Road The Wanted released a new music video. Apparently, they also own the night. Who knew? Batman Wedding

Road Lady Gaga committed another possible fashion faux-pas in her quest to obtain even more "Applause". 

Road Meanwhile, Madonna was possibly channelling her uber-butch self a little too much during a recent paintball game. 

Road Breaking Bad continues with its ultra-violent final season.

Road Robert Downey, Jr continues to roll in it after new endorsement deals follow him after his successes with The Avengers and Iron Man 3

Road Torn between you love for your hubby and your love for Batman? Can't decide how to properly honor them both. Just do what these two guys did!


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