Queer Book Reviews from QZE #17

These are book reviews that appeared in Queer Zine Explosion #17, published in August, 1999. All reviews by Larry-bob. For more book reviews, see Book Reviews from QZE 16 and Book Reviews from QZE 15

Remember, buy your books and CDs from local independent stores, not evil corporate chains or on-line mega-stores (the discount is equal to the postage at Amazon.com--so go to your local bookstore--you might actually meet someone.) Local stores can do special orders and get your books for you in days. Also request your local public library purchase books and CDs you like.

Po Man's Child by Marci Blackman. Po is trying to deal with her family's curse, a feeling of numbness that envelops. She deals with it by cutting herself; her sister deals with it through compulsive behavior; her brother first tries to deal with it through heroin, then the crutch of Allah. After a heavy cutting S/M scene with her white lesbian lover, Po checks herself into a mental hospital for a few days to recover. She also finds out that her father, her last living parent, has just died. Her brother wants her to check out of the hospital and come to the funeral. According to family legend, an ancestor was a slave who kept running away unsuccesfully and would then torture himself after his capture. This was the start of the curse. The book flashes back to Po's childhood and times between, as she and her relatives try to deal with the curse and life. (Manic D. Press, Box 410804, SF CA 94141 web: www.manicdpress.com)

All Ears: Cultural Criticism, Essays and Obituaries by Dennis Cooper. This is a collection of non-fiction essays by Dennis Cooper, best known for his monosylabically titled novels involving fucked-up gay youths. Most of the pieces deal with music, and many were published in venues such as Spin magazine. Cooper explains that these pieces are not as polished as his fiction, and he thinks of these as collaborations with editors. As he points out, the Sonny Bono piece has been rendered completely bland by editorial intervention, with the only hint of life being a comment from John Waters, who incredibly utters the cliche "team player." Oh yeah, beside the famous people stuff, there's article "AIDS: Words from the front," about HIV positive kids on the street, which was remixed into a chapter of Cooper's last novel, Guide. It's interesting to do a side-by-side comparison; names and phrasing changed; in the novel, there's a subplot where the narrator Dennis ends up having sex or something like it with one of the kids; that's not here. The pieces are largely arranged in chronological order (although the obituaries are all grouped at the end.) This makes it possible to read the book as a work with reoccuring characters, as in interviews and articles the same names pop up; the pieces are largely written in the present tense, a present tense that keeps rolling past life and death. Kurt Cobain in particular haunts the book. While still alive, he hovers at the edge of the Courney Love profile. His death is repeatedly referenced (though there is no specific obituary for him.) It's surprising how harsh Cooper is on William Burroughs, who is the subject of two pieces, an article on his shotgun paintings and an obituary; perhaps it's more accurate to say he's critical of the fame machine that surrounded Burroughs. Cooper manages to tease interest even out of the actor interviews with Keaunu Reeves (who knew he liked Big Black?) and a pre-Titantic Leonardo DiCaprio, wearing a barette in his hair. There is no pretense of journalistic distance; Cooper is there, interacting with the famous subject; he is our proxy. By including himself in the pieces, Cooper includes the audience and the ways in which we remanufacture meaning from commercial cultural art products; the ways in which we utilize music, movies, books and art are as or more important than the intentions of the creators. (Soft Skull Press, www.softskull.com)

Typical Girls: New Stories by Smart Women, edited by Susan Corrigan. The contributors (not a complete list) include Poppy Z Brite, Kristin Hersh, Christine Kieser (with the story of two women who work together at a record store and end up having a relationship and a band), Amy LamÄ (who runs the London queer club Duckie), and Go Fish's Guenevere Turner (with the story of the time her attempt to pick up a woman cabdriver ended up on national T.V.) (St. Martin's Press)

Hot off the Net edited by Russ Kick. A collection of erotic writing originally published on the internet. A variety of sexualities are represented - even bestiality with dolphins. There's also an article by Kick about erotic fan fiction, which takes characters, often from science fiction TV shows, and explores what would happen if the characters (such as Kirk and Spock) had sex with each other. (Black Books, PO Box 3155-HN, SF CA 94131-0155 www.blackbooks.com )

No Aloha by Deran Ludd. In an alternate world not so different from our own, where Ronald and Nancy Reagan have served seven terms, the U.S. has splintered, and Colorado has been under a religious dictatorship, a group of teenagers make their way across the remains of Denver. In the real world, oppressive governments based on religious fundamentalism or bigotry have resulted in mass human suffering (see former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, etc.) Maybe it takes seeing it happen to the country we know best to wake up Americans. And homeless kids in this country are not science fiction.

Gus, the oldest one, is a white kid who aspires to be a sumo wrestler. His girlfriend Maude is a black teenager who is the mother figure of the family the kids form. The youngest, Gladys, is an electronics whiz, cracking phone cards. They meet up with Walter, a cross-dressing enigma. Their initial goal is to get to the home of Carlos, a family man who used to pay Gus for sex. And they would also like to escape Colorado, and hope they could be resettled in Eastern Europe (a nice reversal.) Even the simulation of the nuclear family turns out to be inherently rotten, and its symbols must ultimately be destroyed.

Comparisons to Samuel R. Delany's "Dhalgren," another story of alternate family structures set in a post-apocalyptic city, are inevitable. This book even has a somewhat similar circular structure, with parallel events in the first and last chapter. But while Delany's autumnal city is in a sense a utopia, this one is not.

This is Ludd's second novel - the first was "Sick Burn Cut," and he was also a co-editor of the west coast anthology "Good To Go." (Semiotext(e)/Smart Art - www.semiotexte.org )

Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics by JosÄ Esteban Muľoz. This book explores the theoretical territory around art by queers of color, particularly performance art. Among the artists examined are comedian/performer Marga Gomez, Jean-Michel Basquiat, historical Harlem photographer James Van DerZee, filmmaker Isaac Julien, videomaker Richard Fung, Blactress Vaginal Davis, filmmaker Ela Troyano, performer Carmelita Tropicana, Pedro Zamora, Sara/Ricardo (the subject of two documentaries by Susana Aiken and Carlos Aparicio) and artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. The chapter on Vaginal Davis concentrates on Vag's performance as Clarence, a white militiaman, in concerts related to the album "The White to be Angry." Vag is also featured on the cover of the book. While some people may find the academic writing style difficult to get through, there are important insights here for those willing to do a little work. (University of Minnesota Press. www.upress.umn.edu )

The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America by Michelle Tea. Michelle Tea is known as an instigator of the touring women's spoken word group Sister Spit. Tea's first-person narrative finally describes a countercultural landscape that many of us have traveled through. Starting as a goth teenager in Boston in the late 80s, going through a period as a sex worker, finding she sexually prefers women to guys, and moving around geographically, Tea bemusedly recounts a life story and finds the humor even in sometimes unfortunate events. Like when she has a client who wants his teddybear to watch them have sex, and maybe he's videotaping the whole thing. When things are written in the first person we tend to accept them as true and even autobiographical. Tea doesn't codemn her past self's methods of coping with life, but she doesn't suggest this is the best way either. After partying, if someone says "I was so fucked up," that's simply a statement of fact. Just being fucked up doesn't make an interesting story, but this confession is so complex that's it's fascinating. (Semiotext[e]/Smart Art Press, PO Box 568, Williamsburg Station, Brooklyn, NY 11211. www.autonomedia.org)
Michelle's new book Valencia is published by Seal Press.

A Good Cuntboy is Hard to Find by Doug Rice. Doug Rice is a boy with a cunt. Wonder if he's ever heard the Artless song. Family desires wrote out. The making of Dougie's cunt. His Grandma Mugwump buried. Plagarized texts -- he's re-appropriated Kathy Acker. He covers Courtney Love covering Gold Dust Woman. As Acker pointed out, appropriation is not plagarism because you're not claiming you wrote the words -- it's more like a cover version. (Cyber-Psychos AOD, PO Box 581, Denver CO 80201. http://cyberpsychos.netonecom.net/cpbooks $5)

5x5 Singles Club by Michael McInnis, Rick Moody, Eileen Myles, Laurie Weeks, and Suara Welitoff. There are zines around bigger than this little mini-book, but I guess I'm reviewing it in the book section. Anyway, among the contributors are Eileen Myles, with an excerpt from "Cool for You" about working with retarded adults; Laurie Weeks' piece is a first-person narrative about the narrator's relationships with her sister and brother, haunted by the spectre of Angelique of Dark Shadows. (Primal Publishing, PO Box 1179, Allston, MA 02134. www.primalpub.com $4)

Sarah Schulman's novel Shimmer, reviewed in the last QZE, is now out in paperback.


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