No Ugly Cignets Here

A Wild Swan and Other Tales
by
Michael Cunningham

Illustrated by Yuko Shimizu

I’ve long been a fan of Cunningham and will happily read anything he writes – fairy tales included; these ones were a pleasure.

When I say writing, I mean literally the way individual sentences are crafted.

Ex.  It’s his lucky night. … Finally, cherries have appeared in all three of his slot machine windows. 

In classic show don’t tell style he didn’t just tell us “it was his lucky night,” or even that “he’d hit the jackpot”, instead, Cunningham gives us the momentary thrill of hitting it ourselves. “Finally, cherries have appeared in all three of his slot machine windows.”

He seems to be on a bit of a fairy tale kick at the moment. The title of his last book, The Snow Queen, was based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. (See my review of it here.)

And like the Polari first book prize winner of 2014 Fairy Tales for Lost Children Cunningham’s fairy tales are not meant for children  – at least not young children. They’re written for an adult audience. It’s kind of the reverse of going to a Pixar movie which is, ostensibly, aimed at children but with lots of hidden adult humour thrown in. These fairy tales are clearly aimed at adults but maintain the structure and fantasy elements typically at children.

He consistently takes the reader behind the scenes into the internal lives, hopes and desires of the main characters which I found gave added poignancy to the traditional morals these tales were originally designed to showcase.

Several of your favourites are here; Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk. Cunningham has renamed them; Her Hair, Beasts, Jacked. There were a few others that I’d forgotten and enjoyed being reintroduced to and one or two that I’d never heard of, which did not inhibit my pleasure in reading them.

Overall, an enjoyable and recommended collection by one of our foremost writers.

Gay Americans Abroad

What Belongs to You
by Garth Greenwell

and

Black Deutschland
by Darryl Pinkney

 

The New Yorker last week reviewed two books, fiction, both about gay Americans abroad. Speaking as a non-fictional gay American abroad it’s nice to find additions to this  classic genre . What Belongs to You is set in Bulgaria and Black Deutschland…well guess. I’m set in London – in a café at the moment.

Not having read them yet I can only postulate on them based on the fact that they were reviewed in TNY and that they’re both published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, the high holy of literary publishing. This means they obviously fall into the “literary” camp as opposed to the “commercial” one or TNY wouldn’t have reviewed them. That means no overtly happy endings, though you can assume someone will come to a deep realisation about themselves that they could only do somewhere where they don’t speak the language and which has the potential to change their lives but probably doesn’t.

Because they’re literary you can also assume that no one has good sex or fun sex, but probably lots of thoughtful sex. Indeed, one of the books (I won’t tell you which one so that you have to read both) is basically the story of a client and his hustler – “…the novel inhabits conventional motifs” as TNY duly notes though they do say that the author goes on to “renovate them” which I assume means the hustler doesn’t die of a drug overdose at the end.

TNY also notes that it’s …”fairly explicitly about shame, punishment, and disgust, among other things.” Sounds like fun no? I assume it’s not Fifty Shades of Grey type punishment.

I read the entire review of Black Deutschland and couldn’t quite figure out what the plot was which means there probably isn’t one. As my friend Rebecca Chance would say, there’s a situation not a plot – black gay American in Berlin in this case, but then how many literary books about black gay Americans abroad are there?

None of this is to imply that these are entertaining and enjoyable reads; they may well be and if I eventually read them I’ll let you know – or if you have already please feel free to comment.

What Belongs to You won’t be released until 7 April in the UK but Black Deutschland is available now. I wonder if they translate it into German if the title will be Schwarz Germany?

Cleopatra’s Wedding Present Unwrapped

Cleopatra’s Wedding Present
Travels through Syria
by
Robert Tewdwr Moss

Cleopatra’s Wedding Present was published in 1997 the year after its author’s death. He was murdered on the day he finished it.

The title refers to the fact that in antiquity Syria was given as part of Cleopatra’s dowry and thereby became an Egyptian possession.

I originally read it in the late 90’s. It’s stuck with me and comes to mind every now and then particularly with Syria so much in the news these days. The sub-title, Travels through Syria, is what Moss did back when that was still something one could do. It’s also where he met and had an affair with a Palestinian commando which he chronicled in this slim volume.

The original hardback (pictured) is hard to find these days, and apparently valuable if the resale value on Amazon is anything to go by (and I left mine…?), but it’s been reprinted and is available in a less attractively designed paperback edition. It’s well worth finding and reading.

Robert Tewdwr Moss was, needless to say with a name like that, not a Muslim writer, but if you’re interested in gay characters by Muslim writers check out this post on Five Muslims Who Wrote Gay Charters. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t personally read any of these books, at least not yet.

Give Rescued Heart a Forever Home

Rescued Heart 
by
Georgia Beers

Reviewed by A. L. Brooks

Set in a no-kill rescue shelter for animals, this book is introduced as part one of a series entitled the “Puppy Love” series. Whilst the title of the series sounds slightly frivolous, part one is not so. Georgia Beers, author of the Lambda award-winning “Fresh Tracks”, continues to present us with romances that have all the lovely, squishy stuff we want, but with characters who have flaws that make them less than perfect. And this latest offering is no exception. In fact, I found I enjoyed this one even more than some of her previous novels because one of the main characters, Lisa, is carrying some fairly weighty emotional baggage that means she often says or does things that literally make you wince. I like that. I like that it took me a while to warm to her. I like that in at least two scenes in the book, I was literally saying ‘What the f***?!’ out loud to myself because she’d been so heartless!

Lisa works full-time at the shelter, Ashley volunteers around her day job at a bakery. Lisa is cold, distant, and definitely keen to keep herself to herself. Ashley is sweet, but annoyingly passive, comfortable in her life without feeling the need to push herself to do anything more challenging. As the story unfolds you can’t quite imagine how these two will spark, but Georgia Beers is very good at slowly revealing the depth of her characters, and before you know it, who they are makes a lot of sense, and explains their behaviour up to that point pretty clearly. Which means that when the spark does ignite (because, of course, you know it will), it does so at just the right time and in a very believable way.

Interestingly, although the book then follows the fairly tried-and-tested formula of a bumpy road to happiness (misunderstandings, long silences, kiss-and-make-up scenes), it does so whilst revealing even more just how cold and thoughtless Lisa can inadvertently be, making you really want to reach into the pages and shake her! At some points you’re not even sure if you want them to get together, and I actually found that a truly enjoyable experience. It was nice not to feel totally loved-up about them both all the way through, and it kept me guessing a lot longer than a lot of stock romances do.

I also enjoyed the descriptions of the work done by the shelter, and it’s clear this is a subject matter close to Georgia’s heart. It came across as very well researched, and for me she struck just the right balance between telling us the reality of what the animals had been through before they were brought to the shelter versus standing on a soapbox shouting about the mistreatment of domestic pets. I was left in no doubt that there are some very evil people out there, but I wasn’t left thinking I’d purely read an advert for the admirable work such shelters do.

The book ends on a note that hints at what more there is to come from the series, either from Lisa and Ashley’s story, or perhaps from some of the other lesbian characters that have been introduced in this first instalment. I will certainly be eagerly awaiting that next chapter.

Guardian First Book Award Gets Physical

physical
by
Andrew McMillan

Winner of 2015 Guardian First Book Award

Physical is a slim volume of the collected works of McMillan. It’s split into three sections; physical, protest of the physical and degradation. The middle section is made up of one long poem while the first and third sections each contain several shorter ones. Continue reading

The Tea Machine

The Tea Machine
by
Gill McKnight

Reviewed by A. L. Brooks

Fancy a romp through space and time, visiting alternate realities (or are they parallel universes?) inhabited by Colossal space squid, a Roman Empire gone slightly out of whack, and lots of time for tea? Then this is the book for you. Continue reading

Good Gay Read Wishes You a Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

First, to wrap-up a detail from last year.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
was the winner of the 2015 Green Carnation Prize. It also won the Man Booker – in case you missed that one. Continue reading