Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Final Curtain by Victor J. Banis

Reviewed by Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk

I recently came across Victor J. Banis’ ‘The Final Curtain’ in an upcoming anthology of collected gay stories “Red,” with authors William Maltese and JP Bowie. In his story Banis goes back to a mode of writing that was so popular in the late 19th century to the beginnings of the 20th century: of relating a story within the story itself, as in the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, W. Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad among many others.

Banis weaves his tale in a peopled bar with gay men about with the lead character sitting alone in the back and looking up at no one. The story that he relates hooks us in and we’re caught up with what is happening…but can it be retold? How does Gaylord fade away while Nick still has the sin of his disappearance upon him? Or does he? Banis doesn’t tell us but like all great storytellers he pulls us into the story till we’re at the end, more intrigued and puzzled but strangely fascinated to read it over and over again --it holds you that much. Some short stories can be more intriguing than horrendously long novels and Banis has a winner here.

Banis has painted numerous tales over the years, “The Why Not,” “The Man from C.A.M.P.,” “Longhorn,” “Lola Dances,” “Angel Land,” and the best non-fiction book written in some years “Spine Intact, Some Creases,” among countless others. This short story ‘The Final Curtain’ again shows him at his best, playful but serious as he still experiments with his creative powers and melds another tour de force made so alive and active by his talent. A short but mighty read! I recommend this wholeheartedly.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: The River In Winter by Matt Dean

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Queen’s English Productions
Pages: 397

Jonah Murray is a seeker. He lives a comfortable life – good job, nice home, mother who supports him – but after the death of his lover, he feels lost, and needs help finding his way. Couple that with a series of hate crimes, and Jonah is at his wit’s end. He seeks love, acceptance and identity, but is not sure where to look.

Jonah meets Spike Peterson, a porn star who lights a fire of lust within Jonah. But the lust and love that Jonah feels is not returned, as Spike uses Jonah and then tosses him aside. Spike only magnifies Jonah’s need to find companionship.

After having a breakdown, Jonah meets a counselor, Eliot Moon, who seems to be able to help him. He is invited to join a group of gay men, only to find that the therapist and the men in the group are all trying to become ex-gay men. Jonah feels a hard need for the support he finds within this group, but he knows that to be accepted, he must make sacrifices, that is, give up loving men. Can a gay man find happiness through celibacy?

This year’s Lambda Book Award Finalist, Matt Dean, takes us on an inner journey through a rather icy spot in one man’s life. This is a story that uses excruciatingly beautiful language. It is Dean’s remarkable voice and exquisite prose that makes this novel special, and worth reading.

As for the story, it started with an interesting hook, and made me experience a range of emotions, but then it began to wander, much like the protagonist, down a path with seemingly no direction. It didn’t take long before my interest level began to plummet. To compound the wandering, the prose, though quite beautiful, was very detailed in its descriptions, which slowed the pacing to a crawl. I love rich descriptions, but only when it advances the plot, which this all too often failed to do. These two elements combined to make this, at least for me, a dull read.

The story often spouts Christian doctrine, which I personally found distasteful. Christians, however, will no doubt be untroubled by it.

This story was sometimes poignant, and made me examine my own feelings I experienced during troubling times, and it did so with wonderfully gorgeous language, which is why, no doubt, it earned a Lambda Finalist Award. For readers who like a slow, beautifully written journey, with rich descriptions on every page, I can recommend this read.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Lonely War by Alan Chin

Reviewed by Bob Lind (Echo Magazine)
Published by Zumaya Boundless

Andrew Waters is a Chinese-American young man, who grew up in China, schooled by Buddhist monks. His family is forced to leave China at the start of World War II, and he enlists in the Navy, where his personality and intellect make him clash with most of his shipmates. His latent homosexuality also surfaces, and he develops a strong crush on one of the officers, who empathizes with his situation. When the ship is destroyed and the crew is taken to a Japanese P.O.W. camp, Andrew makes the difficult decision to agree to become the base commander's lover, in exchange for food and medicine needed for his shipmates - including his crush, who was attacked by a shark in abandoning the ship. He tries to keep his role a secret, using the story that he is simply cooking for the commander, as he did on the ship. But his true role is revealed, and Andrew is ostracized as a traitor by most of the men. As the war starts to draw to a close, Andrew also learns of plans that could jeopardize all of their lives.

I first became aware of Chin through his "Island Song" novel, which I thought was exceptionally creative and emotional. This is in the same vein, with complete and realistic characterizations of both the ship's crew and their captors, reinforcing the truth that nobody really "wins" in a war. Andrew is torn by his sense of honor and need to excel, now tempered by the realization that some people won't like him, no matter what he does, and further complicated by his budding sexual attraction to an officer. It's a roller coaster of conflicts, fears and desires, all rolled together in a well-written war novel you won't be able to put down. Five stars out of five.