Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive by Vanessa Libertad Garcia

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Fiat Libertad Co.
Pages 60

This slim book (about 60 pages) is a collection of twenty-three vignettes. Most of these pieces are poems, some are micro-stories, and others seem to be simply ramblings and gibberish. Each entry illustrates a few moments or hours in some person’s rather miserable life.

It took me almost half the book to begin liking the images that popped out at me like a Warhol painting. These are a gritty and unapologizing glimpse of the underbelly of a society gone mad. These characters are desperate, disenchanted, alcoholic, drug addicted, and some are suicidal. Yet, woven within this fabric of stark wretchedness is a glimmering hope for finding love, or a successful job, or simply being able to pay the bills or show up for work on time. It is a reminder that even so close to the gutter, there is always hope, that we strive to be good. That seems to be the human condition, striving against the overwhelming tide.

This book is not for everyone. No one here is finding love, or even comfort. Yet there is a certain honesty to the characters who struggle to find meaning in a world that is moving too fast for them. They are filled with raw tormenting emotions, but seem to lack self-pity. They accept their sexuality, yet can’t seem to navigate to a place of comfort with it. Reading this book was like watching a drunken bag lady passed out on a doorstep; I wanted to look away, but found myself fascinated by the descriptions thrown at me.

Let me leave you with some of my favorite images:

“Celebrities. Human beings turned deities by a society of sleep walking spectators. From the alarm to the car to the office to happy hour and back home to a bottle of wine and TIVO. Bought images engulfing us in a web of stories passed off as convictions that turn religion. So forms the pattern of an American mind”

“it was gonna be a fun night. It was Wednesday and I was unemployed. Last 20 bucks in the bank, but it doesn’t matter because life will work out. Life is working out. I should go work out. Life’s not the problem, I a . . . FUN! We gonna have fun tonight, baby! I should be reading a book about Georgia O’Keeffe and how much she liked pussy. Pussy inspired her success, maybe I’ll be cultured after that book. Really cultured, not half cultured the way being raised in LA makes--- Tonight is going to be fun, I can feel it.”

And my personal favorite:

“Today, November 4th, 2008, dawns a different morning.

The North American continent, excluding Canada, Mexico, and the others, decides the 44th president of The United States. Conservative Republican John McCain vs. Middle of the Road Democrat Barack Obama. The marketing campaigns of a Hard Knocks Nam’ Vet and a Charismatic Black Idealist duke it out for the top spot in this nation’s hierarchy. Traditional Values climb in the ring with the Eve of Change.

Vice Presidential running mate, Joe Biden, sits back, as the other Vice Presidential running mate, Sarah Palin, sends feminism back 5 decades. California debates gay marriage as church goers reflect on the terms “inherent worth” and “equal rights.”

The suffocating economy struggles to release itself from the greedy grip of a Republican Dictatorship dropping to its knees.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

First Person Plural by Andrew W.M. Beierle

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Kensington Books
Pages: 322

Owen and Porter Jamison are conjoined twins—one body, two heads, two functioning brains, and definitely two very dissimilar hearts. Growing up, they see themselves as a single entity, but as they near adulthood they metamorphose into completely opposite personalities. Porter is pure jock, outgoing, and charismatic. He compensates for his abnormality by being the best red-blooded, all-American football hero in the town. Owen is cerebral, artistic, and a romantic. He compensates by withdrawing into his own world.

As Porter begins dating a high school cheerleader, Owen becomes painfully aware that he has no interest in girls. As Owen explores his feelings, he admits to himself, and then to Porter, that he is gay, which causes a riff between the brothers, but of course, sharing one body, they can’t very well ignore one another. At first Owen is content to settle for unrequited crushes, but soon finds himself exploring his desires with other gay guys. This, naturally, widens the riff between the brothers and expands Porter’s fear that people will assume he is also gay. To survive, they must somehow learn to give and take, to be supportive as well as take what they need. But when it comes to something as personal as sex, can they do that?

I had a love/hate relationship with this book. On the one hand it is exceedingly well written, the characters are deeply drawn and sympathetic, and the situation is fascinating from the first page. I particularly loved the way the ending brought all the issues together without being overly sentimental. This book has all the elements of a really great, highly emotional drama, yet I constantly struggled with my suspension of belief—the idea that a two-headed boy could be the star quarterback at school and date the cheerleader was too much for my imagination to overcome. And that is only one example. These characters were constantly getting into situations where the rest of the world didn’t seem to notice they were a two-headed body. Had they been two bodies joined at the hip or chest—like the brothers in the movie Twin Falls Idaho—then I could have more easily been absorbed into the story, but as it was I heard a nagging voice all the way through the story, a voice whining: no way!

As hard as that issue was to swallow, I actually had a bigger issue with this tale. Once Owen determines he is gay, this tale becomes a series of coming out vignettes. First Owen tries to hide it from Porter, and has to come out to him. Then to their parents, then to Porter’s girlfriend, then to the girlfriend’s family, then…on and on it goes. I lost count of all the times the brothers attempted to hide Owen’s sexuality and then had to come clean to whoever it was they were hiding from. It didn’t take long to become tedious, and in some cases boring.

Still, those two issues aside, the last third of the books saves the day and I ended up pulling for both brothers. It is a unique plot that pushes all the right buttons at all the right times. I truly enjoyed this story, and I can highly recommend it. I look forward to reading more from Mr. Beierle, who I consider to be an exceptional talent.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

My Uncle’s Wedding By Eric Ross, Illustrated by Tracy Greene

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by CreateSpace (Feburary 2011)
Pages: 19

When an author pens a manuscript, the first thing s/he needs to do is determine the intended audience. In a children’s story, I suspect it becomes rather difficult to adjust the language to a particular age range. Knowing little about children, I can only guess that this book targets children from ages three to six, and in my opinion, does so masterfully well.

It is the charming story of the preparations for, and the ceremony of, a marriage of two loving men, as seen through the young eyes of Andy, the nephew of one of the men getting married. From Uncle Mike’s announcement that he plans to marry Steve, this story steps through each stage—ordering flowers, food, a cake, a new suit for Andy, and the ceremony itself—with simple prose and delightful illustrations.

Of course, this story is intended to do more that entertain; it also educates. It subtly illustrates to impressionable minds that there is no difference between same-sex weddings and hetrosexual weddings, and there is joy to be shared by everyone involved.

That’s it. Within the bare framework of this tale, beneath the surface of its colorful illustrations and simple phrases, lies a loving message of equality, a suggestion of acceptance. It is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children tolerance of all people, and I have yet to find a better tool to begin that lesson than My Uncle’s Wedding.

For more information about his book, go to