Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Another F-Word by Lissa Brown

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: CreateSpace, January 2013
Pages: 238

Growing up in a small mountain town in Tennessee, Rory Calhoun Wilson was a good boy, but never interested in sports or other "boy things" as his father would have preferred. Instead, he shared his mother's interest in gardening, and got a considerable amount of bullying from his schoolmates, eventually leading to an insurmountable riff that caused his father to leave the home. Rory manages to survive, with help from his mother, his liberal grandparents, and some supportive straight friends. His first love ends in a devastating event that he would carry around for the rest of his life. 

Ms. Brown presents a very impressive story that hits a bulls eye on several levels, as a coming-out/coming-of-age story, a lesson on the damage caused by physical or cyber bullying, understanding the challenges faced by educators trying to encourage diversity and tolerance, and how parental priorities have to evolve when involved with a gay or lesbian child. The story and its characters are realistically imperfect, with positive attitudes despite occasional doubts and fears. This is an outstanding read for anyone, from teen to seniors, and much recommended. Five stars out of five.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Master by Colm Toibin

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 338

Colm Toibin captures the mind and heart of Henry James, a novelist and playwright born into one of America’s first intellectual families two decades before the Civil War.  James left his country to live with the privileged artists and writers in Paris, Rome, Venice and London. He lived the simple, lonely life that most dedicated writers live, often locked in a room with typewriter and his imagination. And when in public, he studied people and situations for inspiration for his stories.

Toibin captures the loneliness and longing, the joys and despair of a man wedded to his art, but never to a lover. Toibin suggests that James was gay, but paints a picture of a man who never resolved his sexual identity, and whose attempts at intimacy inevitably failed. Time and again, James, who is considered the master of psychological subtlety, is incapable of understanding his own heart and passionate longings.

Toibin doesn’t tell a story of James’ life so much as he paints a detailed portrait of the writer’s perspective on life, love, death, and art. Toibin paints this portrait with supple, exquisitely modulated brush strokes that I found emotionally tense and moving.

I was reminded somewhat of how Michael Cunningham captured the mind and soul of Virginia Woolf in his novel The Hours. In the same way, through the eyes and heart of the artist, the reader sees the mystery of art itself. I found it utterly brilliant.

With superlative prose and a deep understanding of the writer’s life, Colm Toibin demonstrates that he, too, is a master.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Fourth Estate, 1999
Pages: 226

In 1920’s London, Virginia Wolf’s rebellious spirit is fighting against her madness as she attempts to make a start on her new novel. Two decades later, a young wife and mother, broiling in a suburb of Los Angeles, yearns to escape and read her precious coy of Mrs. Dalloway. And Clarissa Vaughan roams Greenwich Village in 1990’s New York to buy flowers for a party she is hosting for a dying poet.

Moving across the decades and between England and America, this novel intertwines the stories of three unforgettable heroines, refracted through the prism of a single day. Cunningham brings these women’s lives together in a creative way, and with rare skill.

Thought I am not an enthusiastic fan of Cunningham’s other novels, I can sum The Hours up in one word: Brilliant.

Cunningham paints vivid portraits of three women in three distinctly different times and settings. Their lives resonate with association as Cunningham explores the ideas of duty, sexuality, aesthetic creativity, the boundaries between sanity and madness, and suicide. 

The prose shimmers with the grace of a ballet. The connections between the three storylines are both subtle and powerful. The author has produced a work that can only be regarded as high art.  It is moving, intelligent, and unforgettable. It has a number of gay characters and touches on gay themes without being a gay story.

This is my third reading, and I’m sure I’ll continue to return to it again and again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Match Maker by Alan Chin

This review was posted at the Joyfully Jay website and can be read in its entirety at http://tinyurl.com/cwxfmnj

Rating: 4.75 stars

Buy Links:  Amazon | All Romance
Length: Novel

There are times when writing a review becomes a bit of a burden. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book, but because my adoration of it seems difficult to express. When I started to read Match Maker by Alan Chin, I didn’t expect it to become one of those books. As I mentioned in a previous review, sports aren’t really my thing. Those sports books I have read have done a good job of presenting a rousing story within the framework of the sport, while perhaps shining a spotlight on the discrimination the players face. This book does those things and so much more. It’s a book about tennis, yes, but also is also deeply rooted in Eastern philosophy, delves deep into the homophobia that surrounds it, and also presents an underlying theme of choices and the monumental impact they have on our lives. This is a piece of literature that should be read, savored and absorbed.

Daniel Bottega is a tennis instructor at a local country club. He spends his days instructing wealthy men and women in the sport. It’s not what he was meant to do. He was coaching his lover and rising tennis star, Jared Stoderling, on the pro tour until they were forced out when a photo was exposed that confirmed their sexuality. Daniel has been biding his time as a coach and Jared has found his solace in the bottle. Their once beautiful relationship has hit rock-bottom, and it has left Daniel wondering if Jared will ever be able to pull himself back from this abyss.

Connor Lin is a rising tennis star, only 18 years old, and under the thumb of his controlling father. Mr. Lin agrees to let Connor train with Daniel, but before he does, Daniel is up front with Connor about the challenges that he may face by associating with him. While Daniel’s sexuality is a surprise to him, Connor moves forward in their training and Daniel’s able to help him become one of the best tennis players in the world. Along the way, Daniel recruits Jared as Connor’s doubles partner, and this decision, while not easily accepted by his lover, is the turning point for the two.

Together with Spencer, Connor’s best friend; Shar, Connor’s trainer and love interest; and a host of interesting supporting characters; Jared, Connor, and Daniel confront the tennis world together. Jared realizes his potential and tries yet again to defeat the homophobia that brought him down once before. Daniel continues to train his two boys to be champions. And Connor struggles with his desire to dominate the tennis courts, which is at odds with his real dream, to become a doctor.

At the center of it all is Daniel. The story is told from his point of view, which I found to be an interesting choice. He isn’t one of the tennis stars, but a coach, watching everything from the outside. It is a perspective that is rarely taken, but I enjoyed Daniel’s voice so much, it was easier to accept being removed from the action, in a sense. Daniel’s relationship with Jared is a never-ending journey through peaks and valleys. The two met when they were young and finally acted on their feelings when they were teenagers. Chin’s beautiful description of the roles that became apparent to Daniel even moments after they first have sex explains how love works between these two.

Even at that age, I knew from the way he offered himself to me that I would love him and he would accept my love. Those were our destined roles: me the lover, he the loved. He would always maintain an aloof control, while I orbited him like a lesser moon.

This sounds like an imbalance in the relationship and, in a way, it is. There are times when Jared’s selfishness and stubbornness are so frustrating, you want to throw your e-reader at the wall. But Daniel continues to support him through it all. One of my favorite things about this book is their relationship. So often, a book will be about the passion and excitement of a new relationship, but in this case, we’re given a glimpse into the connection between two souls, who struggle and are imperfect but who love each other deeply and are willing to work through whatever comes in their way. In the end, it pays off. Daniel’s patience through Jared’s alcoholism and Jared’s concern about Daniel while he also goes through an extremely trying time end in a place of well-earned contentment and bliss.

While this book also gives an in-depth description of the discrimination against gay men in sports, and I was touched by the struggle as well as the fight, the biggest takeaway from this novel was, for me, the focus on the choices that we make and the impact it has on our lives. Connor’s grandfather really puts things in perspective as he describes the horrific choices he has to make in order to make a life for his family in America, and it has an impact on all of the characters as well as me as the reader. Often in this book, things could go one of two ways, and the choice, whether good or bad, has drastic consequences. Jared chooses to fight and it changes the course of both he and Daniel’s lives. Daniel is involved in a terrible tragedy that requires him to make a choice about the kind of man he’s going to be. Connor has a difficult choice to make as well — whether to follow the money or follow his heart. I love a book that makes me think long after I finish it, and this one has definitely done that.

This book isn’t perfect. While telling the story from the POV of Daniel was intriguing, it kept the reader emotionally distant. It was difficult to really feel the impact of the action, especially that of the discrimination that Jared faces on the court, when we only see it from Daniel’s perspective.

The pacing of the book was not always consistent. A lot of things happened in this book, and Chin would move quickly through some fairly important periods and then stop and pay particular attention to a few days that don’t necessarily move the plot forward. While the language of this novel was often beautiful and full of imagery, sometimes it got bogged down in it and stopped the momentum of the story in its tracks.

I recommend this book without hesitation for lovers of sports books as well as those who just like a great piece of literature. It isn’t blatantly sexual, but has a sensuality and passion that pervades the story and leaves the reader changed by its passion and intensity. It is a grand accomplishment by author Alan Chin and I look forward to reading anything he publishes in the future.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks by Gillian Royes

Reviewer: Bob Lind, Echo Magazine
Publisher: Atria Books, December 2012
Pages: 464

While many think an island paradise as carefree, life is not easy in Largo Bay, Jamaica. The main industry is fishing, which no longer supports enough families, resulting in poverty and a lack of basic services, such as law enforcement. Progress is also held back by a religious, conservative native population, with tones of racism and homophobia making it an unfriendly (and possibly deadly) place for tourists. 

Eric Keller is a white American who took up residence in Largo fifteen years earlier, and had opened a hotel which was destroyed by a subsequent hurricane. With the help and partnership of Shad Myers, who works at the bar he salvaged from the hotel's debris, he has been contacted by an outside investor to rebuild the hotel, if they can work out plans to make it economically feasible. Knowing what this would mean to the local economy, Eric and Shad try to get the other locals to support their efforts, and Eric brings in his estranged adult son, Joseph, to help with the financial plans. Although Joseph seems to hook up with a local's beautiful daughter, there are still lots of rumors, some based on one of his previous visits, that Joseph may be a "batty" (gay) man. In his role as unofficial peacekeeper, Shad tries to find the source of the comments and outright death threats directed at Joseph, and keep him safe without jeopardizing the plans for the hotel. It's a journey that takes them all to levels they never imagined. 

Ms. Royes calls this a sequel to her earlier novel, "The Goat Woman of Largo Bay," but it does not rely on that book for a complete understanding and enjoyment of this one. It is well-written, engaging and suspenseful, and much recommended. Five stars out of five.