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Book Marks

by Richard Labonte - SGN Contributing Writer

Between the Lines
by Bobbi Marolt
(Bold Strokes, $16.95)

The climax comes late, literally, in this emotionally complex story about two wealthy gal pals whose past secrets keep getting in the way of their happily-ever-after future. Blockbuster romance writer Gail Prescott discards lovers like soiled Kleenex, shying away from commitment because she's haunted by past tragedy. So she wards off the professional and personal advances of acclaimed British actress Tannen Albright, herself haunted by the role she played in the death of her husband. Both women are weighed down by their emotional baggage, even as Albright moves into Prescott's swank home for weeks on end. The women snuggle on the couch for late-night movies, dine together, swim together, party together, caress each other - it's the female equivalent of a bromance! - but can't quite tumble into bed together. Marolt's novel of passion denied and consummation delayed builds with agonizing fits and starts to, no surprise, an inevitable lusty conclusion. It's a journey to sexual fulfillment bristling with smart, intense dialogue between two characters who are definitely more than women-loving-women romance novel stereotypes.

The Family Man
by Elinor Lipman
(Houghton Mifflin
Harcourt, $25)

Here's proof that a straight writer can get a Gay character just right - though it helps that Henry Archer, the genteel homo at the heart of Lipman's charming social satire, is something of a character (and caricature) of manners. Henry is a well-heeled gentleman attorney, now mostly retired to his exquisite Manhattan townhouse. His life is somewhat lonely, if settled - until Henry's ex-wife, Denise, anguished that her dead second husband's greedy sons have inherited the estate, reenters his life. Soon after, so does Thalia, his now-grown stepdaughter, who he last saw when she was two years old. The plot is decidedly dizzy, as Denise schemes to keep her six-bedroom Park West apartment, Thalia is hired by a public relations firm to be a beard for an up-and-coming actor and Henry rediscovers love with a man who hasn't told his elderly mother that he's Gay. Lipman captures cultural zaniness with impeccable grace, and though her novel is the very definition of light reading, her mastery of snappy dialogue and screwball plotting is irresistible.

Mental: Funny in the Head
by Eddie Sarfaty
(Kensington Books, $15)

Let's usher the comparison elephant out of the room. Augusten Burroughs, David Sedaris: goodbye. Sure, Sarfaty's slice-of-life whimsy echoes those bestselling humorists, but without the former's whiny voice and the latter's hyperbolic tone. Sarfaty's wickedly witty essays - drawn from his offbeat family, his job in a dysfunctional high-end pickup bar, his wacky standup comedy career and his dating and relationship ups and downs - are infused with distinctive self-deprecating wisdom. In one of the nine meaty pieces, the author recounts a poignant overseas trip with his aging parents; the humor is infused with equal parts frustration and devotion. In another, he details a stint as a comedy teacher, culminating in a mostly triumphant stand-up comedy graduation by his oddball class - including a foulmouthed granny and a wisecracking adolescent - at a Washington, D.C. drag club. In "The Eton Club," he writes with compassion about queens of a certain age who gather at the gentleman's bar where he serves drinks and soothes patrons. Sarfaty is a master humorist; better yet, he's a gifted storyteller.

Death in Key West
by Jeffrey Round
(264 pages, $20)

World-wise 31-year-old Bradford Fairfax, a mysterious special agent, hopes to get away from it all in Key West with his well-endowed, blue-haired 21-year-old beau, Zach Tyler. But there's no rest for the foes of the wicked. The rambunctious duo's New Year's romp at a clothing-optional Keys hotel is sidetracked by the death of opera-singing drag queen James Quentin Ashley Vanderbilt III, shunned scion of a pedigreed and power-hungry Florida family. Suspects abound: A hunky pool boy hustler; a smooth-talking pseudo-New Zealander; the sleazy owner of a club where poison-laced makeup kills drag queens; the dead man's thuggish companion; and a relentlessly menacing father shamed by his son's Queer life. Round, who introduced his sexy sleuths in The P-Town Murders, packs oodles of plot into a fast-paced story, which ranges from a steamy hotel poolside to a croc-infested island. Given Round's pell-mell mix of breezy dialogue, erotic interludes - the lads can't keep their hands off each other - and a ghostly, supernatural subplot, this mystery nicely straddles several other genres.

Featured Excerpt
As I expect, Chuck does well. His old-school, grandfatherly appeal is a hit in more ways than one, and he's the recipient not only of generous applause, but also of Mr. Howell's phone number. Although he's not Gay, I can see that he loves the attention, and I imagine him taking the guy home, getting chucklefucked, and explaining to his parents why the parrot is suddenly saying things like, "I'm not Gay; I just like it up the ass." His parents, both well into their 90s, are actually there downing margaritas with the boys. I find the look of parental adoration on their faces charming and creepy at the same time. -from Mental, by Eddie Sarfaty

Footnotes
LETHE PRESS PUBLISHER Steve Berman, who uses print-on-demand technology for his books, has now launched a PoD magazine "devoted to the two sorts of writing I love most - speculative fiction and Gay-themed stories. The debut issue of Icarus, Summer 2009, features short fiction by Jeff Mann, Tom Cardamone, Jameson Currier and Joel D. Lane, along with poetry, interviews and book reviews. For subscriptions ($13): www.magcloud.com& PIONEERING GAY CARTOONIST Howard Cruse is also going the PoD route, with From Headrock to Claude, a compilation of his comix work from 1976 to 2008. Cruse edited the first four issues of Gay Comix in the late1970s, and is author of Stuck Rubber Baby, Wendel All Together, Dancin' Nekkid with the Angels and Early Barefootz. For information: www.howardcruse.com& WILLIAM J. MANN, whose new Gay novel, Object of Desire, has just been published, and Greg Herren's, whose newest Chanse McCleod Gay mystery, Murder in the Garden District, is coming in October, have collaborated on a straight-themed thriller, All the Pretty Dead Girls, by "John Manning"& LOS ANGELES ACTOR, playwright and acting teacher Michael Kearns remembers Robert Chesley (Jerker) and James Carroll Pickett (Dream Man), two writers claimed by AIDS, in The Drama of AIDS: My Lasting Connections with Two Plays That Survived the Plague, coming in October from Heinemann.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about Queer literature since the mid-'70s. He can be reached in care of this publication or at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.

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