Angels and Manners, by Cynn Chadwick. Bywater Books, 300 pages, $14.95 paper.

Carrie Angel is a working-class mother scraping by in Section 8 housing while apprenticing for her carpentry license, dueling with her demanding and emotionally abusive ex-husband for custody of her two teenage sons (one a feisty queer boy), and trying to contain her fiery temper. Jen Manners is a more hoity-toity woman – but, in the aftermath of an ugly divorce, she’s forced to move onto Carrie’s subsidized housing block with her aggrieved daughter, selling jewelry to get by. Lower-class and upper-class don’t blend well at first, but eventually the two women bond – a friendship forged in part through the three teens – in this in-touch-with-the-times novel about home foreclosures, government cutbacks and a degrading downward economic spiral. Carrie and Jen both start out straight, but they aren’t destined to fall in love – the lesbian twist involves a third woman. Instead, Chadwick’s expertly constructed novel (she was once a master carpenter) focuses on the process of women learning to discover their strengths and to trust themselves.

The Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 220 pages, $18 paper.

The male narrator in this essentially two-character novel comments on catching a peek of chest under his partner’s shirt, not blouse; the couple has sex in Central Park; both cruise passersby on the street. Does the two-year relationship (maybe more, maybe it’s over) this inventive book encompasses involve two men? Could be. After all, the mystery-gender character snored when sharing a bed with a woman friend on a college trip. On the other hand, the same character explains away not drinking on an early date by declaring, “I’m pregnant,” and then “cracking up” – because “he” is making a joke about abstaining, or because “she” is playing with a new beau’s emotional edginess about previous beaus? Levithan’s first novel for grown-ups – his several previous novels are targeted at young adult readers – is purposely, and triumphantly, enigmatic about gender. It’s also told entirely, from “aberrant” through “juxtaposition” and “kerfuffle” to “zenith,” as entries in a dictionary defining the arc of two people who hope they’re deeply in love – but who aren’t truly certain.

The Case of the Missing Boyfriend, by Nick Alexander. BigFib Books, 364 pages, $15.95 paper.

After charming readers in recent years with a series of winsomely eccentric, gay-centric romances (_50 Reasons to Say Goodbye_, Sleight of Hand), Alexander expands his storytelling reach with an engaging twist – the character missing a boyfriend is female ad executive CC, adored by colorful gay pals while yearning for an apparently unobtainable Mr. Right. The title is quite misleading; this is no mystery. Rather, it’s a sly reversal of your typical gay romance, focusing on a straight character – an endearing blend of youthful Auntie Mame (she’s nearing 40) and self-doubting Bridget Jones – who falls for a man who, distressingly, seems as gay as the male friends with whom he parties. The British author’s six previous books were written primarily for a queer audience, and gay readers will no doubt relish the queer content of this well-written seventh. It’s a slight stretch to compare Alexander’s fiction to that of, say, Armistead Maupin – but this slyly commercial novel could share the crossover appeal, to straight readers, of Maupin’s work.

Welcome to My World, by Johnny Weir. Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, 272 pages, $26 hardcover.

Yep. Johnny Weir is a big homo. In what he calls his quarter-life memoir, the flamboyantly controversial figure skater makes his queerness clear. Still a virgin until age 20 (“Figure skating, where jealously runs as rampant as rhinestones, is a fucked-up place to find your romantic future”), he writes that a relationship with his first boyfriend was stuffed into the closet, not by Weir’s choice but because of the U.S. Figure Skating Association’s don’t-tell demands. Those details aside, however, this isn’t really a coming-out life story. It’s a young man’s poised, poignant and powerful account of his passion, since age 11, for a grueling discipline that blends on-ice artistry and athleticism, both of which Weir embraces, along with a readily confessed flair for fashion: “Once I went through my growth spurt around seventeen and got my man body, I was ready to act like a man – and design my own costumes.” Weir doesn’t shy away from recounting his colorful public life, but this unexpectedly complex memoir also depicts a private homebody grounded in love of family, love for friends – and fondness for vacuuming.

Featured Excerpt

inadvertent, adj. You left your e-mail open on my computer. I couldn’t help it – I didn’t open any of them, but I did look at who they were from, and was relieved. indelible, adj. That first night, you took your finger and pointed to the top of my head, then traced a line between my eyes, down my nose, over my lips, down my neck, to the center of my chest. It was so surprising I knew I would never mimic it. That one gesture would be yours forever. ineffable, adj. These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.

  • from A Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan

 

Footnotes

BOLD STROKES BOOKS, launched several years ago as a lesbian press, continues to expand its gay male-interest titles. Coming in May: Greg Herren’s Who Dat Whodunnit, a Scotty Bradley mystery set in New Orleans just after the Saints’ Super Bowl victory, and Dale Chase’s The Company He Keeps: Victorian Gentlemen’s Erotica. Coming in June: Jess Farraday’s The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, a mystery set in nineteenth century London. Coming in July: David-Matthew Barnes’ Accidents Never Happen, bringing together a 39-year-old cruiserweight boxer and a college sophomore... POETRY BOOKS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Coming this month, Minnie Bruce Pratt’s Inside the Money Machine from Carolina Wren Press, poems about getting by in a tough economic world... APRIL BRINGS TORN, by C. Dale Young, poems exploring the byways of lust and blood, and of the heart, from Four Way Books... POET DAVID TRINIDAD has edited a posthumous collection of Tim Dlugos’ writing – every poem published in his lifetime, along with previously unpublished work; A Fast Life is coming from Nightboat Books in May... AND, LATER THIS year, Trinidad’s own Dear Prudence: New and Selected Poems, is coming from Turtle Point Press.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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