Reviewed by Steven LaVigne
There are books that readers simply don’t want to come to an end, and former White Crane editor Toby Johnson and writer Steve Berman have edited one of them. Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling is so filled with gems (thirty-five passages by writers as diverse as Perry Brass, Mark Thompson, Malcolm Boyd, Jeffrey Beam, James Van Buskirk, Don Clark, Bert Herrman and Dave Nimmons, and White Crane columnist Andrew Ramer, to name but a few of them) that these stupendous tales of romance, music, sex, harassment and coping with the modern world equally make it a savory pleasure that’s tough to put down.
Among the highlights of this treasure trove: Mark Abramson explores his love for Ella Fitzgerald and how her particular style of jazz music helped him cope as friends succumbed to AIDS; Eric Andrews-Katz’ self-esteem is given a boost after meeting an attractive angel one night in a bar, while the leading character in Victor J. Banis falls in love with Douglas, the man who takes no notice of a face that resembles “The Canals of Mars.” J.R.G. De Marco’s ghost story, “Great Uncle Ned,” is the first passage that’s a topper, making the reader thinking nothing else can be better. Romantic and sexy, De Marco takes the reader on an exquisite gothic roller coaster ride.
Some of the stories are set pre-Stonewall, while others are post-AIDS, but every contribution, even reflections on why writers work the way they do, addressing topics from sex to marriage to everlasting love are outstanding in their own way.
Among the other “toppers” are Jay Michaelson’s “The Verse,” wherein any mention of the “sin” of homosexuality disappears from every copy of Biblical scripture, from the Torah to the Gospels, as the worldwide news coverage affects Michaelson’s characters. Should he be forgotten, Bill Blackburn’s lovely tribute “My Last Visits With Harry,” reminds us that Harry Hay, a founder of the Radical Faeries, was an exceptional pioneer for gay rights. Andrew Ramer imagines himself as Albert Gale, Dorothy’s brother, who doesn’t go over the rainbow, but, instead, finds true love on the prairie.
Personal experiences are a strong part of “Charmed Lives.” Don Clark, whose book, “Loving Someone Gay” was so helpful when I was first coming out, discusses his personal life, while David Nimmons relates how his program of Manifest Love began on a Fire Island dance floor. Johnson and Berman share experiences from their lives as well.
I hope that I’ve whetted our appetite and that you’ll take similar pleasures when reading “Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling,” which was a finalist for a 2007 Lambda Book Award. Even so, it’s a winner without awards.
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