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Book Marks
March 1, 2008
by Richard Labonte
Click For Full Size The Conversion,
by Joseph Olshan.
St. Martin?s Press,
288 pages, $24.95 hardcover.

Unrequited romantic love, potential terrorist threats, overwrought literary intrigue, intoxicating Italian history, and pent-up queer sex, all couched in crisp, elegant prose: Olshan?s eighth novel is a textured pleasure. At its center is frustrated writer Russell Todaro, a young gay man who?s not as attracted to Ed, an older, famous American poet in Paris, as Ed is to him; meanwhile, Russell is carrying on a luscious but doomed affair with a married Frenchman. When Ed dies of a heart attack - hours after he and Russell are mysteriously attacked by two masked men - the younger man is taken under the wing of Marina, an elderly Italian writer and literary acquaintance of Ed?s, who invites him to stay at her Tuscan villa - with ulterior motives. A muscular Italian policeman, Marina?s reclusive newspaper columnist husband, and waspish New Yorker Annie - the angry executor of dead Ed?s estate, who wants Russell to hand over a revealing autobiography the poet was working on for a decade - all figure into the intricate plot of this invigorating, intelligent novel.

Beach Town,
by Ann Roberts.
Bella Books, 228 pages, $13.95 paper.

There must be, somewhere, a small beach town where the surf is always high, the teenage boys are always helpful, happy people fish off the pier, lesbians fit right in, and movie stars are regular folk. Until it?s found in real life, we?ll make do with the setting of and the characters in Roberts? smart romance. Passion ignites when closeted young British actress Kira Drake and feisty young hometown dyke (and ecstatic surfer) Flynn McFadden meet during a movie shoot in fictional Ocean Beach. But the flame of love is too soon snuffed by Kira?s truly mean agent and truly monstrous mother, both afraid that an open closet door will end Kira?s profitable - for them - career. Years pass: Flynn finds love again in the arms of another woman, Kira endures a staged marriage and a succession of hollow one-night stands, Flynn?s partner dies - and, when Flynn?s elderly mother and Kira?s elderly father decide to wed (don?t ask), Kira returns at last to Ocean Beach. Is passion reignited? You doubt? Surf?s up in this amiable love story.

Glamour, Interrupted: How I Became
the Best-Dressed Patient in Hollywood,
by Steven Cojocaru.

HarperCollins, 176 pages, $23.95 hardcover.
Life was sweet for red carpet commentator Cojocaru. The self-professed ?professional gadfly,? obsessed with fashion even as a flamboyant teenager in hometown Montreal, grew up to become an air-kiss friend to most of Hollywood - though he once irritated Jude Law by asking the British actor about his alleged use of eyebrow extensions. The glamour was interrupted when ?Cojo? - a nickname bestowed by Matt Lauer of the Today Show - was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. At first in deep denial, he decided to become Greta Garbo in Camille - and, hiding his condition from friends, he really wanted to be alone. Eventually he faced the reality that without a transplant, he would die. The first failed, but mothers do love their gay sons - his donated one of her kidneys for a second transplant. Memoirs about near-death experiences are often sappily maudlin or spiritually saccharine, but Cojo makes such good fun of himself - and is so naked about his own vanity - that this account of physical and emotional recovery is often a laugh-out-loud tonic.

Die, Mommie, Die! and Psycho Beach Party,
by Charles Busch.
Alyson Books, 192 pages, $14.95 paper.

This slim book collects the screenplays for the low-budget, high-entertainment-value movies that followed stage productions of two of Busch?s many plays - and they both make for fun reading. Die, Mommie, Die! is a delicious take on marriage gone wrong, about the adultery of a faded pop singer whose affair with her tennis instructor leads to mayhem and murder. Psycho Beach Party is a delirious mash-up of 1950s suspense thrillers and 1960s surf movies, about a Gidget-like surfer chick worried she may be the reason for the Malibu Beach murders. Busch?s love of film lore meshes wonderfully with his knack for penning brilliant dark humor; his wicked wit, which thrums from the printed page, doesn?t require the visual spark of a moving picture. Eight pages of stills convey some the movies? retro charms, gay appeal, and drag personas. Busch is the author of a novel both hilarious and touching, Whores of Lost Atlantis, based on his Off- (and way, way, way Off-) Broadway experiences. But his writing here is equally as engaging.

Richard Labonte has been reading, editing, selling, and writing about queer literature since the mid-?70s. He can be reached at BookMarks@qsyndicate.com.

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