Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Contraband, a review


Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press

By Charlie Vazquez

A New Literature?

Reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

     It’s the somewhat-near future and we are in the dark smoky world of Contraband, a novel by Charlie Vazquez, (and which has nothing to do with drugs) but which in a way reminds me of Louis Ferdinand Celine’s books Journey to the End of the Night or his Death on the Installment Plan, or perhaps even Franz Kafka’s The Castle or The Trial and others of that ilk where you can never know where you are, what you’re going to get or what’s the point of it anyway, since you just might as well puke your guts out. In much the same way the writings of Charlie Vazquez are an unclear, uncertain mystery, leaving a bad taste in your soul since it describes such an unknown world, one either in healing recovery or exposing its sores as it festers to its ugly conclusion but Vazquez surges on ahead determined to reach its end, no matter what that end might bring, total change or further boring rotting stagnation.

     It opens in Emerald City as Volfango is waiting for a train to take him back home after work. He is accosted by a dirty beggar, while other passengers complacently avoid looking at them but Volfango follows the beggar into a subway tunnel. Volfango is a government employee but has leanings to the other side, the rebel side. The beggar is a ‘lunar’, or “profane in the eyes of the Revolution” meaning he’s not one on them, as is also Volfango, but Volfango already has feelings of escaping underground, that’s why he goes after the beggar. The outside world is torn between those who follow orders and obey and those who able to survive and are hidden in the darkness.
     Eventually Volfango leaves the tunnel and goes to his mother’s house, the beggar has stolen his attaché case but he was the beggar’s long stick which gets him strange looks from the other riders. Two cops get on board but he shows them his government ID and instead they go after another sleeping beggar. In getting to his mother’s house he uses the walking stick defensively, ready to hit anyone who asks him what he’s doing. Outside, in the hills skirmishes break out between the rebels and government troops.

     Visits with his dentist, Doctora Valdez, for an aching toothache and has a tooth pulled in a dilapidated slum/doctor’s office with rats scurrying about the floor. The city is totally fallen apart, infected with dirt and rats everywhere. He has a brutal ugly tooth extraction as two big males nurses/aides hold him down; the Doctora pulls the bad tooth out.

     In the night he goes to a barroom where he knows he’ll meet someone who will help him to the underworld; he no longer wants to remain in the straight world. Volfango meets the young man Alto in the bar where the crowd is hugging and kissing when suddenly the government starts shooting on them. Volfango and Alto, with a few others run and get away. A host of different characters come on the scene, lasting for a few days then they are killed off by the government. It might have nothing to do with the future or is might have everything to do with it.

     He meets up with Teodoro, his half brother, and both fall into the hands of The Hidesman, a sort of a boss of the underworld, who holds Volfango chained to him. Volfango breaks away and kills The Hidesman. He signs to work on Lednov’s ship, which is headed to disembark at Sun City.

      In Sun City Teodoro talks and talks and it goes on for pages and pages. People come and people go. While in Sin City he is assigned by Don Carlos to do paperwork while Teodora takes care of the animals in the zoo. Sin City is the New Orleans, Vieux Carre, French Quarter, and for a time they work with the circus animals but the Republicans are getting closer, when at night in fears of them taking over, Don Carlos commits suicide. Later it was discovered he secretly was a woman under his manly disguise. The Republicans shoot at the brothers but they get away from Sun City making their way to a safer place, but still more dangerous in other ways, the Emerald City.

      If you’re under the impression that this might be about a new version of the Wizard of Oz, well, I have news for you, it isn’t, it’s a brutal horrible tale about surviving in a new land, a land with a town known as Emerald City but where the familiar will totally cease. In Emerald City a woman shoves a gruesome baby into Fandago’s arms and disappears. The baby is covered in disgusting smeared excrement but he holds on to it, though he desperately wants to throw up at every moment. Crawling through a tunnel it seems he’s crawling through an anus, a rectum, a disgusting orifice. He makes it back into Emerald City, a city waiting for him or is it?

     Contraband takes place in the future and it’s a prediction of what could be or what might be if we don’t watch it. If you like futuristic novels with the world having fallen apart or on the verge of collapse this one’s for you. Sort of like the films Blade Runner or Total Recall but with much more gruesome and uglier protagonists, as all wars usually tend to be ugly as sin.

     At first I had a hard time of reading Vazquez, even a few times setting it down and offering the book to another reader but I kept thinking and returning to it in the same way I once had difficulty with Celine. His two nauseous books, Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Installment Plan only made me want to puke but I knew that Celine had certainly reached a higher level of literature than that which is consumed by today’s fickle childish readers. And I sensed that Vazquez reached the same point and had to be read, that is, pored over page by page. In this way I steeled my nauseous feelings and returned to the book, and I’m sure glad I did, for Vazquez is a new form of literature, a higher form of writing, one that is despicably disgusting but still it has to be read and savored, as uncomfortable it might make you. An excellent story and a great job, Charlie Vazquez, I’m hungry to read still more of your future work!

Mick Mykola Dementiuk is a two-time winner of the Lambda Award, and his collection, Times Square Queer, was a finalist for the 2012 Bisexual Book Award. Visit him at http://dementiuk.weebly.com or http://www.MykolaDementiuk.com

Friday, October 11, 2013

King of Angels review

King of Angels

Bethue Press

by Perry Brass

reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

A Saintly Who Done It

     A Jewish boy, Benjamin ‘Benjy” Rothberg is growing up in Savannah, Georgia with his father Robby/Leon, and his non-Jewish Episcopalian mother Caroline, who sits around drinking too many gin and grapefruit Salty Dogs with her girlfriends. Robby/Leon is a salesman and works mostly out of town, while Caroline stays taking care of the house with a black maid on the side, such as women used to do in those years.  Every time Caroline drives over to pick Benjy up from school the car radio is always blasting some Beatles song on the car radio as she happily sings along. She loves the music of the era, makes her feel young and alive, Benjy is always embarrassed. The time is the early 1960s and JFK is president just before he was assassinated. In the novel Benjy is starting to learn about life and eventually his homosexuality. What can a thirteen growing boy do but get a little ass, that is, suck a little cock and have his own sucked off, too?

     Learn to be a man, as his father Robby stresses, so Benjy is sent to a Catholic school where he befriends Tim, an Irish lad who comes from a large boisterous family and Arthur, a good looking Puerto Rican boy from a very poor family with a drunken father who takes it out on his son, Arthur. There are many other boisterous dangerous boys in the school but it seems that Benjy is pulled to these two. He follows Arthur sneakily home one evening and gets lost, wandering into a bar (at the time ‘gay’ bars were still unheard of) with shady characters sitting around and drinking cheap beer. One drinker smiles lasciviously at Benjy but does take the time to show him where Arthur is staying; a poor worthless Puerto Rican dump and Benjy is very embarrassed but goes go in after his friend. In surprise Arthur is stunned to see his classmate but the Puerto Rican boy’s father comes in and asks crude questions of the visitor.

      Still, Benjy has to undergo a bar mitzvah according to Jewish tradition and he asks Father Alexis, one of his teachers to guide him since the priest had taken courses in Judaism, and in surprise Father Alexis agrees to teach him. When suddenly on the last day at the retreat he went to the beautiful Puerto Rican boy Arthur is missing. The police find his body drowned in the lake when suddenly Benjy also learns that his father is being accused by his employer of embezzlement. Faced with two disasters at one time, Benjy is devastated, plus a few other boys are suspected by the police in having a hand in Arthur’s demise. It all comes boiling down to a fitting satisfying conclusion. A beautiful Southern drama and one of little boys intermixed with the depravity of the time, the bustling confusing era of change with growing older parents and superiors. One night Benjy returns to Father Alexis for more bar mitzvah training but he smells alcohol on Father Alexis’ breath, he doesn’t feel odd when the priest kisses the top of his head yet he still is forced to leave, a bit confused. Why did the priest kiss him Benjy wants to know, was that part of some ritual but he does suspect the priest was after something more and it wasn’t Benjy’s friendship.

      The cops close the case of dead boy Arthur since there is nothing there but Benjy is determined to find out for himself about what really happened by putting a stake-out at a little used library bathroom that he’s certain the slayer will be visiting again. Meanwhile, he makes it with Nathan, an older boy at the age of seventeen who takes him to a ‘gay’ club but who tells him to stick with the Catholic boys instead of perverts like him. Benjy is amazed that such ‘gay clubs’ exist in the 1960s, still his hard throbbing penis makes him feel otherwise.

     Indeed this wonderful satisfying novel is nicely written and easy going, even with the inner confusion and accusation which will comes later. At first I thought it would be heavy duty and philosophical, what with the sub-title, A Novel About the Genesis of Identity and Belief, but no, it was written about our hero Benjy, a young man, in a style which is reminiscent of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March or Henry Roth’s Call It Sleep, two books about young men growing up and looking out at an evil, benign world glaring and sneering back at them. The other great thing about the book is that the boys are masturbating and ejaculating at the proper age of thirteen, fourteen and fifteen unlike the fictional characters in other books by some publishers who will only bring out a book or e-book when the main character is portrayed in their pages as sexually confident at the rightful adult age of eighteen or some such. What rot and rubbish! Thirteen is the perfect age of self discovery and anything older is an evident publisher’s fear and bullshit. ‘I orgasmed at the age of eighteen’ is a lie. I know of some men who have experienced ejaculation at the age of eight, nine, ten, and who’s to say at what age it can’t be for real.

     More honest books like this by authors such as the bold Perry Brass and we can send these timid scared publishers where they belong, into the rubbish heap. Great job Perry Brass, you and your publisher Bethue Press deserve high praise for your courage and daring in bringing out this very real-life novel, King of Angels. You are royalty itself, bravo!

Mick (Mykola) Dementiuk is a two-time winner of the Lambda Award, and his collection, Times Square Queer, was a finalist for the 2012 Bisexual Book Award. Visit him at http://dementiuk.weebly.com or http://www.MykolaDementiuk.com

Monday, October 7, 2013

My Life with Blondie

My Life with Blondie
Cervena Barva Press

by Jiri Klobouk

reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

     Hey, drop everything Blondie is coming to town! That’s how Jiri Klobouk, author of My Date with Blondie, begins his comic/tragic novel about Harley Davidson, who has a thirty-three year love-infatuation with Blondie, singer/movie star and lover of his dreams, or so he thinks. Even though they’ve never met Harley now has the chance to finally come face to face with his idol, and he imagines settling down with her for the rest of their lives. But does Harley really stand a chance? And how much of this fantasy is real?

     Harley Davidson, yes, that’s his name, is a man in his fifties who has had this infatuation since his teens. Since his early days in Vienna when he first saw her picture in a movie magazine, holding onto the memory through war torn Vietnam, on to Germany where he got married (for the second time), into Portugal where Blondie lived her young years, and now eking out his life but always with the dream and vision of Blondie. Oh boy is he eager and ready for her! Even Harley’s current long time girlfriend Amanda, so he tells us, is just as eager to meet her. Still, Harley claims Amanda is upset because she lost her kitten Tiger and not because Blondie is so close nearby. Well, maybe…

     Harley is able to get his old job back at the Royal Arms Hotel, which he calls an old four story flop house but which Blondie is sure to visit, and in between Harley is faced with the daily problems of working in the hotel with his supervisors and fellow employees, who seem to have stepped out of a loony bin.

      McCarthy, owner of the hotel, comes back from Brazil and has the handyman Melvin, who cares for the hotel, build a Brazilian rain forest in the owner’s fourth floor room. Besides the gay hotel person Jacques and the chambermaid Ella the entire staff is there. And how they run the hotel, what a farce!

    Going back in time Harley was eighteen in Vienna when he got married to Ilona, an older girl whose parents had been tortured and killed by the Hungarians. Harley doesn’t care for her since he already is dreaming and waiting to meet Blondie, who he is certain he will get married to but instead he agrees with her offer of a proposal. They get married, or as another character says, Harley has a screw loose from the Vietnam War. And an old war buddy also asks, “(I)t could be a sign of some kind of mental disorder. Have you ever thought about that?”

     Harley was conceived on a Harley Davidson motorcycle as his parents went tearing around Europe at the time when the Jews were being butchered by the Nazis. And Harley finds out from an old librarian his parents were bank robbers desperate to get away from the Nazis. Harley’s life is just as messed up and confused as is the stigma he lives under, being in love with that vague chimera he has never met, Blondie.

     Still, he gets married to Ilona but after five years he separates from her and marries Helga in Frankfurt, Germany, a singer who is also a little nymphet escorted by her Canadian parents. But after they have a kid Harley leaves her but she quickly gets married to another man.

     For years Harley and his now-girlfriend Amanda have been seeing a psychiatrist, and Harley has high hopes for some kind of cure, but after falling in ‘love’ with Amanda it’s clear that she is as whacky as he is, apparently a bit of a nutcase, as one character says about him. Still they make a perfect couple except that he’s in love with the mystical Blondie, his stigma from the past.

     This is a sad/funny, moving novel. You can’t help but think about the guys you see wandering around town, living out their lives in menial jobs, with menial relationships, that is if they have any, and just existing from day to day. Well, I suppose they do have someone to love, for better or for worse. But where is their Blondie? Is she the one that away? I hope Harley finds her in his lunacy, and with a little something thrown in just to make life a tiny bit interesting, much like in the spit and vomit of this beautiful, fantastic happy novel. Hip hip hooray! Here’s to Harley, dream on!

http://dementiuk.weebly.com -various e-books
Lambda Literary Awards Winner 2013/Gay Erotica, 2009/Bisexual Fiction