Sunday, June 20, 2021

WHAT I'M READING ...

THE PASSENGER by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

THE PASSENGER
THE PASSENGER
by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz
(Metropolitan Books)

I recently finished reading this extraordinary novel, THE PASSENGER, by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz. It is something of a rediscovery, as it was written in the late 1930s, shortly after Kristallnacht occurred in Nazi Germany. The author, Boschwitz, was a young Jewish man who had already managed to flee Germany but was living a harried and harassed life as a refugee. He had written one other novel before this, but THE PASSENGER is what he is now remembered for. 

THE PASSENGER was published in various forms in English, French, and some other languages back in the 1930s and 1940s, but never in the original German in which it was composed. It was only in the last few years that the original German-language manuscript turned up, and was re-edited according to the intentions left behind by the author in some correspondence (before he sadly perished after his transport ship was torpedoed by the Germans), and was published finally in Germany. It is this new German edition that has formed the basis of several translations into other languages, and we are lucky that the English translation, by Philip Boehm, is now out in the United States from Metropolitan Books (and in the United Kingdom from Pushkin Press). 

I never like to review the plot of a book too fully in a mini-review like this. Suffice to say, the main character, a Jewish businessman in Germany who always thought he looked rather Aryan, finds himself the target of persecution, along with all other Jews throughout Germany, after the horrors of Kristallnacht. He then learns that the clock has been ticking behind the scenes, the last five years since the Nazis came to power, while everyone including himself thought this all would just "blow over." Then it is 1938 and it is too late. He is unable to get himself or his family out of Germany, and it takes a great deal of time for him to even understand that he has no meaningful German citizenship left, and no ability to cling to his assets . . . he will have no choice but to find some way to get out of Germany (illegally, as there is no longer any legal means, and he is not likely to be welcomed by any country he might be able to get himself to). So he becomes a passenger, going from here to there in different points across Germany, hoping not to be taken into custody by the Nazis, but really only just buying a bit of time. The inevitable is going to come, and it is truly too late.

Although some have compared THE PASSENGER to Kafka, I think that is not really accurate in the sense that everything that happens to the hero of THE PASSENGER is all too real, not surreal or fantastical. And it is a fate that can and does happen to anyone, anywhere in the world, who finds him- or herself suddenly the so-called Enemy of the State, for no other reason that one's own ethnicity. 

I highly recommend that everyone read THE PASSENGER before it vanishes again.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

UPDATES ON MY WRITING ...

UPDATES ON MY WRITING.

I've been more active in recently with my writing, and it's starting to appear here and there. So here is an update, for anyone who's been looking for new stuff:

Short Stories:
"Electric Pink" forthcoming in PINK TRIANGLE RHAPSODY, Lycan Valley Press, approximately October 2021.

"The Man Who Hated Foley" was published in THE PULP HORROR BOOK OF PHOBIAS, VOL. 2, Lycan Valley Press, December 2020.

"Let's Make a Face" was published in THE VALANCOURT BOOK OF HORROR STORIES, VOL. 4, Valancourt Books, October 2020.

Novels:
I have completed the final draft manuscript of a new novel - more info to come in future as it progresses, but I hope it will be published someday.

My queer vampire novel OUT FOR BLOOD was republished by Valancourt Books, October 2019.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

LIVE ALL YOU CAN. IT'S A MISTAKE NOT TO.


This is my 3rd reading of Mr. Henry James's THE AMBASSADORS. I tried it when I was 20 and failed (found it impenetrable), tried again at 30 and succeeded in getting through it, but felt baffled and somewhat defeated by it. Read it again at 40 and marvelled at what I had missed, fell in love with it, stood in awe of it -- a revelation! Now, having turned 50, I have read it once more and it has vaulted to the top of my list of favourite novels. Every nuance I may have missed before seems to have revealed itself to me like a flowering blossom. In part, this may be due to the fact that in the ensuing decade, I (an American) have been living abroad, first in Canada and then mostly in England. James himself was an 'expat' who felt increasingly divorced from his home country and in due course became a British citizen. The influence of his life abroad, in London, in Europe, colours his point of view in THE AMBASSADORS and skews it toward Europe in something of a rebuke to the provincial, Puritanical ways of the United States.

James is honoured with an enormous plaque in Westminster Abbey with a quote from THE AMBASSADORS: 'Live all you can. It's a mistake not to.' Which is spoken by the main character, Lambert Strether (55 years of age) to little Bilham, a young American in his twenties, although of all the personages in THE AMBASSADORS little Bilham is the least likely to require this bit of advice.... Strether has been sent to Paris from Woollett, Massachusetts, by the cold-thinking Mrs Newsome, on a mission to retrieve her son Chad from the horrors of his presumed corrupt lifestyle in the Old World, and to whisk Chad back home to assume the mantle of the family business and perhaps to marry the young Mamie Pocock (his mother's idea). (Woollett makes a certain household article that dares not speak its name throughout the entire novel.) Not inconsequently, our hero Strether, a widower who lost his wife and child many years ago, is a trusted family friend and is more or less now engaged to the magnificent Mrs Newsome. Until Strether himself sets foot in Paris, it seems that the eventual return to Woollett and union with the Newsome family is all he can look forward to. However, Paris opens up his eyes as they have also opened up Chad Newsome's, in ways unpredictable and, as James would say, 'wonderful.' ... But nothing further. No spoilers here. If you've never read it, you may find it baffling at first (unless I was merely dense when I first read it), but now, finally, as I've passed the half-century mark and started to approach the age of 'our friend' Lambert Strether, I simply cannot express the exquisite pleasure I received on my 3rd reading of THE AMBASSADORS. Only question left is, shall I read it again when I turn 55? Or wait till 60?
 

Monday, May 30, 2016

DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET, by Simon Raven


«««« DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET, by Simon Raven. This is a novel that is hard to review without revealing too many spoilers. The first cover to the left, from the UK first edition, scrupulously avoids any spoiler, and is the most attractive cover I've seen for this novel. The early US paperback from Avon Books comes pretty close to a spoiler without quite getting there, and offers the tantalizing teaser, "The terrifying story of a man destroyed by the most evil of all perversions." Whatever could that be??? That could be anything. Probably a good reason to pick up this book and read it. And only too true. Almost any other cover that's been done for this book over the years gives the game away far too literally. The late Karl Edward Wagner put this novel among his Top 13 horror novels of all time, which is high praise indeed considering Wagner was a true aficionado. But you know, it is also nearly a spoiler to reveal that this is a horror novel. I envy anyone who might have picked up the first edition without any inkling whatsoever of what's between the covers. I am lucky to have had something very near to that experience, in that I originally purchased this for my Kindle quite some time ago, and by the time I got around to reading it, I had quite forgotten my reasons for purchasing it, aside from the fact that I've heard a lot of great things about its author, Simon Raven, and I had previously purchased one of his other novels, THE FEATHERS OF DEATH, which I still have not yet read. So when I started reading DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET, on a whim, on my Kindle, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. And that is the beauty of it. I cannot recommend this novel too highly, especially for anyone interested in well-written, psychologically astute excursions into the macabre. DOCTORS WEAR SCARLET has enjoyed numerous editions in the UK over the years, as Simon Raven is a quintessentially British author. But in a general sense, this can be considered to be a bit of a neglected novel of its kind. Raven was prolific and gave us many highly regarded literary works, but this elegant foray of his into horror fiction deserves to be read by anyone who appreciates the outrĂ©.



Saturday, January 16, 2016

THE FANCY DANCER, by Patricia Nell Warren

««««« THE FANCY DANCER, by Patricia Nell Warren. It's curious that it's taken me so many years to get around to reading THE FANCY DANCER by Patricia Nell Warren. It's set in a small town in Montana and concerns a young gay Catholic priest attempting to come to terms with himself after he falls hard for a troubled local half-Native American man of his own age. The setting, in the rural landscape of the Rocky Mountains, resonates with me since I grew up in Laramie, Wyoming. The book had a powerful impact on me even now, at age 48, though I've known I was gay since I was 11 years old. Despite the fact THE FANCY DANCER was published in the US Bicentennial Year of 1976, it's striking how relevant it remains to this day, especially with respect to America's debates on morality, so-called "family values," and the persistent stubborn opposition by the Catholic church to evolving societal views on homosexuality and especially same-sex marriage. So let's raise a toast to Patricia Nell Warren in this 40th anniversary year of THE FANCY DANCER ... a novel that anyone who's gay or sympathetic ought to read for its insight and its generous spirit. I truly loved it. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

RADCLIFFE, by David Storey

««««« RADCLIFFE, by David Storey. I've had this old Avon Books paperback lying around on my shelves for years and years, but never got around to reading it until now. It's a pre-Stonewall gay novel, about a destructive, mutually obsessive relationship between two young men who cannot stay away from each other. It was first published in 1963 and is set in a bleak 1950s Yorkshire, England ... yet the Avon Books cover depicts the two main actors in the story as if they are about to head out to a 1970s disco in Key West or something.... Never mind that. This is actually my favourite cover of RADCLIFFE of all the many editions that have been issued over the years (scroll to see others below). This artist's depiction of Leonard Radcliffe, the sleepy-eyed aristocratic hero with his perpetual look of consolation, is nearly perfect. On the other hand, the depiction of the heavily muscled and tanned Vic Tolson contrasts somewhat with my image of a well-built Yorkshire workman whose exposure to the fogs, mists, and rains of Yorkshire are not likely to yield this tanned beach-body Mykonos party ideal.... But never mind that as well. It remains a strong evocation of the two main characters and the imbalanced nature of their relationship. Leonard Radcliffe -- one of my favourite heroes in fiction -- is the weak, submissive aesthete, partnered with Tolson's tall, strong, charismatic, aggressive, and dominating personality. The theme, which switches the authority of ruling class versus working class, might seem reminiscent of Robin Maugham's THE SERVANT. But the Gothic atmosphere of RADCLIFFE is what sets it apart as a hothouse of intensity and excess quite unique in literature. David Storey is a remarkable writer, and this was published when he was only 30 years old. At the time of its publication, it was easily the most important Gothic novel to come along since Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA. And unless something has escaped me, I can't think of any other Gothic novel since RADCLIFFE that is any better. Putting Leonard Radcliffe in the central role normally taken by a young female helps make this a wholly original take on the genre. And of course that appeals to my gay sensibilities enormously. This is an overwhelming story, steeped in atmosphere, and depicted using only exteriors, as if we are the camera or the chorus witnessing all of the key details of the story without ever penetrating the interior thoughts of the characters. But of course, it is the external details of landscape, architecture, action, and mood that give us the clues to what is going on in the characters' heads. The point of view, though wholly external, remains intensely focused on Leonard Radcliffe and his experiences as a young man who falls under the spell of the muscular Vic Tolson. Radcliffe is pretty much the last in the line of a long lineage of Radcliffes dating back to before the War of the Roses. Their manor house, the Place, is in a state of perpetual decay, and indeed is now managed by a trust, with Radcliffe's father put in charge and essentially employed as a caretaker. The Place serves as a metaphor for the decline of the aristocracy's place in modern English life, as well as the lies that lie behind the foundations of our society. RADCLIFFE is packed with symbols and themes, stirring a heady brew of emotion and violence that propels the story forward in richly dripping prose. This was an intoxicating novel whose strong pulsating story of sexual obsession had me hooked. If I had read this when I was younger, I may have found it depressing as a story. However, as an older reader, I found it an incredible work of art. I am now going to read everything else by David Storey (eventually), although I realize none of his other work approaches the same type of story and themes as in RADCLIFFE. **NOTE: Although I read my old Avon paperback, the novel is currently available in a 50th Anniversary Edition trade paperback published in 2013 by Valancourt Books. See below, as well as a sampling of other past covers for RADCLIFFE**



Friday, June 12, 2015

CAPRI: ISLAND OF PLEASURE, by James Money


CAPRI: ISLAND OF PLEASURE, by James Money, was a delight from start to finish. I've never visited Capri, but it hardly matters. I'm sure the Capri of today bears little resemblance to the strange enclave of expat eccentrics that is portrayed in Money's marvelous history. It's especially interesting in documenting the ways in which these eccentrics chose to live their lives (while on Capri) and living freely in ways that were not permitted by the laws of their native countries. That gay men and women (for example) were happy to live their lives openly even in the late 19th century, as long as they were in an environment that enabled them to do so, shows they would easily have done the same back home if the social constraints were not in place. It also makes me wish to seek out a number of other books, mainly works of fiction, related to the same subject and written by the eyewitnesses who were there (but who fictionalized everything and everyone to avoid libel) -- VESTAL FIRE by Compton Mackenzie, EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN by Compton Mackenzie, and SOUTH WIND by Norman Douglas. Then perhaps someday, if I ever visit Capri, I can use my imagination to conjure up what it must have been like just over 100 years ago, before the wars and before the movie stars.