New Biography Garners Rave Reviews for Telling Tennessee Williams’ Story

If you have ever seen “Suddenly, Last Summer,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” or “The Glass Menagerie,” especially on stage, you’ll want to get your hands on John Lahr’s “Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh,” which is getting rave reviews. You’ll also want to listen to this fascinating interview with the author as a guest on NPR’s “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook. http://onpoint.wbur.org/2014/09/25/tennessee-williams-biography-john-lahr

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

 

Say Hello, not Goodbye, to Negrón’s “Mundo Cruel”

Luis Negron's "Mundo Cruel."

Luis Negron’s “Mundo Cruel.”

“Goodbye cruel world,” has become a cliche in books and movies when someone is about to leap from a cliff or use some other method to bring about their demise. But readers will want to say hello to Luis Negrón’s “Mundo Cruel,” which has been translated from Spanish into English by Suzanne Jill Levine and won this year’s Lambda Literary Award for general gay fiction.

Set mostly in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Negrón’s stories explore some of the cruelties of life without ever being a downer. In fact, he interjects plenty of humor and sarcasm as he explores what it is like for gays living in the Puerto Rican culture. Not only does he examine the prejudice and bigotry toward gay people on the island, he also shows how homosexuals treat one another, which can also often be cruel.

Negrón starts the book at his most provocative with a short story about “The Chosen One,” a new son of God who lives a promiscuous lifestyle despite his piety. One can only imagine a Christian reader scratching his or her head after reading this seemingly sacrilegious story that drips with irony.

Luis Negron

Luis Negron

Negrón uses all types of narrative structures to drive his stories. Two women of different socio-economic strata gossip over a fence to create the dialogue for an installment titled “So Many: Or On How the Wagging Tongue Sometimes Can Cast a Spell.” One-sided conversations provide the setup and substance for a few stories, including “La Edwin” and “Junito,” the latter about a man who fears for his son growing up in the homophobic atmosphere that surrounds him.

And there are references to the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, including “The Garden,” a  heart-rending, beautiful story about the close bonds created between two people when a mutual loved one is in peril.

There are nine stories in this collection and each has a different viewpoint about the human condition of gays in Puerto Rico. The stuffed dog on the cover is a creepy reminder that cruelty can take many forms, such as the nearly tragic story of an aging gay man who wants to have his beloved pet immortalized by a taxidermist. The goal leads to unexpected consequences that seemly cruelly deserved.

 

 

Sarah Waters' "The Night Watch."

Sarah Waters’ “The Night Watch.”

I had never read a Sarah Waters book but discovered this title when I referred to a list I often turn to when I’m looking for something new to read. What a discovery! Waters has a remarkable talent for revealing her characters’ innermost thoughts, which makes for intriguing reading. The book focuses on four main characters, mostly women, whose lives are coincidentally intertwined during the bombing raids of London in World War II. The book starts from the present and works backward to tell the stories of these characters; and many of the passages, including a harrowing recounting of an unlawful medical procedure that goes awry, are emotional and riveting. I’m looking forward to reading another of this author’s books very soon. 

 

 

 

Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters

John Boyne's "The Absolutist."

John Boyne’s “The Absolutist.”

As powerfully as Oliver Stone depicted the horror and madness of war in the film “Platoon,” John Boyne does as well on the pages of “The Absolutist.” The story of two English teenagers who form a bond during boot camp before entering the trenches during World War I takes a devastating turn when one of them declares himself an absolutist, one step above being a conscientious objector. When he throws down his arms in the middle of battle and refuses to be a soldier after seeing the senselessness around him, a friendship ends with shocking finality. This book about self-loathing and self-acceptance is disturbing and sad with a stunning ending prompted by a life racked with guilt. It will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned.

John Boyne

John Boyne