Jan. 3rd, 2011

TITLE: "When Play Turns Bitter - Chapter Eight: The Bones of You"
AUTHOR: [livejournal.com profile] nanoochka
RATING: NC-17 for language, violence and graphic descriptions of sex.
PAIRING: Dean/Castiel, Dean/OMC, Sam/OFC, mentions of Dean/Lisa and Cas/Balthazar
SUMMARY: “You’re happy with your world/ But there is something small in the back of your head/ Your concerns are still free/ You fall into the trap/ Without knowing what you want/ And there’s nothing left but a foolish idea/ Everything goes back into place.” Remember that play turns sour when playing with a fire; but Dean is as tired of pretending like his life hasn’t begun, as he is waiting for Castiel to notice.More, after the cut! )
Sorry folks, no more fic posts yet (one in a day isn't enough for you??), but I thought I'd change tack a little and list a few of my pro-slash recs to tide you over.

But first, a professional rant that I need to get out of the way. Feel free to skip. )

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann
Ah, historical fiction - one of my greatest weaknesses. Set during the English Civil War, As Meat Loves Salt is the incredibly vivid, sprawling tale of Jacob Cullen, a man who flees his family and new wife after being accused of murdering another man. He joins Cromwell's army and meets Christopher Ferris, a brilliant idealist who ultimately takes Jacob into his home, teaches him the ropes of pamphlet printing, and becomes his lover. Aside from the amazing historical accuracy and fantastic characterizations, the chemistry between Ferris and Jacob is smoking hot. It's a bit of a trippy tale and can drag on in places (especially if you want to jump to the slashy bits), but I re-read this every so often just to get swept up in its amazing world.

The Charioteer by Mary Renault
This is my favourite book of all time, hands down. Renault, quite the slasher herself, was a student of Tolkien's and put her vast historical knowledge to use by writing a number of books about Ancient Greece, including the well-known Last of the Wine, but The Charioteer was the only thing she wrote contemporary to her own time, and about WWII. Laurie, the protagonist, is an injured soldier sent to convalesce back in England, where he's forced to reconcile himself not only to life as a former soldier, but a closeted homosexual. The language in this book is absolutely breathtaking--and heartbreaking--and I read it every year without fail.

The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox
This one is a bit of a no-brainer for fans of Cas--the book's protagonist, Sobran, is a young French vintner who gets drunk one evening and almost falls to his death by tumbling down a hill. He is saved by an angel named Xas, and the two make a pact to meet on that night every year for the rest of Sobran's life to share wine and stories. Ultimately they fall in love, but each year of Sobran's life is narrated beautifully and the story takes a number of truly unexpected twists, right down to Lucifer's surprise appearance. Nikki Caro, who directed Whale Rider, also directed an adaptation of this book. The movie wasn't great, but worth seeing if you can manage to find it.

Sugarless by James Magruder
There aren't enough gay dramedies out there, but luckily Sugarless is a wonderful exception. Magruder does a great job of capturing the tone and atmosphere of 70s Chicago, and the main character, the 15-year-old Rick Lahrem, has a hilarious and offbeat voice. The book takes us through his awkward adolescence, coming out and affair with a coach with surprising deftness, and I laughed out loud quite a few times. It also delves way further into the world of dramatic interpretation than you ever thought possible.

Frontiers by Michael Jensen (lol!)
I can't say that this book is a literary masterpiece, and to be honest it sometimes reads more like fanfiction than anything, but I have to say that it was a fun read and pretty steamy in the slash department. The book follows the tale of John Chapman, a wanted sodomite who takes to the American frontier in order to escape persecution and make a life for himself. Drama ensues. The author's use of historical fact was very well-taken and he obviously did his research, even if some of the characters didn't come through as well as they could have. It's a bit difficult to find copies of this anywhere unless you order it online, but is still worth a read if you're looking for something fun and full of adventure.

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
There was a time before Philippa Gregory did nothing but write bestselling Elizabethan court intrigue with lots of sex and beheadings, and Earthly Joys is my absolute favourite thing that she's written. As you might expect, it's pretty long and spans quite a long period, but the love story is so beautiful and heartbreaking that I can read this thing every year and not get bored of it. John Tradescant, real-life historical figure, royal gardener and one of England's first museum curators, is an intriguing character with immense loyalty, and an entertaining preoccupation with plants. He falls in love with his employer, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and the favourite of Charles II, and as much as you want to shake him by the shoulders and tell him to give it up, you can't help but admire his devotion and love for his Lord.

At Swim, Two Boys and Disturbance by Jamie O'Neill
Two Irish boys, Jim and Doyler, fall in love in the time leading up to and during the horrific events of Easter Rising in 1916, before the Irish War of Independence. This book is quite a long read, but pretty fascinating in its treatment of homosexuality, adolescence, friendship, and patriotism. It's not quite a happy read throughout, but worth a look. Definitely it's a book that stays with you for a long time, especially if you're someone who has any interest in Irish history.

Disturbance was published quite a while before At Swim and isn't nearly as engrossing a read, but it's nevertheless an interesting investigation into Irishness, mental illness and homosexuality.

Maurice by E. M. Forster
What can't be said about Maurice... it's absolutely magical and a must-read. My old copy has so dog-eared and covered with notes that it's barely legible anymore, which is a good thing that I could practically recite the damn thing from memory by now. The movie also happens to feature a baby-faced Hugh Grant and James Wilby getting their slash on, so if you aren't into reading the book, definitely dig up the movie. And Rupert Graves! Sigh.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
This book can be a bit of a buzzkill, I'd admit, because the ending just broke my heart and made me want to disown humanity, but the language is so lovely and transportative that it's hard not to read through to the end. It's a really lovely coming-of-age and love story between the shy, awkward Nathan and the boy next door, enigmatic and popular Roy. It deals with sexual abuse and a sickening amount of homophobia and hate crimes, so there might be triggery stuff in here, but like I said its a beautiful story and absolutely engrossing.

Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton
Unlike a lot of other gay coming-of-age stories, I don't feel like Short History makes as much of a fuss over its protagonist's sexuality as is expected of the genre. For me, the focus was more about the main character, Walter's realization that life rarely turns out the way we expect, and his struggle to deal with the loss of his younger brother from cancer. The way Hamilton splits his story between his high school years in the 1970s, and the present, is an interesting device that really makes Walter's character shine through, along with a fantastic cast of supporting personalities.

Angels in America by Tony Kushner
Nuff said.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
This is more of a creepy stalker thriller than it is slashy fun times, but McEwan is one of my favourite authors and this deserved a mention. I guess the slashiness is more of an afterthought, but McEwan writes obsession extremely well, and does a fascinating job of building up how a single tragic incident can both change a person's life and inextricably link them to another, even someone they're desperate to be away from. I also like to think of this as the Daniel Craig movie no one ever saw, starring a Welsh guy as the total fucking nutter (Samantha Morton is in it, though, so we take what we can get, do the Welsh).

The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
I consider this book a fantastic read in general, but if you happen to have more than a passing interest in Gertrude Stein (or, Gertrudestein, as she's known in the book) and Alice B. Toklas, you should drop whatever you're doing right now and go read it. Told from the point of view of the Vietmanese cook, Binh, we get a hilarious and intriguing (fictional, speculative) perspective on this great literary household, as well as a fascinating look at Binh's own history, and how he came to live with "the Steins". Truly delightful.

Part 2 to come shortly. If there are any recs that you don't see listed in this post or the next, please let me know! I'm always on the lookout for new reads and suggestions.

Part 2 of 2 of my pro slash recs - enjoy!

Part 1 here.

Cinnamon Gardens
by Shyam Selvadurai
I feel like this list wouldn't be complete without a shout-out to Shyam, who is a former teacher of mine and an all-around delightful human being. I admit that I much prefer Cinnamon Gardens to Funny Boy, which is probably what he's best known for, but both novels present an immersive, florid view of Shyam's native Sri Lanka during the 1920s. A lot of the same themes as Funny Boy are explored in a more in-depth way, including homosexuality, family, societal expectations, culture. I responded a lot more to Balendran and Annalukshmi, the two main characters, than I did the characters in Funny Boy, and also found the story a lot more ambitious and moving.

The Dreyfus Affair: A Love Story by Peter Lefcourt
Baseball slash. Hilarious. Go read. Now.

The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
Greer also wrote The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which I always thought of as the true story of Benjamin Button and a lovely homage to Greer's hometown of San Francisco. One of my favourite things about Greer's writing is his ability to weave a twisting and surprising tale without ever neglecting to provide the reader with all the facts beforehand (if they know where to look). His prose is extremely tight and a pleasure to read, and I love how sensitively he handles personal histories and intimate relationships, even if they can seem a little sentimental at times. He also handles the racial and sexual tensions of the 50s extremely well, adding to the authentic feel of the narrative and believability of the characters.

Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim
The movie adaptation of this book has gotten a lot more popular along with JGL's rising star, but it remains a favourite of mine and an absolutely haunting story. I cried at several points during this book (and admittedly the movie is what I saw first), but the telling of Neil and Brian's childhood trauma is so heartbreaking on paper that it was like experiencing it all for the first time. I wouldn't say that it's a perfect book, but there are such profound moments of beauty that the flaws are easy to ignore. Very triggery, as with the movie, but worth looking at if you can handle it.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by E. Annie Proulx

The book that provided us with "Brokeback Mountain". This is really the only slashy story in the collection, but those who loved the movie and haven't read the story need to get their heads checked. "Brokeback" touched me so deeply that I literally screamed out loud when I found out they were making a movie adaptation; there are so many scenes in this one story that made my heart feel like it stopped in my chest, and in a totally different way from the film. She writes the style beautifully, and with such sparse prose, that I'm a little jealous every time I read it.

Ransom by Lee Rowan
Hilariously, I read this when it was just a piece of Hornblower fic, and Lee Rowan has managed to turn it around and market it as an original novel. Say what you want about its originality, Ransom was a great story and made for a great novel, with gorgeous language and a beautiful story. See, fanfic dreams really can come true!

The Players by Stephanie Cowell

Shakespeare slash, pure and simple. The Bard's Sonnets are a serious obsession of mine, so this delightful novel about their inception just hit all the right notes. Historically, it's superb, and the dialogue and characterizations are are spot-on. Cowell does a really fantastic job of interweaving the stories of Shakespeare's affair with his "dark mistress" Emilia, and his love for his patron, the Earl of Southampton, for whom the Sonnets were written. I can never stand to put this book down no matter how many times I read it, because it's a love triangle and a historical tour de force done to absolute perfection.

The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín
Although Tóibín is an Irish writer, I'm so enamoured of how painstakingly and realistically he recreates the atmosphere of Argentina during the Falklands War, while simultaneously drawing upon themes of political, cultural, sexual, and personal demons. He comes across as a very intellectual writer without weighing down the text--I feel like just about anyone could enjoy this book, whether they're looking for a genuinely great read, or hoping to look to the text for something deeper and more meaningful, and this is a rare combination.

The Lost Language of Cranes and The Page Turner by David Leavitt
David Leavitt is the gay writer's homeboy, I think, so it's not really surprising that so many authors cite him as one of their inspirations and favourite writers of gay fiction. He's also a fantastic nonfiction author who writes a great deal about his experiences in Italy, which is probably why his descriptions of people and places come through so vividly. In Cranes, the protagonist's coming out inadvertently reveals the truth about his own father's sexuality, and Leavitt portrays this domino effect and subsequent family fallout with a deft hand. The Page Turner, in the meantime, continues to be one of my favourite romances, perhaps because of my own musical background and love of the piano. Both definitely worth reading, along with Leavitt's other work.

The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren
Admittedly, I haven't read this one in a long, long time - but it's widely regarded as being a major work of gay fiction in the 20th century and is a sweet read. Boys in running short shorts - what's not to love?

A Separate Peace and Peace Breaks Out by John Knowles

I think that most people probably read A Separate Peace in high school, but it's one of those books that hooked me then and has remained with me ever since. I love how subtle the homosexual themes are, but also how poignant - I think part of the book's success is the fact that Gene and Finny's relationship can be read just as effectively (and easily) as an expression of gay desire as it can that of a profound boyhood friendship and bildungsroman, given Gene's subsequent loss and its affect upon his growth into adulthood. Then again, maybe it's just the UST that gets me every time. Peace Breaks Out is the pseudo-sequel that no one really seems to have read, but I went ahead and dove into it because I'm a geek that way.

Radcliffe by David Storey

To be honest, Radcliffe is almost universally panned by critics and readers, and I'm the first to admit that it's a bit of a mindfuck, and not necessarily in the best way. Written in 1963, it was rather racy for its time given the gay themes, borderline explicit descriptions of sex (again, for the time). I found it a pretty enjoyable read the first time through, if you can appreciate the experimentation Storey takes with the genre of Gothic/psychological horror, and his Lawrence-esque style of writing. I've tried to revisit it a few times since then, but it can be difficult to slog through when you know what's coming - usually I just skip to the slashy parts. ;)

The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker
Pat Barker - aka. my mistress. Not only is she an absolutely amazing writer in terms of the beauty of her prose and story construction, she writes so powerfully about WWII in this trilogy, addressing shell-shock/PTSD and the development of psychotherapy, soldier psychology, British cultural identity during the War, and also gay desire. The latter is not touched upon so explicitly in the first book, Regeneration, but is a much more prominent theme by the second, The Eye in the Door. I cannot recommend this series - or Barker's writing - enough, truly. 

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

Annabel Lyon is a [relatively] new Canadian writer who was shortlisted for Canada's prestigious Governor General's award in 2009. I suppose I wouldn't necessarily call this book slash, as it is hardly its main focus, but by virtue of being about Alexander the Great it sort of goes with the territory. Fascinatingly, the whole book is told from Aristotle's POV, which to me is such an ambitious undertaking but beautifully executed. She manages to make the great philosopher into a very human character, and subtly conveys his disturbance and fascination with the adolescent Alexander. Even though we know how the story ends, it was so engrossing to read Lyon's take on the making of such an imposing historical figure. 

Michael Cunningham
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Michael Cunningham. I love his work and have read all his books, and I would heartily encourage you to find them immediately if you haven't already done so. His writing is beautiful, flowing and he writes characters that leap off the page; but he's mightily hung up on the AIDS epidemic. Obviously it is a very close subject to him, and he writes about it with sensitivity and grace, but after the 3rd book about it I was a bit facepalm-y. There are so many subjects that can be explored that incorporate gay themes or gay characters, that don't just have to be about that... I feel like the gay community is already associated with AIDS to such an extent that choosing to return to that topic again and again can become hurtful and reductive. I suppose it's better to have an author who can do so well, rather than one who does so poorly, but geez.

If you're interested in checking out some of the great reader's advisory websites out there, the two I'd recommend most are either NoveList or Books and Authors. Unfortunately both can only be accessed with a subscription, but if you're a member of a public library system, you might be able to access them for free. It's possible to search these databases for their indexed LQBT-Q materials, either alone or in combination with another subject heading.

As before, please let me know if there's something I left out!



April 2011


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