vol. 3, no. 7
by G. P. Stojcevic
A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt - St. Martins Press paperback, $4.95
When this book first made its appearance in the rather paranoid atmosphere
of the pre-stonewall, pre-gay lib year of 1966, it received a fair amount of critical acclaim as a mystery novel. The strong undercurrents and the fact that the
detective and main characters were gay was played down or simply not mentioned at all. Now revived in a quality paperback format, the book is once again
getting some attention, and not as just another mystery.
A Queer Kind of Death is filled with all types of extremely complex and
well-delineated characters. The plot, that of the murder of an actor-model-
hustler-blackmaiier in his bath by electrocution, evolves through varied interplay
by the various people that were either victimized by him or who inhabited his
world. Two characters are the main focus and it is through their eyes, their
actions, that the events unfold.
Seth Piro, a young writer in his early thirties, former lover and roommate
of the victim, is a key suspect. In an attempt to clear himself and come to a
better understanding of his life he decides to write a novel about the life of the
victim. In the process of finding out all the facts, the other characters react
strongly, with fear, panic, and hostility. The possible motives and suspects
mount up quickly.
Enter Pharaoh Love, a black New York City police detective. He questions
everyone and opens many closets, and during the course of his investigation
begins to fall in love with his number-one suspect. The pieces begin to fall in
place and a most tangled web is woven.
The conclusion of the book is a beautiful knockout punch that was surprising, yet totally believable. Suffice it to say. it is one of the most unusual
and interesting cocktail parties you will have the occasion to attend,
George Baxt has given us a universe that is morally bankrupt, peopled
with selfish, bitching, wounded, savage, and loving creatures that are both
completely alien and familiar at the same time. His New York City is a nerve-
jangling paranoid nightmare that (lows like some dark, garbage-strewn river
under the very core of our souls. You hate the victim, yet he is no worse than
any of the living. Even Pharaoh Love and Seth Piro have their own ends, their
own needs, and both scheme and plot to serve them. Murder is the obvious
crime, its solution the obvious concluding point of the book, but Baxt has
given us and left us with much more than that. This is a book that should be
read over again. Even at the first reading it will gnaw at you, grate, jar, offend,
make you feel a little less complacent with the world, with yourself. Whether
you are gay or straight, a mystery fan or not, this book should not be missed.
by John Harrison.
Lavender Culture. Karla Jay and Allen Young, editors. Jove/HBJ, 1979. $2.50.
Although I am unacquainted with Jay and Young's previous editorial endeavors
(Out of the Closet, After You're Out), having now read Lavender Culture I
will certainly take time to read them. Presenting on equal footings writings
by both gay women and men, the book is divided into more than 40 short
essays and articles with topics ranging from "Forum on Sado-Masochism"
to "The Cleveland Bar Scene in the Forties," from "Images of Gays in Rock
Music" to "Aging Is a State of Mind."
Two quotes give some sense of the scope of the book. The first is from Ian
Young's Gay Sunshine article called "The Poetry of Male Love":
A sense of the past, or of its own past, is infinitely valuable to any group
that feels the need to define itself and to create or develop a sense of
community. A knowledge of gay history and culture, and especially of
gay literature, is worthwhile not only to put the larger questions of cultural development in their right perspective, but to help individuals now
to realize themselves, to see, and to act.
It is precisely this lack of community sense that keeps so many of us in the
closet, that leaves so many of us to be exploited by straight society. A viable
sense of community is initiated by strong interest in gay literature and thought.
The other quote carries this sense of community to the theater. From Don
Shewey's article "Theater: Gays in the Marketplace vs. Gays for Themselves,"
a comment from playwright Doric Wilson:
When I first started the theater, the first response from people was,
"Gay has nothing to do with my art, gay is what I do when I get to bed."
It seems to me as long as we define ourselves only sexually, then we are
also going to have a slight puritanism about sex and so a slight dismissal
of any public statement of our gayness.
This definition of homosexuality, apart from what one does in bed, is
beautifully expressed in many of the lesbian articles in the book. The double
sexual repression entailed in being a woman and a lesbian has led many women
further along the activist path than their gay brothers. For some indication of
Karla Jay's "community sense," from her article "No Man's Land":
Where there are enough lesbians in any given town or city, women
have usually tried to build alternatives [to gay bars] . . . The advantage
[of coffee houses, rap groups, or consciousness-raising groups] over the
bars is that one's primary purpose in the bar, however masked, is usually
to cruise, and that underlying assumption reduces us to sex objects and
often fills the air with tension.
No one volume can pretend to encapsulate the total range of gay thought
in the 1970's but Lavender Culture is enjoyable reading, finely edited, well
representing a variety ofthe gay experience in American today V