by Terri Schlichenmeyer • ReadOut shorts by Neil Ellis Orts, Angel Curtis, and Jack Varsi.
The minute you saw that child, you knew who she belonged to. She had the same eyes, same chin, same mannerisms. She wore her hair like her Mama did back in the day; in fact, you could swear the ribbons had been handed down. She even laughed the same way, as if “ha-ha” was genetic. There was no way her Mama could deny that child. The girl was just like her mother.
The apple, they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in the new novel Mama Dearest by E. Lynn Harris (Karen Hunter Publishing/Pocket Books, karenhunterpublishing.com), it sticks around through three generations.
Yancey Harrington Braxton knew what it was like to hit it big, and being in a bus-and-truck company of Dreamgirls wasn’t it. No, Yancey had been a real star once—a Broadway star with fancy clothes, a fancy apartment, and any man she wanted—but tromping around the country with a bunch of third-rate actors was something else, even though it gave her a chance to spend time with her gay best friend, Dalton. It was something she only endured while she waited for her second big break.
More than anything, Yancey wanted fame again, and a reality show.
When S. Marcus Pinkston picked her up outside a Miami club, Yancey took one look at his money, his fine apartment, and his Egyptian cotton sheets, and she knew she’d found what she’d been waiting for. It didn’t hurt at all that S. Marcus was fine in bed and out, and that he knew people who would finance Yancey’s reality show.
But there was one problem: her mother, Ava, was out of jail.
Though a stay behind bars had added 15 pounds and her hair was a mess, and though Ava needed a manicure real bad, she still looked good enough to catch a rich man’s eye. Or so she thought, because Ava was a bigger diva than Yancey, which made things rather interesting when Ava, as a condition of her parole, moved in with her daughter.
Sixteen-year-old mega-singer Madison B. always wondered what her mother would’ve thought about her talent and fame. Though Madison’s father, Derrick, had raised the girl right and with lots of love, Madison could be a diva handful.
Just like her birth mother, Yancey Harrington Braxton.
When Yancey realized that Madison B. was her daughter, she told Ava, who thought it was a great chance to get a piece of the pie and some big money. But before Ava started messing with her granddaughter, she had one goal in mind: to finish destroying her daughter first.
Reminiscent of early Jackie Collins (but more down-to-earth, and with nastier characters), the late author E. Lynn Harris brings high society and low-lifes together in this story of greed, wealth, greed, wrongful payback, and more greed. I loved the way Harris lets Yancey tell her own part, while Ava’s story is coolly detached and Madison’s is bouncily teenish.
To be sure, E. Lynn Harris will be missed.
If you’re a fan of trash, cash, and flash novels, this one is too fun to miss. For you, Mama Dearest is a mother-lode of enjoyment.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.
Notes from ‘The Deep End’
When is a coming-out story not a coming-out story?
by Neil Ellis Orts
Susan Parker’s family life may be euphemistically called “interesting.” “Difficult, heartbreaking, with occasional moments of devastation” would be more to the point. Depression, suicide, eating disorders, rape, AIDS—all make their appearance in her memoir, Walking in the Deep End.
Parker, currently a resident of north Houston suburbs, was raised in a nice, midwestern family that met hardship with avoidance, denial, and religious platitudes. In the middle of it all, Parker sensed so much around her was inauthentic, but couldn’t quite figure that she was skirting her own authentic identity. That is, until she realized, several years into her marriage, that she was in love with her best (female) friend.
This isn’t a coming-out story, however. It’s much larger than that. There are also moments of illumination, due to a strong spirituality that runs through the pages.
“I believe this book has wide appeal,” says Parker. “One of its themes is about being true to yourself, not hiding in shame about who you are. Living out loud and refusing to let others define you.”
Coffee Groundz (2503 Bagby) will be hosting a book signing by Parker on Tuesday, January 26, at 7 p.m. See thecoffeegroundz.com or susanparkerbooks.com for more information.
Neil Ellis Orts interviewed choreographer Trey McIntyre in the November 2009 issue of OutSmart magazine.
Breaking Out of Bedlam
Shaye Areheart Books (randomhouse.com)
Cora Sledge is sent to assisted living when her children realize her addiction to prescription drugs has made her life unmanageable. While there, she meets two separate gay men who teach her that while love may often be our undoing, it can sometimes be our salvation. Everything about this book is good—you can believe in the characters, the sense of place is very real, the plot is meticulous, and the story is one you want to finish. A feel-good finish makes this a great gift for the new year for the reader who likes somewhat-twisted happy endings. Available Jan. 12. —Review: Angel Curtis
Rumble Tumble and Captains Outrageous
Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (randomhouse.com)
Vintage Crime has brought back two of the very best Joe Lansdale novels. Leonard is a gay African American and a Vietnam vet. Hap is a white East Texas good old boy and a pacifist who kills when he needs to. Brett is Hap’s girlfriend, a tough young broad you don’t want to mess with. Roll the three together, add other characters you can’t believe you believe, mix in Lansdale’s incomparable storytelling, and you have the perfect recipe for a great afternoon’s read. —Review: A.C.
Tomorrow May Be Too Late: A Love Story
This book is a mixed bag. Tom meets Tom, a romance develops, and the two descend into months of deception and irresponsibility. Finally, one Tom finally breaks free and starts to rebuild his life. Reading this one was like reading the journal of an obsessed person you don’t know and you don’t care about—I found myself wishing an editor had cut about half of it. Still, this is an everyman story we all know, and I often found the various iterations fascinating. Properly edited, it would be a moving and compelling tale. —Review: A.C.
David L. Chapman and Brett Josef Grubisic
Arsenal Pulp Press (arsenalpulp.com)
The excellent American Hunks: The Muscular Male Body in Popular Culture explores the “long and gradual striptease” of the chiseled, well-built American male as he evolved into a cultural icon far more ubiquitous than many people would care to admit. Through various eras, from 1860 to 1970, the book traces the role of the hunk in art photography, advertising, military propaganda, and, yes, homoerotic imagery, and the authors present the subject with just enough insightful information and historical context to tear you away from some truly delicious photos for maybe eight seconds. This beautifully designed trade paper is probably not large enough to qualify as a coffee-table book, but if size really is an issue, you can flip directly to page 177 and admire the, uh, physical attributes of a model posed by Depression-era nudist photographer Dick Falcon. —Review: Jack Varsi
Paul Newman: The Man Behind the Baby Blues
Blood Moon Productions (bloodmoonproductions.com)
.What can you say about a pornographic history of American icon Paul Newman, an actor regarded by many people (perhaps of a certain age and sensibility) as the hottest hunk who ever lived in the known universe? You might be tempted to dive into Darwin Porter’s Paul Newman: The Man Behind the Baby Blues—His Secret Life Exposed hoping for some fun lowdown on this icon’s sex life, particularly in the years before he became known more for salad dressing and charitable endeavors than for that face and that body. Just be aware that this book dishes up mostly sordid allegations, rumors, and silly misinformation about Newman and various dead celebrities such as Brando, James Dean, and Elvis, among many others who obviously can’t set the record straight. (A photo of Suzanne Pleshette is identified as Elizabeth Taylor!) Much of it really does read like pornography, and, of course, this “author” presents little or no attribution to support the tall tales. Paul Newman almost certainly had a fascinating sex life, maybe even gay encounters—who knows? If you’re really interested, though, you might do better with a DVD of Hud and a jar of Vaseline. —Review: Jack Varsi
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