From the Beginning

The American People

Larry Kramer’s The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart has drawn as much praise as it has criticism.

It is the first in a planned trilogy by the iconic American author and activist. Some critics claim the book is sure to become a new “American classic.” Others wonder whether the novel’s gargantuan size and impenetrable prose merit its phenomenal praise. Publisher’s Weekly called the book “consistently frustrating” as Kramer’s sprawling and incendiary story is weighed down by verbose backstories and a litany of characters who come and go. In The New Yorker, David Leavitt said we must “celebrate… the nerve” of The American People whether or not we value the stylistic and literary merit of the entire volume.

One thing everyone can agree on is that AIDS activist Larry Kramer has spent a lifetime using his voice loudly and unapologetically.

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A Horse is at Least Human, for God’s Sake


J.D. Salinger made an appearance on BoJack Horseman. He was working in a tandem bike shop.

Read more at A.V. Club.

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Joel, Paul, Bob, Lou, and Timothy

Louise Wareham Leonard


Joel is from Queens and a graphic designer. He has a loft apartment in Soho. In this apartment is a swing. You can swing from the light of the windows on the east side toward the darkness on the west. Joel makes me cards: homemade carefully wrought works-of-art cards. Joel gives me a photograph of two trees leaning toward each other. He writes on a card: You are the light at the end of the tunnel. Not long after this, he changes his mind. “You are angry at me,” he says, “You are frequently angry and I do not know why.” For my thirty-second birthday, he gives me a bicycle, a red Villager cruiser. We go biking in the afternoon through the streets of New York. We bike to the Lower East Side and across the Brooklyn Bridge. He is happy with me. This happiness, however, does not last. Joel decides he no longer wants to see me. “You are too angry,” he says. “You are angry for some reason I don’t know. I don’t cause your anger. Something does, but it is not me and I can’t heal it.”


Paul is a waiter and also an actor. He takes me home and hands me a lance. He is a jouster. He jousts with me. “I want to joust with you,” he tells me, “so you always remember.”


I meet Bob at a dinner party on Gansevoort Street. I have come late to the party so as to miss dinner. I can’t afford dinner, so come for coffee. Bob notices this. Bob comments on it. Bob is impressed, he says. He is a lawyer, Insurance Coverage and Litigation. He lives on 35th Street. He has a house in Rhinebeck. He drives me there and it is spring. It is April but not summer. We lie back on his sun warmed bed. It is blue, and also quiet. He hardly touches me. This is how seriously he takes me. He tells me he is serious and he acts serious. He takes me to his parents’ house in Greenwich, Connecticut. They are in their early eighties, full of plenitude. We walk by their ocean and “you have the body of a nineteen-year-old,” he says, “I love that; I want to marry that.” “That?” I repeat. “Yes,” he smiles, “That.” Something in my chest starts to rise. Something catches my lungs so they stop moving. “What if I don’t always have the body of a nineteen-year-old?” I ask. “But you plan to,” he says. “Don’t you?” I weary, sometimes, of how easy men are—both to please and to lose. “Oh, for God’s sake,” I say. “Oh,” Bob says, pulling back from me, groping for his car keys. I have an urge to slap him. I do not slap him, but my body wants to. As much as he is afraid of me, as much as that and more, I despise him for his fear.


Lou is in a hot tub, alone me with me at the Chelsea Piers, the most expensive club I belong to. It has windows on the Hudson. It has velvet light. He stands up to let the water flow over him, and I see his package. I am embarrassed by this. I know his package has been the subject of attention. He sees me looking, but I look away. Always it is this way, with the famous. Pretending not to know them when “Sad Song” fashioned all my dreams. “Oh,” I say to him finally, so he squints at me, hoping I haven’t spoken. “You know my brother.” His eyes are the color and depth of wall painted black. “Who is your brother?” he asks.

His voice is very deep. It is the deep of the mad, of the man I always try to make love me, the one who does finally love me, until I realize his love is not worth as much as I’d thought. “Ben Galogly,” I say. “Ben.” His eyes light up with a fascinated horror, the way they always do for Ben, though not so much for me. “Congratulations,” he says.


Timothy is a favorite. He lives on Prince Street and rides a Moto Guzzi motorbike and helps the poor in Bushwick. In his wallet, he keeps a poem of mine, about Jesus, and rage, but mostly rage. We go to the Odeon, and Pravda. His favorite bird is the sparrow. When I leave town, to work upstate, he gives me the Audubon Field Guild to Northeastern Trees.

We meet at the Candlelight, between towns, in Massachusetts. They have electric candles along the window sills. He buys me hiking boots. He washes my car and fits it for emergencies. We hike the Appalachian Trail. We sleep on mountains. We follow creeks and mushrooms. He is broad shouldered and tall. He wears shorts and thermal tops. He wears red hiking socks and a Tilley hat. I am thirty-six and would like a baby. “A baby,” he repeats, in his apartment, as if this is a dirty word.

I never go back, except to pick up my things. I find a list of pros and cons about me. Pro: Great sex. A good person. Con: Needy, both emotionally and financially. In six months, he impregnates a soap actress. They marry and have two children.

52 Men

Louise Wareham Leonard writes with such rare intensity, rage, sadness and ferocious love, she lights up a world where expectancies and experiences of desire, sexuality and authenticity are redefined and exploded. Both devastating and, often, laugh-out-loud funny, her work has a savage purity—forgiving both all and nothing—demanding truth, wresting us from darkness to the ethereal, offering both solace and change. Born in New Zealand, she moved to Manhattan at age twelve, attended Columbia College and has received, amongst other awards, the James Jones Literary Society First Novel Award. She lives in upstate New York.

Copyright © 2015 by Louise Wareham Leonard from 52 Men. Reprinted by permission of Red Hen Press.

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Love the Player, Love the Game

Baldur's Gate Matt Bell

FA review tag

Matt Bell’s newest book, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn is at once a memoir, a lecture on storycraft, an apology, and a love letter to the classic Dungeons & Dragons video game. It comes to us from Boss Fight Books, which specializes in “great books about classic video games.” So if the names Imoen, Jaheria, Aerie, Viconia, Korgan Bloodaxe, Minsc and Boo the miniature giant space hamster mean anything to you, you’ve come to the right place.

We are said to be living in the new golden age of literary science fiction. Video games are supposed to be fine art now. Dungeon masters are our new literary celebrities. These days, you can go to any MFA program in the country and hear people drop references to Ursula LeGuin, Margaret Atwood and even Robert fucking Jordan. So why do I still feel a twinge of embarrassment at the mention of D&D?

The question of shame lies at the heart of this book. Bell chronicles not only his most recent playthrough of the game—a task that takes him 100+ hours and gives the book its structure—but also the shame he remembers of being a D&D kid:

When I was growing up, almost everything I loved was deeply uncool and embarrassing, and so I learned, year by year, to hide more of that part of me away. To pretend I was not into fantasy and science fiction and Dungeons & Dragons. To never talk about computer games in class or on the school bus.

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Drinking Martinis in Jelly Jars

Grant Faulkner

John Cheever’s Dinner Guest

Francine was the sort of woman who spoke in clichés, asked the price of everything. “What a charming setting,” she said of the dining room. “That highboy was a nice purchase.” When the conversation tipped to the topic of travel, she seized the moment to talk about her two weeks in Paris as an 18-year-old exchange student. “There’s nothing like Paris,” she sighed. We joked that she deserved to be stranded with a broken down car, get chased by a dog, marry a man with Tourette syndrome, something. She waved to everyone, though, unlike us. We couldn’t begrudge her that.

Letters from the Crypt

Gerard put all the items in a nondescript box: the letters, the journal Celeste had given him, the post-it notes with secret missives. He wrapped her collage in wax paper like an art curator would. The red swath of fingernail polish, images of a blindfolded woman. He’d written her a long letter interpreting the work, but he’d been beguiled by the woman, dainty yet waiting for a firing squad. Odd to archive torrents of emotions. Packing tape like a lock on an old mortuary. One never opens a crypt, yet the body is always primped and dressed for a ball. Continue reading

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Cris Beam

Cris Beam

In the fourth of her series of interviews with women who write nonfiction, E.B. Bartels speaks with Cris Beam.

Cris Beam has written two books of nonfiction–Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers (Harcourt, 2007) and To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care (Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt, 2013)–and a young adult novel, I Am J (Little, Brown, 2011). Her books have received many awards, including a Lambda Literary award and a Stonewall Honor for Transparent, and a Kirkus and American Library Association Best Book honor and a Junior Library Guild Selection for I Am J. Additionally, Beam’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atavist, The Huffington Post, The Awl, Out, and on This American Life, among others. She teaches writing at Columbia University and New York University.

EB: Why have you–as a writer, a woman, a person–been drawn to writing nonfiction?

CB: I write fiction as well, but nonfiction is such a large genre–there is so much room in it, so much room to play with form–it feels like there are endless possibilities.

I really love learning about different types of people, and I love reporting on them. I started out as a journalist–I’ve always wanted to know how people think, and why they do the things they do. I write to try to understand how people make their decisions, how they live together, how they form communities. You can do that with fiction, you can imagine–but nonfiction allows me to actually spend time with people and ask them questions I might not be able to ask in fiction. Nonfiction allows me to be a kind of spy. Continue reading

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The Art of Denial

prison bars

The Bordirtoun Pongs have long been known for being artists of denial. To be such an artist, one must be nearly developmentally disabled at heeding the advice and/or warnings of others. When Millmore’s co-workers repeatedly told him that bridge construction was in no way safer than building railroad tunnels, my great-great-granduncle simply nodded and went on his merry way. Probably because, by most accounts, he didn’t understand much English and was partially deaf thanks to his repeated exposure to dynamite blasts. When Parris Pong was told by his most loyal customers that he needed to stop bruising his prized prostitutes, he agreed and slapped them face-side instead. Before Francisco Pong was interned, members of his congregation had warned him that his own congregants were questioning his ethnicity. But he persisted, insisting that God saw no color, and all His children would be able to distinguish between Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans. Of course, Saul was warned numerous times by Nolan Bushnell himself to stay away from his wife, a warning left unheeded.

Since I’ve started writing these pages, I have found myself becoming attuned to the patterns of denial in my fellow inmates. There’s a wing of sex offenders at Bordirtoun Correctional who have pled not guilty, who spend group therapy sessions maintaining that they did not go over to that teen’s house with sexual intentions, never mind that they had condoms in their pockets.

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HITTING SHELVES #21: The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

The Last Pilot

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock comes out today!

It’s a deceptive novel: a book about flying that is actually about fatherhood; a book about the Space Race whose protagonist is a dropout from the program; a book about an iconic period in American history by an author born in England; a book about technological triumph that hides a family tragedy. More than any other account of our first adventures in space, The Last Pilot puts a sympathetic face on the domestic hardships behind the scenes.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of The Last Pilot?

Benjamin Johncock

Benjamin Johncock

I wasn’t expecting today to be so emotional. My wife and I celebrated when we got the book deal, over a year ago, and then she threw a surprise party for me at the beginning of the summer. But, but, well; there it is. It crept up on me over coffee and Novel 2 this morning. It’s been a long way, but we’re here, to quote Al Shepard. What an extraordinary privilege it is to be published. My wife has just messaged me to say she’s bought champagne, steaks, and she’s lighting a fire in the garden where we’ll eat later, when the kids are asleep. We’re going to raise a glass to a few people tonight, because I’d rather give thanks than celebrate. The list is large for the road was long. Someone once told me that thanksgiving gives buoyancy for the inevitable tough times—of which I’m sure there will be plenty. If you ask me, self-celebration leads to self-elevation, which leads to becoming an a-hole. And here’s the thing: as soon as you start to think you’re great, the needle on future prose goes down. Self-doubt is your friend. No writer should ever lose the fear of being crap. I certainly don’t intend to. But tonight, we’ll take a moment, in the quiet, under the stars, together.

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