Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
A punch to the gut of a book, this novel about a poor white southern family, a tyrannical father, and his spitfire daughter is what I'd call a proto-queer book. Allison herself is an outspoken, or maybe simply outlaw feminist and this novel of hers is as much about the predation of straight white masculine identity when it's placed under pressure as about the nascent desire for a sexuality that steps beyond that violence. It's just a great book.
Let the Dead Bury Their Dead by Randall Kenan
Kenan's short stories - also, as it happens, about coming of age and family life in rural North Carolina - are limpid and heartbroken in the best way. They stick with me years after I read them. Some of the scenes with the gay adolescent in that well-populated but still lonely landscape feel like my own memories, and you can't ask more than that from a book. As keen on race as sexuality, I highly recommend them.
The Last Interview by James Baldwin
From a great series of late and final interviews by major writers, the Baldwin edition is not to be missed. His final interview is with Richard Goldstein of the Village Voice and it bears so directly on our contemporary political moment in the U.S., as so much of Baldwin's writing still does, that it's astonishing. And it contains his most direct responses he gave on the question of his sexuality.
Grief by Andrew Holleran
Best known for his novel Dancer from the Dance, about the golden age of gay sex on Fire Island and New York immediately before the onset of AIDS, Holleran's most recent novel is Grief, a quiet masterpiece of its own. A gay man who's just lost his mother moves to Washington, D.C. where he boards with a punctilious single man in the city's gay neighborhood, and starts reading the diaries of Mary Todd Lincoln. Sentence to sentence, the descriptions of his life are so acute and controlled that the overall effect is devastating.
The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal
Still remarkable for when it was written in the late 1940s, it's Vidal's most potent and direct treatment of desire between men. The New York Times refused to review his books for a decade after it was published. To this day, I've never come across the ending of a novel about same-sex desire that has the same dramatic force.
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