It’s August already, and beneath a growing pile of ever more terrifying newspapers, unread Vanity Fair issues and the occasionally flipped-through US Weekly, many a gay man has buried his ambition. You know, that Memorial Day hope to spend at least part of the summer working on your mind as well as your tan, and the aspiration to work your way through a sizable pile of summer reading that doesn’t feature photographs of the Trumps or the Kardashians.
But it’s not too late. Hornet’s bookworms have wiggled their way through the best independent local bookstores from coast to coast and have come up with five volumes of delectable queer content that will hold your attention and keep you turning pages from now through Labor Day.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (Penguin Books, $27)
This book alternates chapters set in the 1980s with others set the present. During the earlier years we spend time in Chicago with the friends and lovers of recently deceased Nico Marcus, a promising artist who died of AIDS in his early 20s. Thirty years later we follow Nico’s younger sister as she travels to France in search of her estranged daughter.
There’s suspense within each strand of the well-plotted story, and even more as the reader wonders how they will eventually come together. The earnest Midwestern warmth of Makkai’s storytelling suffuses the book with a gentle kindness that counteracts some of its more harrowing episodes.
Southernmost by Silas House (Algonquin Books, $27)
This book looks at contemporary America from compassionate angles never shown on Fox News or CNN. Tennessee Pentecostal preacher Asher Sharp invites a gay couple into his home after their own house is destroyed in a devastating flood. But when first his wife and then his congregation openly reject Asher’s charity and tolerance, he flees with his 8-year-old son in tow and makes his way to Key West, where he seeks a reconciliation with his brother Luke, whom he’d cut off 10 years prior after Luke came out as gay.
House’s writing is crisp and straightforward — commonsensical in a way that the smaller-minded of his characters are not.
Fabulous: The Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric by Madison Moore (Yale University Press, $26)
Fabulous delivers queer theory in the prose-equivalent of a sugar-coated pill. Instead of burying the reader in academic jargon, Moore whisks him into colorfully etched vignettes of nightlife, art-making and fashion. He introduces us to singular characters like Amadeus Leopold, a Korean-American violinist who studied at Juilliard and wears high heels and revealing wraps for his orchestral performances.
Not particularly interested in celebrities or style trends, Morgan writes, “The watershed moment of fabulousness occurs when marginalized people and other social outcasts get fed up with the pressures to conform … and respond to that suffering and exhaustion by taking the risk to live exactly as they see fit.” Moore’s message: Don’t “Yasss kween!” it, be it.
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley (Flatiron Books, $26)
This one is the latest bittersweet comedy by the author, most famously, of The Object of My Affection, which was adapted into the 1998 rom-com that introduced many of us to the beguiling charms of Paul Rudd. It’s a novel that reminds us that our chosen families aren’t strictly queer.
Gay, middle-aged college admissions counselor David finds himself unexpectedly reconnecting with a long-ago ex-wife, Julie, now divorced a second time. David tries to provide guidance to her wayward teenage daughter, who works as an online cam model, and becomes smitten with an utterly-wrong-for-him guy. Along the way, he begins to wonder if being gay remains enough of a reason to live apart from a woman he has always loved.
Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates (Picador, $26)
The kind of beach book that will keep you reading even as the sun sinks and everyone around you is folding their towels, it’s an exquisitely nerve-wracking thriller that escaped the attention of gay readers when it was initially published earlier this year, partly because reviewers were reluctant to reveal its secret queerness.
In the opening chapter, small town teenagers Patrick, Matthew and Hannah are bound to each other by a grisly act of violence. This scene, while unforgettable, is also incomprehensible — until the book’s stunning final chapters. Yates’ intricate plotting follows the trio into adulthood as threads of guilt, sexuality and trauma tangle in their subconscious minds until they ultimately reunite, with devastating results.