Today I’d like to recommend some recent LGBTQ literature. I know that’s strange for a straight man to do, but I’m sure it’s not completely unheard of. None of these books were really under the radar when they came out, they’re almost all by major publishers, but if you weren’t paying attention to book news, or distracted by other books (which happens!), you might have missed these.
First of all, I’d like to mention In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado, her experimental memoir of her experience in an abusive lesbian relationship. This book not only explores a taboo most people don’t know about, but does so in an experimental form that reveals itself as the only way Machado’s story could have been told. In my humble opinion, In the Dream House is one of the most significant LGBTQ books published since James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. They are very different books, but both are works of supreme artistry. However, while Baldwin cloaked his emotions in Giovanni’s Room, Machado is unabashedly raw and direct in her book (though at the same time…repentant?)
Secondly, I’d like to talk about Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, a novel depicting the lives of a group of friends surviving and not surviving the AIDS crisis in the 1980s Chicago gay community. It’s an important story, one that was ignored at the time, and pretty much ignored since. Makkai is a straight woman, but her incredible research and compassion demonstrates that she did not take this task lightly. The book is informative, hypnotizing, heartbreaking, and infuriating. It’s great. And I think it would be a great TV show – my only complaint about the book is that it stopped.
Finally, last year (or was it the year before?) I read Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous. Born in 1988,Vuong is a Vietnamese-American who came to this country with his family as refugees, and made a name for himself with his 2016 poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds (which I haven’t read). On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous is Vuong’s first novel, and it’s framed as a letter written from a son to his mother who cannot read. The book depicts the narrator’s journey to America with his mother and grandmother, as well as his tragic coming of age romance with a young man at the farm where he works in his new country. The book is raw, but beautiful and poetic. It can be easily completed in a day if no one’s bugging you.