Canada displays its LGBTQ pride every summer, and Vancouver’s pride parade will be held this very weekend. Get proud with any of the following books – each of which has a unique and genuine perspective to offer on identity and relationships – and each of which Talon is proud to have published.
1. Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule
Number one on this list because it is literarally the number one lesbian novel – both in terms of chronology and quality. Published in 1964, Jane Rule’s first novel was an auspicious beginning for a writer who would build a reputation on her unflinching views about sexuality, relationships and the painful constrictions of societal convention. Even more astonishing is the way in which the novel has retained its cool quiet beauty and power of expression decades later.
Evelyn Hall is a literature professor who travels to Reno, Nevada in the summer of 1958 in order to obtain a divorce and thus put an end to her disastrous sixteen-year marriage. She is divorcing her husband on the advice of his psychiatrist because, this being the ’50s, he believes that Evelyn’s success is causing her husband’s depression. During her six-week stay at a boarding house (a residency requirement) Evelyn meets Ann Childs. Evelyn and Ann rapidly become aware of an increasing tension, arising in part from the generational gap between Evelyn and this young woman who bears a striking physical resemblance to her. Once these women have found the promise of a significant relationship, Rule’s rather open-ended question is whether or not it can survive the toxic atmosphere, not simply of an unruly gambling town, but of the past sorrows and hardships each of the characters is attempting to put behind them.
You might recognize the storyline; the novel was made into a movie in 1985: “Desert Hearts”.
2. BASH’d: A Gay Rock Opera: by Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow
When naïve small-town boy Dillon meets the sophisticated urban Jack in a gay bar, it’s love at first sight. But when Jack becomes the victim of a gay-bashing, Dillon sets out on an indiscriminate rampage of revenge. Realizing too late that two wrongs don’t make a right, the lovers, wrapped in each other’s arms, die in a hail of bullets.
Arriving in heaven, much to their contrite surprise, the creator fits the souls of these two Romeos with a set of wings and sends them on a mission of redemption. Condemned to wander the earth and tell their cautionary tale forever to whomever will listen, their angelic personae TBAG and FEMINEM have had no trouble enthralling wildly enthusiast audiences all over North America with the rap opera rhymes of this tragic tale ever since.
While the goal of BASH’d is first and foremost to tell an engaging gay love story, it also flips the music industry’s gangsta stereotype on its head and returns it to its political roots—in this case to explore the dangers of the kind of attitudes that continue to condone and even encourage sexual discrimination of all kinds in our society.
3. As Always: Memoir of a Life in Writing by Madeleine Gagnon, translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott
One of Canada’s greatest literary figures reflects on life at the centre of Quebec literary arts. Re-examining the influences of her early life in a large, rural Catholic family, Madeleine Gagnon not only explores her rejection of unexamined values as part of her intellectual development but also her refusal to be categorized by her gender. She describes the friendships that played such a large part in her life and the feminist battles of the time with all their hopes, disappointments, and triumphs. This is an account of a life well lived, told with candour, wisdom, and an inextinguishable sense of wonder.
Read an excerpt from As Always on Meta-Talon.
4. Tom at the Farm by Michel Marc Bouchard
Following the accidental death of his lover, and in the throes of his grief, urban ad executive Tom travels to the country to attend the funeral and to meet his mother-in-law, Agatha, and her son, Francis – neither of whom know Tom even exists. Arriving at the remote rural farm, and immediately drawn into the dysfunction of the family’s relationships, Tom is blindsided by his lost partner’s legacy of untruth. With the mother expecting a chainsmoking girlfriend, and the older brother hellbent on preserving a facade of normalcy, Tom is coerced into joining the duplicity until, at last, he confronts the torment that drove his lover to live in the shadows of deceit.
In a play that unfolds with progressively blurred boundaries between lust and brutality, between truth and elaborate ﬁction, Bouchard dramatizes how gay men often must learn to lie before they learn how to love. Throughout 2011 and 2012, Tom at the Farm was produced in Quebec and France, as Tom à la ferme, and in Mexico, as Tom en la granja. Award-winning Quebec director Xavier Dolan adapted the play for the screen in 2013, and the story continues to disturb and provoke.
5. Davie Street Translations by Daniel Zomparelli
This contemporary collection of poetry celebrates and examines Vancouver’s gay village, the Davie Street neighbourhood. Called “arresting and hard to put down … utterly charming and disarming” by the Georgia Straight, Zomparelli’s debut book is lively and witty as it “translates” gay male culture in Vancouver.
These poems are also letters to the anonymous, the proud, the panicky, the petrified and particularly the lonely, written everywhere – upon ripped bodies and diner napkins, upon bathroom stalls, and in Craigslist personals and Miss Lonelyhearts columns. Ranging from the rhapsodic to the epigrammatic with his dangerously experimental narrative that snorts the alphabet, Zomparelli imbues the fast-paced drug and party culture of Davie Village’s young gay males with grand poignancy and pathos. Stitching serial poems into this imaginary patchwork in the fashion of Robert Duncan, with drag queens and porn fantasy figures in tow, Zomparelli brashly faces up to fears of HIV and gay bashing. On this poetic street that is a universe, we turn away from violence, “dance fight, or turn it into a musical / West Side-like.” With poetic tributes to his Vancouver idols Billeh Nickerson, George Stanley and Michael V. Smith, Zomparelli demonstrates, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, that the young are always ready to give to those who are older than themselves the full benefits of their inexperience.
6. Hosanna by Michel Tremblay
In Michel Tremblay’s classic play about identity in crisis, Claude leaves the conformity of small-town Quebec to realize a new life and a new persona among the drag queens and prostitutes of Montreal’s seedy “Main” – the boulevard that marks the division of the city’s anglophone and francophone neighbourhoods. Claude’s illusions about himself are shattered when, painstakingly remade as his idol Elizabeth Taylor in “Cleopatra,” he arrives at a costume party themed on “great women of history” and is mocked for his glamorous aspirations. Written during the social and political tumult of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, Tremblay’s political allegory about the authenticity of self resonates ever more so today.
7. The Angel of Solitude by Marie-Claire Blais, translated by Linda Hodes
A unique, philosophical novel, The Angel of Solitude presides over the lives of eight young lesbian women who strive to achieve an all-female utopia within which homophobia, their pasts and their differences are abolished. As the narrative unfolds, we realize that none of the women are present directly – they come into being, and live their lives, only in and through the memories, observations and imaginations of each of the others. Thus, their mission to establish a fortress for themselves remains inconclusive; they have too much to overcome, both within themselves and in the world at large, to abandon their individual struggles for the sake of a group.
8. Mambo Italiano by Steve Galluccio
Touted as the gay version of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (with good reason), Mambo Italiano is the bittersweet tale of a Montreal couple coming to terms with their individual identities and public image as a couple.
Mambo Italiano achieves its overwhelming power through a perfect balance of fast-paced comedy and poignant drama. Angelo, at the prompting of his equally repressed sister Anna, has told his very traditionally Italian immigrant parents, Maria and Gino, that he is gay. Hurt, betrayed and mortified by Angelo’s coming out, his lover Nino is not unprepared for his widowed Italian mother Lina’s reaction – a full-on operatic barrage of melodrama and hysterical excess so profound it gives even Angelo’s shocked parents pause for second thoughts and prompts a hilarious and touching re-examination of their own outraged response to their son.
Translated by Michel Tremblay, its huge fan, into a wildly successful Francophone theatrical phenomenon, Mambo Italiano is far more about the dynamics of family, about the vast spaces between the old world and the new, about grasping the resonant codes embedded in what is said and what is meant in ordinary speech, than it is “about” gay culture. Still worth including on this list, though!
9. With Bated Breath by Bryden MacDonald
This is the provocative tale of Willy, a troubled but charismatic gay kid who ﬂees Cape Breton Island for Montreal with hopes of forgetting a newly broken heart by starting a new life in the big city. There, hopelessly awkward and naïve, caught up in the cynical and brutalizing cash-economy of the city’s red light district, he retreats ever further into a world of fantasy and anonymity, and soon goes missing without a trace. As rumours ﬂy, secrets explode and reality blurs with fantasy, he is both remembered and reinvented by each of the play’s characters in their own way.
Willy, in one way or another, has had a profound effect on the lives of the people he has touched. With Bated Breath asks questions about memory – how and why it plays such a prominent role in our lives: how time affects it, how it fractures, how we often reinvent it depending on the situation – and why it is that certain things stay with us with a blistering clarity, while the shadows of other people and events simply slip away, only to reveal themselves again later in our lives when we least expect them.
10. The Time Being by Mary Meigs
From Mary Meigs, the celebrated author of In the Company of Strangers, comes an autobiographical novel, The Time Being. An affair born of a correspondence with a distant admirer leads the lovers to an arranged meeting in Australia. With a lifetime of relationships already behind them, the two women approach each other cautiously, each filled with the rekindled fire of innocent passion, constrained by their gathered clouds of experience. In this isolated and primeval land, a performance of ancient aboriginal ritual and drama draws the lovers into the elemental world of “the dream time,” the still point around which their relationship begins to turn. This is an exquisite love story unlike any other, written in retrospect with a lovely, clear heart, and in the full light of day.
11. hungree throat by bill bissett
The incomparable, unstoppable bill bissett is the shaman of Candian poetry – and a gay icon in his own right, whose work, in the 1970s, stood against even parliamentary concerns about immoral art. hungree throat is his recent novel-poem, the intimate and yet broadsweeping story of a gay relationship.
Written in his non-hierarchic, phonetic orthography, hungree throat recounts the relationship of two men – one bold and unafraid, the other burdened by terrible memories and unable to trust. In this uplifting “novel in meditaysyun” about love, in which we witness ten years of a shared life, we are reminded of the overlapping, sometimes conﬂicting multitude of “hungers” common to us all:
all our throats
r hungree 4 breething being sing
ing eeting digesting speeking
saying food kissing watr love
air ﬁcksyun fakt memoree
th present what is nu all ovr
lapping imbuing change
th throat chakra being well
is a condishyn 4 life
12. Leave of Absence by Lucia Frangione
In this incredibly balanced and generous play, a booming bedroom community outside a large Canadian city is blown apart when fifteen-year-old Blake challenges long-held views of spirituality and sexuality. A student at the local Catholic high school, Blake confides in her best friend, Tracy, that she feels sexually attracted to her. At first encouraged and then rebuffed, Blake is eventually betrayed. Then, increasingly at risk among her peers, Blake remains unprotected by the adults meant to guard her freedom, and the audience is left with the question: Like these characters, what have we left undone? What ethics surround the absence of acting in response to another’s need?
“The connection between sexuality and spirituality is … at the heart of Lucia Frangione’s Leave of Absence, and it is manifested especially in the lesbian awakening of the fifteen-year-old central character, Blake,” wrote Canadian Literature. “_Leave of Absence_ ends with a magical effect, as the air fills with singing that the playwright describes as ‘mystical’ and ‘miraculous.’ … [the key, for the audience, seems to be] to find the connection between the physical and the metaphysical, to embody a spiritual experience.”
The outcome challenges the Roman Catholic church’s response to the same-sex marriage rulings in Canada. Leave of Absence won the ACTivist theatre Amnesty International Playwright contest in 2011.