Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellToday guest is Michael Klein, poet and memoirist and two time Lambda Literary Award winner.
"So Long, See You Tomorrow" and "The Folded Leaf" by William Maxwell. These are my two favorite American novels by the same author and they are quite different in range and meaning. "So Long, See You Tomorrow" is a perfect, exquisite and at times experimental (the narrative is given over at one point to a dog) short novel about how a murder effects two families living in the Midwest. The writing is sentence for sentence so full of feeling and yet so concise and surprising. Maxwell is a master.
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage International ed edition (January 3, 1996)
Amazon: So Long, See You Tomorrow
In this magically evocative novel, William Maxwell explores the enigmatic gravity of the past, which compels us to keep explaining it even as it makes liars out of us every time we try. On a winter morning in the 1920s, a shot rings out on a farm in rural Illinois. A man named Lloyd Wilson has been killed. And the tenuous friendship between two lonely teenagers—one privileged yet neglected, the other a troubled farm boy—has been shattered.Fifty years later, one of those boys—now a grown man—tries to reconstruct the events that led up to the murder. In doing so, he is inevitably drawn back to his lost friend Cletus, who has the misfortune of being the son of Wilson's killer and who in the months before witnessed things that Maxwell's narrator can only guess at. Out of memory and imagination, the surmises of children and the destructive passions of their parents, Maxwell creates a luminous American classic of youth and loss.
"The Folded Leaf" is the most homoerotic story I know and, in some ways, the most guarded homoerotic story I know. It follows two schoolboys through many different kinds of education and while it's longer and a bit more rambling than "So Long, See You Tomorrow", Maxwell's genius is very much stamped on every page.
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Vintage (October 1, 1996)
Amazon: The Folded Leaf
Here is a classic novel from one of our most honored writers--the author of such acclaimed works as So Long, See You Tomorrow and All the Days and Nights." The Folded Leaf is the serenely observed yet deeply moving story of two boys finding one another in the Midwest of the 1920s, when childhood lasted longer than it does today and even adults were more innocent of what life could bring.
"Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx is the other most homoerotic story I know and nothing at all like the movie. The writing is strange, truncated and yet incredibly moving and revelatory and achieves that rare quality of matching a compelling story with just as compelling a way of saying that story.
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Scribner; Original edition (November 1, 2005)
Amazon: Brokeback Mountain
Annie Proulx has written some of the most original and brilliant short stories in contemporary literature, and for many readers and reviewers, "Brokeback Mountain" is her masterpiece. Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two ranch hands, come together when they're working as sheepherder and camp tender one summer on a range above the tree line. At first, sharing an isolated tent, the attraction is casual, inevitable, but something deeper catches them that summer. Both men work hard, marry, and have kids because that's what cowboys do. But over the course of many years and frequent separations this relationship becomes the most important thing in their lives, and they do anything they can to preserve it. The New Yorker won the National Magazine Award for Fiction for its publication of "Brokeback Mountain," and the story was included in Prize Stories 1998: The O. Henry Awards. In gorgeous and haunting prose, Proulx limns the difficult, dangerous affair between two cowboys that survives everything but the world's violent intolerance.
"The Kiss" by Kathryn Harrison. The best memoir I know. Artful, heartbreaking, of course shocking (about a woman who launches into a sexual affair with her father years after he's basically taken himself out of her life). Many people dismissed the book because of it's controversial subject matter but Harrison is the real deal -- an extraordinary writer who gives her memoir something that a lot of memorists leave out: subtext.
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (April 12, 2011)
Amazon: The Kiss: A Memoir
In this acclaimed and groundbreaking memoir, Kathryn Harrison transforms into a work of art the darkest passage imaginable in a young woman’s life: an obsessive love affair between father and daughter that begins when she, at age twenty, is reunited with the father whose absence had haunted her youth. Exquisitely and hypnotically written, like a bold and terrifying dream, The Kiss is breathtaking in its honesty and in the power and beauty of its creation. A story both of transgression and of family complicity in breaking taboo, The Kiss is also about love—about the most primal of love triangles, the one that ensnares a child between mother and father.
"A Boy's Own Story" by Edmund White. His best book, hands down. Like Maxwell, White's writing, sentence for sentence is just gorgeous, surprising and generous to his people and to his world.
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); Reprint edition (February 24, 2009)
Amazon: A Boy's Own Story: A Novel
Originally published in 1982 as the first of Edmund White's trilogy of autobiographical novels, A Boy's Own Story became an instant classic for its pioneering portrayal of homosexuality. The book's unnamed narrator, growing up during the 1950s, is beset by aloof parents, a cruel sister, and relentless mocking from his peers, compelling him to seek out works of art and literature as solace-and to uncover new relationships in the struggle to embrace his own sexuality. Lyrical and poignant, with powerful evocations of shame and yearning, this is an American literary treasure.
"Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson. A letter from a preacher to his son. And a masterpiece of style, economy and something that used to be called moral thinking.
Paperback: 247 pages
Publisher: Picador; 1st Picador edition (January 10, 2006)
Amazon: Gilead: A Novel
Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life.
"Maps to Anywhere" by Bernard Cooper. His first book and his best book -- a book of autobiographical essays that is completely singular and contains some of the best first sentences I've ever read.
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: University of Georgia Press (October 1, 1997)
Amazon: Maps to Anywhere
The essays in Maps to Anywhere plot terrain that is at once familiar and subtly strange. Writing on subjects ranging from his family to the origin of the barbershop pole, Bernard Cooper digs into the glimmering surface of the southern California landscape, observing the collision of the American Dream with the realities of everyday life. From the fragments, he discovers landmarks by which he attempts to make sense of contemporary America.
About Michael Klein: MICHAEL KLEIN has written two books of poetry ("1990" and "then, we were still living") and two memoirs ("Track Conditions" and "The End of Being Known"). He has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award four times, winning the award twice and is currently working on a third book of poems called "The Arbitrarium". He lives in New York City and Provincetown, Massachusetts and teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at Goddard College in Vermont.
The End of Being Known: A Memoir by Michael Klein
Paperback: 152 pages
Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (October 22, 2009)
Amazon: The End of Being Known: A Memoir
Written in poet Michael Klein's uniquely passionate, unapologetic but humble voice,The End of Being Knownexplores the lines that define, yet also blur, the boundaries of sex, friendship, and compatibility. This collection of autobiographical essays probes the manifestations of sexual desire in its mystical variety: experiencing incest, falling in love, being a twin, and inhabiting the world of anonymous sex—in practice, and, in an essay about the Body Electric movement, as something recuperative and renewing.
Each essay unfurls in a hybrid of poetry, narrative, and fragmentary literary devices. Here is an uncompromising gaze upon the quandaries of those whose sexual, emotional, and relational worlds collide, yielding no answer to the riddle of desire, yet finding meaning by piecing together personal examples of universal themes such as learning, through trial and error, about love and life.