Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellI have already said it in the past, Eric Arvin was probably one of the first authors that pushed me to search books outside my usually hunting grounds. I read a collection of short stories by him and one of that stories hinted to a novel, SubSurdity, that at the time Eric Arvin had self-published with a small indipendent imprint. I bought a strange type of .pdf file that, once I changed laptop, it didn't work (lucky me Eric sent me another copy). Anyway, all of this to let you understand how good that story was. So, enjoy Eric Arvin's Inside Reader list.
1) In a Shallow Grave by James Purdy. I saw a film version of this years ago starring Michael Biehn (who I had a massive crush on) and Patrick Dempsey, and sought out the book it was based on. In doing so, I stumbled upon my favorite writer. Purdy, more than any other writer, echoes in my more serious work. This is surreal, Southern Gothic writing at its best. Moody, romantic, and eerie. The romance at the heart of the tale between a disfigured war vet and a hired hand is one of the most aching ever novelized, gay or straight.
Paperback: 140 pages
Publisher: City Lights Publishers (January 1, 2001)
Publisher Link: http://www.citylights.com/book/?GCOI=87286100443320
Amazon: In a Shallow Grave
"Purdy does not celebrate the wonders of our lives; he digs under the flesh, deals with the howling of our nighttime existence, the rough arithmetic of our dreams. He is also a very funny writer, one who captures the particular idiom of women and men talking in their sleep. It's when we apply our mundane logic to Purdy that we fail to read him. We want to stuff him in our clothes closets, make him familiar, have him entertain us like a dancing bear, but Purdy won't dance in the usual way. If we take the time to listen and are willing to leap out of our comfortable skin, we will discover some of the most startling fiction that has been written over the past thirty years." – Jerome Charyn
2) At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O´Neill. This book splits people right down the middle. Some are thrown by its Joycian structure and style, but I adore it. It swept me right up in its arms. Set at the time of the Easter Uprising, it tells of the growing love between two young men. The final line had me sobbing and thinking about it for weeks after.
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Scribner (February 25, 2003)
Publisher Link: http://www.simonandschuster.biz/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=414740&er=9780743222952
Amazon: At Swim, Two Boys: A Novel
Set during the year preceding the Easter Uprising of 1916 -- Ireland's brave but fractured revolt against British rule -- At Swim, Two Boys is a tender, tragic love story and a brilliant depiction of people caught in the tide of history. Powerful and artful, and ten years in the writing, it is a masterwork from Jamie O'Neill. Jim Mack is a naïve young scholar and the son of a foolish, aspiring shopkeeper. Doyler Doyle is the rough-diamond son -- revolutionary and blasphemous -- of Mr. Mack's old army pal. Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of rock where gentlemen bathe in the nude, the two boys make a pact: Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, on Easter of 1916, they will swim to the distant beacon of Muglins Rock and claim that island for themselves. All the while Mr. Mack, who has grand plans for a corner shop empire, remains unaware of the depth of the boys' burgeoning friendship and of the changing landscape of a nation.
3) A Separate Peace by John Knowles. While not blatantly a gay novel, any young gay man who read it in school knows its power. Knowles was a gay man and infused his writing with the pathos and desire that only gay people can know. This was the first gay romantic relationship I had ever read about, and the fact that teachers don´t comment on the underlying love affair when teaching is a true careless disservice to the book and gay youth.
Paperback: 204 pages
Publisher: Scribner (October 7, 2003)
Publisher Link: http://www.simonandschuster.biz/content/book.cfm?tab=1&pid=425132&er=9780743253970
Amazon: A Separate Peace
Set at a boys' boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world. A bestseller for more than thirty years, A Separate Peace is John Knowles's crowning achievement and an undisputed American classic.
4) As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann. If ever a book made you question yourself, it´s this one. The main character is a sociopath in 17th century England, and yet when he falls in love you can´t help but root for him. A historical epic in the grandest sense of the word, and a wonderful gay love story - up until the jaw-dropping ending. You´ll close the book with eyes and mouth wide.
Paperback: 584 pages
Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (January 7, 2003)
Publisher Link: http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=1183768
Amazon: As Meat Loves Salt (Harvest Original)
In the seventeenth century, the English Revolution is under way. The nation, seething with religious and political discontent, has erupted into violence and terror. Jacob Cullen and his fellow soldiers dream of rebuilding their lives when the fighting is over. But the shattering events of war will overtake them. A darkly erotic tale of passion and obsession, As Meat Loves Salt is a gripping portrait of England beset by war. It is also a moving portrait of a man on the brink of madness. Hailed as a masterpiece, this is a first novel by a most original new voice in fiction.
5) Narrow Rooms by James Purdy. Okay. I know it´s not fair to have two books on this list by the same writer, but he is my favorite writer. This is the gay Wuthering Heights. Very dark and twisted. Sometimes disgusting. But the romance at the heart of it will sweep you up and the resolution at the end will leave you gasping. Not a book for the squeamish, but definitely one of the great gay love stories. It was set to be filmed by Derek Jarman (Edward II)...but then he died...so, you know, he couldn´t.
Hardcover: 185 pages
Publisher: Arbor House Pub Co; 1st Edition. edition (March 1978)
Amazon: Narrow Rooms
Gore Vidal’s recent feature profile of James Purdy in the Sunday New York Times Book Review signaled the long overdue arrival of a major literary cult hero into the American canon. Purdy’s exquisitely surreal fiction has been populated for more than 40 years by social outcasts living in crisis and longing for love. However, Purdy was also among the first novelists to incorporate transgressive renderings of gay life into his work, including unapologetic, sexually explicit material. Narrow Rooms—his 1978 classic that ranks among his most masterful novels—is a passionate and sometimes bloody love story about adolescent obsession and revenge.
6) A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham. A devastating read about finding and losing family. It´s more than just a love story. For me, it came at a tumultuous time in my life when I was very ill. Reading Cunningham´s work gave me a warm feeling that few books can. This is a tome about character above all else. The film adaptation is pretty damn good, albeit minus one important character.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Picador; 1st Picador USA pbk. ed edition (November 15, 1998)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/ahomeattheendoftheworld
Amazon: A Home at the End of the World: A Novel
From Michael Cunningham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours, comes this widely praised novel of two boyhood friends: Jonathan, lonely, introspective, and unsure of himself; and Bobby, hip, dark, and inarticulate. In New York after college, Bobby moves in with Jonathan and his roommate, Clare, a veteran of the city's erotic wars. Bobby and Clare fall in love, scuttling the plans of Jonathan, who is gay, to father Clare's child. Then, when Clare and Bobby have a baby, the three move to a small house upstate to raise "their" child together and, with an odd friend, Alice, create a new kind of family. A Home at the End of the World masterfully depicts the charged, fragile relationships of urban life today.
7) The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. "Magical Realism" was coined for books like this. Set in the Napoleonic Wars, it´s about a woman whose heart is literally stolen by another woman and she goes searching to reclaim it. Breathtaking. Like all the books on my Top 10 list, after I put this down I asked myself what the hell I was doing writing. Nothing I ever scratched out would ever compare to this.
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (August 7, 1997)
Publisher Link: http://www.groveatlantic.com/#page=isbn9780802135223%20
Amazon: The Passion
This arresting, elegant novel uses Napolean's Europe as the setting for a tantalizing surrealistic romance between an observer of history and a creature of fantasy.
8) The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. What can be said about this classic that hasn´t already been said? Unstereotypical. Groundbreaking. Heartrending. All those superlatives are true. And for me, it was very familiar. It reminded me of the school I attended, Hanover College. A heartbreaking book of love transcending bigotry...almost. So where´s the movie?.
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Wildcat Press; 20 Anv edition (June 1, 1996)
Amazon: The Front Runner: A Novel
First published in 1974, The Front Runner raced to international acclaim - the first novel about gay love to become popular with mainstream. In 1975, coach Harlan Brown is hiding from his past at an obscure New York college, after he was fired from Penn State University on suspicion of being gay. A tough, lonely ex-Marine of 39, Harlan has never allowed himself to love another man. Then Billy Sive, a brilliant young runner, shows up on his doorstep. He and his two comrades, Vince Matti and Jacques LaFont, were just thrown off a major team for admitting they are gay. Harlan knows that, with proper training, Billy could go to the '76 Olympics in Montreal. He agrees to coach the three boys under strict conditions that thwart Billy's growing attraction for his mature but compelling mentor. The lean, graceful frontrunner with gold-rim glasses sees directly into Harlan's heart. Billy's gentle and open acceptance of his sexuality makes Harlan afraid to confront either the pain of his past, or the challenges which lay in wait if their intimacy is exposed. But when Coach Brown finds himself falling in love with his most gifted athlete, he must combat his true feelings for Billy or risk the outrage of the entire sports world - and their only chance at Olympic gold.
9) Lust: Or, No Harm Done by Geoff Ryman. There´s not a stranger book on the list. A man gets his wish to have any sexual dalliance, no matter how off-the-map, he wants. He enjoys trysts with a beefy bodybuilder, a cartoon, and even, and most disturbingly, his own handsome father. This is the book that told me, if written well, a writer can do anything they want.
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (August 1, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://us.macmillan.com/lust
Amazon: Lust: or No Harm Done
What if you could have sex with anyone in the world? The ultimate fantasy? Or a nightmare of self-discovery? Michael Blasco, a young scientist investigating what happens to the brain during the process of learning, suddenly finds himself on the other end of experimentation. On the way home from his lab one night he runs into Tony, a fitness instructor from his gym who he harbors a crush for, on the same platform waiting for the subway. When Michael imagines Tony naked, a pleasant fantasy to spice up a dull journey home, an extraordinary thing happens: Tony strips then and there on the platform and offers himself to Michael in front of all onlookers. Horrified, Michael flees. But back at his apartment, Tony reappears, as if by magic. And disappears again, when Michael wishes him away. Being a scientist, Michael recognizes an experiment when he sees one, and sets out to test the parameters of his newfound gift. In quick succession he conjures up Billie Holliday, Johnny Weismuller, Daffy Duck, Picasso, Sophia Loren, even his younger self. The world is seemingly there for the taking. But what does Michael really desire? Mad with lust and losing all scientific objectivity, he runs the gamut of his fantasies inventing new lovers and calling up old ones, until, sated and morally bankrupt, he's forced to confront himself. What happens to the heart when it gets everything it desires? From the renowned author of Was and 253 comes a witty, disturbing and intensely erotic fable for the modern age.
10) Troll: A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo. The second strangest book on my list. Set in a world very much like the one we live in except trolls exist as vagrants and nuisances, this tale focuses on a man who develops a relationship with one of the trolls. The troll of course cannot return the man´s love, and in the end...Well, you´ll have to read it. Let´s just say, this aint Hollywood.
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (February 19, 2004)
Publisher Link: http://www.groveatlantic.com/#page=isbn9780802141293%20
Amazon: Troll: A Love Story
Winner of the Finlandia Award, Finland’s most prestigious literary award, Johanna Sinisalo’s U.S. debut novel is a fanciful tale of a fairy-tale animal who reveals the beast in ourselves. An enchanting novel that has become an international sensation, Troll recalls the unforgettable charm and otherworldly zoology of Rafi Zabor’s The Bear Comes Home and Steven Sherill’s The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break. Everyone has their rough nights, but things have clearly taken a turn for the surreal when Angel, a young photographer, ends a night of drinking and heartbreak by finding a group of drunken teenagers in the courtyard of his apartment building, taunting a young troll. Trolls are known in Scandinavian mythology as wild beasts like the werewolf, but this troll is just a small, wounded creature. Angel decides to offer it a safe haven for the night. In the morning Angel thinks he dreamed it all. But he finds the troll alive, well, and drinking from his toilet. What does one do with a troll in the city? Angel begins researching frantically. Officially classified by scientists in 1907, trolls have long been thought practically extinct. Angel searches the Internet, folklore, nature journals, and newspaper clippings—even calling a veterinarian ex-boyfriend to find out what it will eat—but his research doesn’t tell him that trolls exude pheromones that smell like a Calvin Klein aftershave and that this has a profound aphrodisiac effect on all those around him. Shooting an assignment for the ultrahip “Stalker” brand jeans, Angel finds that Martes, the advertising art director who previously jilted him, suddenly finds him irresistible, and in general he has gone from being the brokenhearted to the heartbreaker. As Angel’s life changes beyond recognition, it becomes clear that the troll is familiar with the man’s most forbidden feelings, and that it may take him across lines he never thought he’d cross. A novel of sparkling originality, Troll is a wry, peculiar, and beguiling story of nature and man’s relationship to wild things, and of the dark power of the wildness in ourselves.
About Eric Arvin: Eric Arvin resides in the same sleepy Indiana river town where he grew up. He graduated from Hanover College with a bachelor’s degree in history and has lived, for brief periods, in Italy and Australia. He’s survived brain surgery and his own loud-mouthed personal demons.
Visit his blog at http://daventryblue.blogspot.com/
Suburbilicious by Eric Arvin
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (September 18, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?cPath=55_59&products_id=1545
Amazon: Suburbilicious: Vignettes from Jasper Lane
Blurb: Take another turn down Jasper Lane, the well-off neighborhood where gay porn parties, fresh cheesecake, and friendly busybodies welcome newcomers while a dog named Gayhound helps with the landscaping. Cassie Bloom is thrilled her son Jason is home, but she's worried about the secrets buried around the house, especially when a scary-looking stranger starts spying on her! Rick and James are basking in the blush of love—or is it the flush of jealousy as Rick's rugby teammate starts hanging around?—and the flamboyantly gay Terrence is off bonding with his newly discovered son, Christian. Melinda, divorced from her stuffy husband, is looking to dip her toe in the dating pool, but she's got one problem: her potential date's embarrassing last name. Steve and Sandy Jones are now proud parents, but Sandy's got to find something to do with herself, and running for office in the Gay Porn Wives Club may be just the ticket. And remember, it's a do-unto-others mentality on Jasper Lane, so when lesbian couple Asha and Keiko move in and Sandy helps Keiko get a directing job at Steve's gay porn film company, it's par for the course!