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BOOK REVIEW Off the Rocks, Vol. 19
by Liz Baudler
2016-02-24

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Edited by Allison Fradkin, $13; NewTown Writers Press; 181 pages

When reading NewTown Writers Press' new LGBT collection, Off The Rocks ( Vol. 19 ), the words that come to mind are "experimental" and "enthusiastic." It's clear that about half of the contributors are emerging voices who could use a little more polish, but it's equally clear that everyone writes from a place of deep passion, and more than likely having fun in the process.

The "past" theme dominates Off the Rocks, whether personal or historical past, and there's plenty of unique interpretations. Two short stories delve into gay romances in wartime: one set in the Civil War, one from WWII. ( Both are voiced by characters from the losing sides—the South and Japan—which is intriguing. ) The collection starts with an amusingly colloquial imagining of famous LGBT moments in history, including a psychoanalytic session with Freud, Hadrian encountering a Catamite and a WWII WAVE interview gone slightly awry.

Poems veer into personal territory. Mat Wenzel's "No Man is an Island Except St. John of Patmos" is a cacophonous joyous mashup of autobiography and allusion in which he includes a coming out Facebook headline. Jonathan Bracker traverses similar territory in "Strange Pair," a lyrical quiet awareness of a rough-around the edges male classmate who pricked the surface of his dormant sexuality.

Student of LGBTQ history and memoir that I am, my favorite pieces—generally also the best in terms of structure and language—were the short essays. Barbara Ruth's "Performing"—an account of visiting her very straight parents with her very queer girlfriend in the peak of the womyn's movement—not only encapsulated a very particular space and time, but made me giggle as I remembered my own careful negotiations upon visiting my girlfriend's very nice East Coast suburban parents. Booh Eduardo's "Street of Dreams" is positively arresting in its illustration of the early days of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco. The image of Eduardo, a file clerk, conscripted to move an AIDS patient while trained nurses in hazmat gear refuse to touch the man's bed, seared itself into my brain and has refused to leave.

But I would be remiss without heaping praise upon editor Allison Fradkin's own submission, "Be a Gal Pal." Lover of Lucy Ricardo that I am, I was charmed by her name-drop into the introduction and the idea of Lucy and Ethel as queer icons delights me no end. Little did I know that Fradkin's inspiration for this allusion came from her raucous short story about two ladies who meet as Lucy and Ethel impersonators. There may or may not be witty banter and/or a sex scene in the ice cream parlor and a banana split without bananas, which now that I think about it, is exactly what this story is—a vibrant banana split made better without the bananas.

As an organization, NewTown Writers has been around for 35 years. It's not difficult to see why. Not every piece in Off the Rocks is a hit, but it's an interesting and vital space for LGBTQ voices and this volume is worth buying at the very least to support its existence. I sincerely hope that volume 20 is as fun to discover as this one.


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