DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEWs of The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers; M. Christian: Me2

 

Author (or Editor):  Babcock, Joe

Title: The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers

Fiction? Anthology?   fiction

Publisher:  Closet Case Books

Date: 2002

ISBN:  0-9720484-0-5

Series Name:

Physical description: softcover, approx 6 x 9

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL:  “coming out”

Review:

I bought a copy (okay, for object-oriented folks, an “instance”) of this book at GLBT Pride in Minneapolis in June 2002.  I could see immediately that tremendous effort had gone into this book, including the very mod cover illustration, available as a poster, by Gabriel Fine.

The novel is a detailed “coming out” story that does remind one of the 1960s rebellious novel The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger. Okay, maybe this comparison is a bit like matching up Blair Witch Project with The Last Broadcast.  Another comparison apt for this book would be the recently popular United Artists film, Igby Goes Down.  Babcock’s narrative is much more intricate and “serious” in tone than what I can recall reading Salinger in 1969 in Army barracks in Fort Eustis, Va. (and having all night bull sessions about this book with other troopers—remember Holden’s wisecrack about old guys’ balding legs?)  At times, the author does treat us to discussions of his views of things, which some critics might view as “author intrusion,” but such a style may be appropriate here because the author really intends a rather heavyweight offering.  One example occurs  when the author (from the point of view of a first-person narrative of his teenage character Erick Taylor) offers interesting views on why it took so long for African Americans to move freely in society after slavery ended.  Sometimes the “intrusions” are brief but brutal, as when Erick remarks on p. 74:

“I’d never date anyone that wasn’t at least in my ballpark. That made me a little concerned, though, because what if I turned forty and was single and creepy and obsessed with teenagers?”

Though the subject matter (teen love affairs, moving into the drag show scene) first sounds to a novice like it would be comic entertainment, Babcock often offers up gruesome visions and nightmares associated with drug abuse and self-loathing, occasionally with frightening impact that would remind one of Stephen King.  Babcock offers pointed details about changes in body image (and anatomical manipulations) resulting from the “descent into drag” (oh, well, remember that in The Rocky Picture Horror Show almost no one “escapes” having to cross dress and body shave) – you wonder if a seventeen year old on speed will watch the hollow circles under his eyes develop into progeria. And, with one major character, there will be graphic collapse into AIDS, somewhat in the pattern (before protease inhibitors) that I saw so many times in the 1980s, so well chronicled by Randy Shilts in And The Band Played On.

I won’t say too much here about the story itself—Erick meets and befriends a drag queen Chloe and then a variety of other contemporary characters in present day Minneapolis, particularly in the groovy Uptown area. The “tragedy” is somewhat symbolic, as ultimately a new “diva” will survive and prosper.

What I do offer in a review is a comparison to my own youth experience. The first three chapters of my own Do Ask Do Tell were a kind of personal coming-out story, which by itself would not be enough. I liked hiding behind academic accomplishment and took very seriously the demands upon me by “the system” during my own Cold War era experience. In my day, hatred of homosexuals seemed more related to the idea that some how “queers” or (particularly) “faggots” were men who renounced the obligations of manhood (to court, procreate, defend and provide for women and children). I recall being called “lazybones” at a summer day camp. Perhaps this experience is true for Erick, too, except that he seems to see no antidote for self-hatred other than total rebellion and false “liberation.” (I refer to Erick’s self-comparison to his deceased brother --  a plot device that I had trouble following—but it would contrast with my own personal experience as an only child whose parents once considered but then rejected adopting a baby sister to “humanize” me).  For me “coming out” – which happened twice, or maybe three times, even—was a staged process that engaged all kinds of other contemporary issues.

And what about the psychological health of gay teenagers? News accounts report horrible abuses and bullying in today’s school systems, and they seem to be more violent than when I was growing up. (Though, as far as I know, all of the revenge-style school shooting have been from straight kids who felt abused.)  Yet, if one looks around, it seems that many young gay men of college age at least (let’s say “youth night” at the Saloon) seem well adjusted and they seem how to make the most of their young adult years. In my day, when you were young you feared authority of other people to define and limit your station in life. That seems to me to have changed today. A good comparison might be made between Erick Taylor in this novel and Justin Taylor (as played by Randy Harrison) in Queer As Folk, since the Justin character seems so cocky and confident now (remember when he says, “I’m an artist, I can dress the way I want). For some reason, Chloe brings to my mind C.B. in Gordon Merrick’s (1976) The Lord Won’t Mind, but there is no comparison here to “Charley and Peter.”

Would this book make a Lagoon-and-Uptown type movie?  Maybe. I could see Kieran Culkin playing Erick.  Could Michael Rosenbaum handle Chloe?—this would take some tremendous acting.  This would not be inexpensive to make. But, Project Greenlight, get ready.

Joe Babcock was written up in both Queue Press and, in considerable detail, in Lavender on September 20, 2002.  Though the novel is in first-person (a controversial decision in the minds of some novel-writing coaches) Babcock insists here that the novel is not autobiographical. In the case of my own writing, DADT is (however “story like”) non-fiction and is autobiographical and factual.

The August 2003 Writer’s Digest awarded Joe Babcock’s book its 2002 Grand Prize Award for Self-Published Books. See “Winning Tragedy” by Jane Friedman, p. 30.

M. Christian: Me2. New York: Alyson, 2008. ISBN 978-1-55583-963-5, 238 pages, paper. The book has the informal front cover subtitle "You'll be beside yourself with fear." Written in the first person, the protagonist discovers that he has a double that takes everything away. There is "Me" "Me2" "Me3". Perhaps a satire on the "Me generation," almost something Oscar Wilde would have written were he living today (like "Dorian Gray"). With two epilogues (like composer Sir Arnold Bax).   Blogger discussion

Related: Damages

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