Rich, elegiac meditations on art, sex, and death.

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BETTER DAVIS AND OTHER STORIES

Gay life and the gathering AIDS epidemic are seen in the reflected glamour of showbiz in these nostalgic short stories.

Walker’s tales set fictional and real-life creative figures—drag queens, sitcom stars, Broadway impresarios, movie divas—in the early 1980s, when gay entertainers were emerging from the closet just as the HIV virus was starting to decimate their ranks. Jim J. Bullock, co-star of the TV comedy Too Close for Comfort, ponders past bruising relationships and his own HIV diagnosis while enacting a bizarre “very special episode” in which his character is raped by two women; and Natalie Wood spends the night of her drowning flirting with Christopher Walken and fighting with her jealous husband, Robert Wagner, while wondering if Wagner is gay. Elizabeth Taylor and Maureen Stapleton follow their stage performance in The Little Foxes by trading acting tips and quips and then repairing to a drag club; drag impersonator Better Davis haunts a man’s reminiscences of the shriveling gay demimonde in Washington, D.C.; an airline steward continues his hyperpromiscuous sexploits while hiding his Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions; and Michael Bennett, director of the musical A Chorus Line, coldly prepares to replace a cast member who has AIDS—which will kill Bennett himself a few years later. Walker’s yarns probe the deep symbiosis of the entertainment industry with gay life as they feed off each other’s styles and sensibilities and a common fascination with identity and role-playing. His sparkling prose often has an Old Hollywood feel to it; sometimes it revels in bitchy repartee—“ ‘You drink too much,’ Liz said. ‘Why?’ ‘Why not?’ said Maureen. ‘You marry too much. Why?’ ”—and sometimes it’s suffused with a romantic glow. (“When Troy and Grayson shook hands,” Harrison “saw something happen immediately….It would be too cliché to call it ‘electric’ but it was as if someone had dimmed the lights in the entire restaurant and illuminated the two of them from below with a floor light, casting everyone else in the room as mindless extras who were only there to observe and comment on the two main characters discovering each other as soulmates.”) The result is a wistful, absorbing re-creation of lives and loves caught up in a cultural transformation that is both fertile and tragic.

Rich, elegiac meditations on art, sex, and death.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-94-196015-8

Page Count: 98

Publisher: Squares & Rebels

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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THE PRINCE OF TIDES

A NOVEL

A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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YELLOWFACE

What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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