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SLAVES TO THE RHYTHM

An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.

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A writer offers a recollection of growing up gay in the Philadelphia suburbs and a love story set amid the HIV/AIDS crisis of the early 1990s.

Connell ambitiously weaves together three narrative devices—a journal, a traditional memoir, and a timeline of the HIV/AIDS pandemic—but keeps them easily distinguishable through the use of different typefaces. Beginning in January 1993 and covering the final year of his partner Stephan’s life, the journal allows for a raw, immediate account of their relationship as it was tested by the exigencies of survival, with countless moments of tender intimacy and gut-punching reality. It’s an exhausting read—the audience can virtually feel the physical suffering—but the author does not shy away from chronicling the emotional turmoil either, as he wondered how much longer he could care for Stephan at home. Connell also presents vignettes in a refreshing, localized way; for example, he mentions a particular purveyor and flavor of Philadelphia’s famous “Italian water ice” that allowed Stephan to counteract the metallic sensation in his mouth. The sections featuring a more traditional memoir style begin with the author recalling a largely idyllic childhood in an Irish Catholic family. But with the onset of adolescence, his religious doubts and gay sexuality intertwined to complicate matters, becoming a recurring theme, especially regarding fraught relationships with his parents and several siblings. As Connell succinctly comments in the foreword, “It is one of my biggest confusions in life, to watch over and over how a beautiful and heartfelt faith can be so cruel in its expression.” Eventually, these memoir chapters pass the journal entries, ending a year after Stephan’s death, when the author began a new life in Boston. Overall, the only drawback is that the project could use another round of editing. For instance, beyond the distracting spelling and grammatical errors and missing words, the Horsham Clinic somehow becomes the Ambler Clinic, and a reference to Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency (November 1992) appears in the journal, which ostensibly covers 1993. But the illuminating timeline, with content gleaned from cited sources, presents key dates, factoids, and quotations from the early ’80s through 1996, when more effective HIV/AIDS treatment options emerged—a vivid reminder of how medical workers and various communities responded to a health crisis in the face of governmental inaction.

An engrossing and unsparing look at a grueling journey of commitment and acceptance.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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LOVE, PAMELA

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

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The iconic model tells the story of her eventful life.

According to the acknowledgments, this memoir started as "a fifty-page poem and then grew into hundreds of pages of…more poetry." Readers will be glad that Anderson eventually turned to writing prose, since the well-told anecdotes and memorable character sketches are what make it a page-turner. The poetry (more accurately described as italicized notes-to-self with line breaks) remains strewn liberally through the pages, often summarizing the takeaway or the emotional impact of the events described: "I was / and still am / an exceptionally / easy target. / And, / I'm proud of that." This way of expressing herself is part of who she is, formed partly by her passion for Anaïs Nin and other writers; she is a serious maven of literature and the arts. The narrative gets off to a good start with Anderson’s nostalgic memories of her childhood in coastal Vancouver, raised by very young, very wild, and not very competent parents. Here and throughout the book, the author displays a remarkable lack of anger. She has faced abuse and mistreatment of many kinds over the decades, but she touches on the most appalling passages lightly—though not so lightly you don't feel the torment of the media attention on the events leading up to her divorce from Tommy Lee. Her trip to the pages of Playboy, which involved an escape from a violent fiance and sneaking across the border, is one of many jaw-dropping stories. In one interesting passage, Julian Assange's mother counsels Anderson to desexualize her image in order to be taken more seriously as an activist. She decided that “it was too late to turn back now”—that sexy is an inalienable part of who she is. Throughout her account of this kooky, messed-up, enviable, and often thrilling life, her humility (her sons "are true miracles, considering the gene pool") never fails her.

A juicy story with some truly crazy moments, yet Anderson's good heart shines through.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2023

ISBN: 9780063226562

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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