A novel’s setting shapes the fates of its characters, especially an LGBTQ cast. Time and place can dictate everything about characters’ survival and happiness. A couple of recent Indie titles use the electric backdrop of Manhattan to render slices of queer life during two very different decades in the same city.
In Juliana, playwright and professor Vanda gives us “a well-researched, richly textured look at LGBTQ life in 1940s New York City, a time when women could get into trouble just for wearing trousers,” says our reviewer. In her novel about young actors seeking stardom on Broadway, Vanda reveals a sense of the times via a hidden world of sub rosa signals, codes, secret celebrities, and in-jokes. Her characters are full of rule-bound assumptions about marriage and security until romance leads them to risk all.
At Danceteria and Other Stories follows Madonna, Cher, and other divas, along with drag queens and queer club kids, as they party their way through the ’80s. Author Philip Dean Walker ferries readers to a magical, haunted era where Keith Haring spontaneously creates his iconic images at the eponymous nightclub, but AIDS is decimating the gay community.
Walker re-creates a glittering, loss-filled time with lines like these: “The strobe lights from the balcony flickered in just the right way so that, for a second, everyone looked as if they were frozen in time, suspended from the ceiling by wires.” The starred review notes that the collection avoids nostalgia and, instead, “paints an evocative, painful, but sympathetic portrait of a cultural watershed.” Karen Schechner is the vice president of Kirkus Indie.