Blood, Marriage, Wine and Glitter, by S. Bear Bergman, Arsenal Pulp Press, 232 pages, $18.95
Blood, marriage, wine and glitter: four types of family. The first two are well known. Wine stands for relationships of shared faith that with time and practice come to feel familial. Glitter is a lot like wine, but queerer: all those relations – lovers, exes, friends, pets, children by sperm donation – who fall outside the traditional but are nevertheless family. The many ways of glitter family is what this collection of personal essays is about. The tone is smart and chatty, like having a long talk with an overeducated, sometimes sentimental smartass. To many, these essays will be a comfort, but while that comfort is necessary, it would be a shame if LGBTQ readers were Glitter’s sole audience. For many more – perhaps those who puzzle over how two trans dads could give birth to a baby (as Bergman and his partner did) – this book presents a much-needed education.
Juanita Wildrose: My True Life, by Susan Downe, Pedlar Press, 293 pages, $22.00
Increasing critical attention is being paid to the problem of biography and memoir: not just A Million Little Pieces or how Augusten Burroughs can recall anything so vividly, but the problem of all stories that are supposed to be true: how to keep the fiction from seeping in. What to make then of Juanita Wildrose, a book dubbed by its publisher a “fictional memoir”? The best course in this case is to take it at face value: Stop worrying about the veracity and enjoy the verisimilitude. Juanita (1904-2006) grows up on a hardscrabble farm in Elk Creek, Missouri until she turns rebellious and is sent away to school at the age of 12. It may not sound like much, but the strength here is the voice: evocative, appropriate to Juanita’s age, and rich in detail, it has that gripping effect of eavesdropping on a life. As one person says, “Who’s to say? Maybe the story happened just like you said.”
The City Still Breathing, by Matthew Heiti, Coach House Books, 155 pages, $18.95
Two constables find a dead body, naked and unidentified, by the side of Highway 17, only to somehow lose it in the police station parking lot. That’s the setup for Matthew Heiti’s dark but loving ode to 1980s Sudbury: as the corpse is found, lost, sought, found and lost again over one winter day it becomes our guide to the city – its dive bar, hockey arena, police diner, the public school – and 11 lives it throws awry. Everyone is at an impasse (even the elementary school kids); at least two are looking to escape – but a corpse is not quite as easy a metaphor as you might expect. The characters do find something in one another in the end, even if it is a black kind of redemption in the midst of another, strangely circular death.