Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review: Nightlight

By Janine Avril

Published by Alyson Books

Reviewed by Paul Kane

At root, Janine Avril’s affecting book is a memoir of her family and in particular of her father, a gifted but erratic man with whom she came to have an ambivalent relationship. It is also, though, an investigation into her past and a search for some kind of reconciliation. And it is, in part, a meditation on the white lies told to protect children and the cost they still must pay, when the truth wills out and a bill becomes due. Most of all, Nightlight is an account of a spiritual journey, the story of how Avril used the remnants of her troubled past to forge a meaningful life.

Throughout, Avril’s prose is fresh and vivid and able. With her, we see the family home and the world – the capacious, blue-canopied country of childhood - through the eyes of a small girl who wears clear jellies and likes to swim. We mourn her mother’s too-early death. We ride the wave of her troubled teenage years, and beyond. Avril tells a deeply personal story, to be sure, with a mystery at its heart. But her writing is so powerfully wrought as to make this a story that will touch other lives.

Nightlight centres on the sins (and blessings, too) of the father, and we have seen several memoirs like this from the States in recent years. One might mention Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and Fun Home as two other outstanding examples of the genre. What does this mean, if anything? Why are these books being written? Perhaps they are being written because it is generally our relationship with our father that is most damaged and problematic, most in need of repair.

A note about the production: the book could have done with more thorough copyediting, especially in its last quarter. Also, there is no chapter 37, but as compensation there are two chapter 31s! Anyway, this doesn’t effect the quality of the prose. Nightlight is an affecting and absorbing memoir, an excoriating investigation into the past.

Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. Hewelcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: Juicy Mother 2: How They Met

Edited by Jennifer Camper
Juicy Mother 2

Published by Manic D Press

Reviewed by Helena Lukowska

Queer comics are somewhere in the middle of my list of reasons for getting up in the morning. However, the comic genre (yes, including ‘alternative comics’) is often dominated by straight white men. By and large it seems that the queer lover of comics really has to do their research to find representation. So imagine my joy last year when I was sent a copy of Juicy Mother, proudly proclaiming itself to be a comic for ‘discerning homosexuals, uppity ladies, fierce people of colour and their friends. It was amazing and even the most discerning of homos would find it hard to pick holes in its brilliance. Juicy Mother 2 is a lot heftier than its predecessor, but falls short of being quite as good, but then not many things could be. I did find my mind wandering at points and I kind of wish I had read the two Juicy Mothers in reverse order. Still, JM2 is full of enough of the good stuff to keep a queer comic lover very happy.

The chunky, glossy style cover didn’t really inspire me, but turn a few pages and off JM2 kicks with a sweet but heart-breaking tale of young polyamorous queer love and confusion and squatting and the punk scene and art school by Fly. My favourite strips included Carrie McNinch’s ‘A Phonecall in August’ (taken from her wondrous zine The Assassin and the Whiner) about a triggering phone call to a recovering alcoholic and the bottle hitting that follows, then the inevitable sinking, displayed literally as jumping off a cliff into the ocean and getting tangled up in the murky depths. It’s told simply and harshly in black ink that hits you like a smack in the face.

My favourite comic (and one that happily wasn’t afraid to take up lots of space in the compilation) is editor Jennifer Camper’s Night Shift. Stylistically, the drawings remind me of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Apparently ‘simple’ (through I’m sure it’s anything but) without any unnecessary clutter but beautiful and so expressive that, as Camper explains in the reference section, not many words are required to convey the passing of time. The comic tells the story of a sleep-deprived, gender ambiguous, Arab-American queer living in a noisy apartment by day and working in a warehouse by night, hitting strip bars, being seduced and abandoned by her neighbour, threatened with death and needless to say going a bit nuts. It culminates in her discovered passed out in her car by a group of kids, finally asleep, only to be woken up by shouts of ‘Hey mister!’ The ending is bitter-sweet, heart warming and destructive all at once.

Each edition of Juicy Mother is themed, this one being, ‘How They Met’ and there is a wide range of interpretations on this theme, matched by a diverse range of artwork, experiences and perspectives. There is much to discover and art by plenty of people I’d never heard of. The voices in Juicy Mother are those all too often muffled by obscurity and a lack of distribution. Not just a great collection in its own right, but a primer for those of us dipping our toes into the world of queer comics and a fix that doesn’t come often enough.

Helena Lukowska is a sometime writer, sometime dj, sometime performer and most of the time layabout, currently living in Brighton. She can be contacted at


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Review: All in the Seasoning

Edited by Katherine V. Forrest
All in the Seasoning

Published by Bywater Books

Reviewed by Kay Sexton

Theme anthologies can be very samey, the same subjects covered by similar authors who use similar treatments, and this anthology does fall a little into that trap – there are many stories of lesbians attending Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations and suffering some kind of family shame or rejection: Zonna’s X-mas (which has a second title in brackets [Ex-Mess] in case we didn’t get the joke) and Cynthia Price’s A Hot Christmas Lunch and Valerie Watersun’s JaneBishop’s Eyes are all ‘my relationship right or wrong’ stories and feel a little bit like three spoonfuls from the same porridge bowl. That said, the outstanding stories here are simply superb: Sightseers in Death Valley, by Jane Rule, is a tightly observed tale with a shocking denouement but the detachment of the narrator from the scene allows the reader to see how many cultures: sexual and religious, are disenfranchised from America’s ‘blockbuster’ public holidays; and the two Lee Lynch stories are, as ever, stories of warm, wise, knowing, women who build their own celebrations and have the scope to create new forms of holiday.
Forrest’s own story, The Gift, is a somewhat chilling SF offering, which deals with ‘difference’ in a rather surprising way – brain-damaged children are cured’ by the arrival of aliens whose spiritual being enters them – which left this reader wondering how we were supposed to see the lesbian parents; as healers of a broken child or as no better than the heterosexual society that would, a few years ago, have but them out there to be ‘cured’ by hosting an alien too?
Kay Sexton is a fiction writer, editor and freelance journalist: she blogs about writing fiction here and has a regular column here.