Sunday, January 27, 2008

Book Reading with Fred Smith, review for Lawnboy

Saying of the week: "Physical courage, which despises all danger, will make a man brave in one way; and moral courage, which despises all opinion, will make a man brave in another." -- Charles Caleb Colton

I recently attended a reading in San Francisco by a fellow gay writer, Fredrick Smith, author of Down For Whatever and Right Side of the Wrong Bed. It was the first time I have attended a reading by any author, and I came away with several surprises.

My first surprise was how few people attended. Granted, it was a stormy, rain drenched evening, but there were only eight or ten people there. Because he was reading from his second novel, I assumed his first, which has been out two years, would have gained him enough notoriety to attract a larger audience. I knew that he had traveled here from L.A., and he ended up selling perhaps four or five books. I keep wondering if doing out of town readings is worth a writer's time and effort. Clearly it was a money-losing proposition for Fred. So, was expanding his readership by a few people worth the trouble? I really don't have a clue and would welcome comments by other writers.

My second impression was how little reading he actually did. He gave an overview of the plot and the main characters, then read for what amounted to three or four pages (two different places where main characters met for the first time) and then opened the floor to questions. I realized later that to read much more would have probably bored the audience. The point was obviously to feed them just enough to peak their interest, which is exactly what Fred did, masterfully so. The question and answer portion took up the most time and was perhaps the most interesting as there were several good quesitons.

My third impression came from one of the questions. A woman asked: did Fred feel that he took any risks in writing his new novel. Fred gave a thoughtful grin, and then answered the question. I didn't listen to his answer. I was too occupied by wondering about what risks I take in my own writing. It is a question that has stayed with me since hearing it, and what I've come to feel is that every writer takes risks. Every writer opens up their soul and lets himself/herself pour on to the page. No matter how well we try to hide the fact that we are describing ourselves, we can't help smearing ourselves on the page. Each one of our characters reflect a different part of our inner being. It seems to me that the amount of risk a writer takes, is how much of their soul they are willing reveal. And using that as a definition for risk, I believe I take huge risks with every story I write -- a fact that both pleases and frightens me.

My last surprise came from another question: did Fred think the book would be made into a movie? I found it strange that someone who thought enough about reading to show up at a book reading/signing would be so concerned about a movie version. His answer mirrored my own thoughts. He said that he had nothing against movies, especially his own stories being filmed, but he hoped that more people would read the story, that all people would read more in general. I enjoy a good movie as much as anyone, however, I feel that movies rob the audience of participation. It spoon feeds them every image, every gesture, every emotion. A book fires the readers into conjuring up their own images, to partner with the writer to make a mental image that is the story, and because the reader brings their own perspective to the book, each story is somewhat tailored to the reader, making it slightly different for each person. That is the power of novels: it is a collaboration between writer and reader, where creativity flows both ways. I say, let everyone enjoy movies, but also let more people enjoy the creative power of words on the page.

For my book review, I recently finished Lawnboy By Paul Lisicky (copyright 1998)

Lawnboy by Paul Lisicky

Lawnboy is a coming of age story, a tale about fumbling through firsts -- first time away from home, first kiss, first fuck, first love -- and attempting to define one’s self in a crumbling postmodern world. Written in the first person, the teenaged narrator leads us through his experiences as he leaves home to live with a forty-something man who lives down the street, then travels to a different city in Florida to help his older brother (also gay but still trying to be straight to please he parents) restore a dilapidated resort motel. After another disappointing love affair, which makes the young hero take stock of his life, the narrator moves on again, still looking for meaning and happiness, and what he finds are a few sweet, grace notes of renewal.

My impression while reading the first hundred or so pages was, here we go again, another coming of age story about being gay, that is, living the “gay experience” -- gays dealing with the trials and tribulations of being a persecuted minority and all it entails.
Admittedly there is much of that, but Lawnboy blossoms into a story of thoughtful beauty that explores the complexities of love and desire and betrayal.
I admit that Lisicky didn't make me care about his main character as much as I had hoped, but that could easily have been because I'm old enough that I can't relate to the fumblings of a seventeen-year-old. He did, however, keep me anxiously turning the pages to find out what would happen next while making me reflect upon my own teenaged years. The prose is beautifully written, which added greatly to my enjoyment of a worthwhile read.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another thing to consider about giving readings is that they may generate publicity for you and your book. A publication may be willing to review it, or interview you, if there's a local angle-- that you are visiting.

Even though people don't attend the reading, they may still hear about you & the book through that publicity.

Neil Plakcy