Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen

Book Review
Title: Whistling in the Dark
Author:  Lesley Kagen
Publisher: New American Library
Released: January 1, 2012
Pages: 336
ISBN-10: 0451221230
ISBN-13: 978-0451221230
Stars:  4.0

It’s the summer of 1959 and ten-year-old Sally O’Malley and her sister Troo are on summer vacation.  Their daddy recently died in a car crash and their mother quickly remarried a nasty piece of work named Hall, a shoe salesman who prefers the bottle to being a husband or surrogate father.

With the bad luck Mother was having with her husbands, Troo and me figured that one of the reasons she had married Hall so fast after Daddy died was because he didn’t look like he’d decease anytime soon, with his muscles and wavy Swedish hair and that tattoo on the top part of his arm that said MOTHER.  Nell said that tattoo must have impressed the hell right out of Helen.  And maybe it had right after Daddy died.  But now Mother was stuck with Hall because if you were a Catholic you couldn’t get a divorce unless you wanted to go straight to hell and burn for all eternity.  If you were a Catholic, Granny said, the only thing you could do if you didn’t want to be married anymore was to pray really hard for a certain shoe-selling louse to get run over by a bus on his way to work.

When their mother Helen falls ill with a mysterious staph infection and ends up in hospital for a prolonged stay, the O’Malley sisters are left in the not so secure care of Hall and their older half-sister Nell, who is so busy with her boyfriend Eddie that she can’t seem to get any food on the table for her little sisters, except for maybe some tuna noodle casserole, but she burns it when she does.  So Sally and Troo are on the loose in their neighbourhood where they know exactly whose house to show up at during dinner time and where they’re busy preparing themselves for the annual 4th of July celebrations.  However, what’s truly disturbing them is that there’s a murderer and molester of little girls at large on Vliet Street during this summer, the summer when everyone started locking their doors.

Junie Piaskowski and Sara Heinemann have been found dead, almost a year apart, with their small bodies molested and strangled, and Sally is convinced that she’s next.  She’s particularly suspicious of Officer Dave Rasmussen, who all the adults around her insist is a good egg, but she’s sure that he’s the killer.  When Sally eventually finds out the truth about Rasmussen, it changes her life forever.

Sally made a promise to her daddy before he died and swore that she would look after her sister Troo, whose real name is Margaret and nicknamed Trooper because she always behaves like one.  Sally admires her sister because she’s fearless, funny, popular, and everything that Sally thinks that she isn’t.  In fact she’s a Troo genius.  Sally is the moral compass in this tale in which most of her elders, except for her black Southern Baptist best friend Ethel Jenkins, who lives with Mrs. Galecki, don’t pay attention to what their children have to say.

The secondary characters of Ethel Jenkins, Mrs. Galecki’s son Mr. Gary who visits from California, Rasmussen, the skinniest kid in the world: peeping Mary Lane, Fast Suzie Fazio, “Mongoloid” Wendy Latour and her evil brother Reese, Greasy Al Molinari, Sally’s landlady Mrs. Goldman, Henry Fitzpatrick and Sampson the gorilla at the local zoo, are wonderfully depicted but there are a whole cast of characters here who would feel as equally at a home in a John Waters movie as they would in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Whistling in the Dark was Lesley Kagen’s debut novel (hardcover published in 2007) and it was recommended to me by a friend of my mom’s.  It took a while for me to get around to reading it but I’m really glad that I did because it’s a gem of a story with a narrative led by ten-year-old Sally in a language that’s as rich, humorous and imaginative as young Sally’s overactive imagination.  Encompassing the themes of loss, both of people we love and the loss of our innocence in childhood, as well as fear – fear of our feelings, fear of what people think, and fear of the unknown – Whistling in the Dark is an immensely entertaining, clever and tender tale of relationships, mystery and discovery that will take you back to your own childhood, no matter what decade you grew up in.

The Rest Of Our Lives by Dan Stone

Book Review
Title: The Rest Of Our Lives
Author: Dan Stone
Publisher: Lethe Press
Released: May 25, 2009
Pages: 228
ISBN-10: 1590211472
ISBN-13: 978-1590211472
Stars: 4.0

I’m pretty sure I must have been a gay man in a past life. I love gay men. No one else understands a woman or what she’s looking for in romance quite like a gay man. My first boyfriend in public school turned out to be gay, a major high school crush was gay; my first lover was bisexual and I spent the entire year from the summers of 1994 to 1995 in Vancouver hanging out with gay men. Man, do they know how to party! Up until October 2003, I always had a gay man for a close friend, but my dear friend Don died of HIV-complicated issues that month and there really hasn’t been anyone like him since. There’s definitely a pattern there and of course there’s the fact that I’m still single at 47. Yes, I’m quite sure I was a gay man in a past life.

I have never read a gay romantic fantasy before but The Rest Of Our Lives by Dan Stone is exactly that. It’s utterly delightful in a Bewitched kind of way and I would love to see John Waters direct the movie version. If you love The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Priscilla Queen of The Desert, or To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar (as I do), you’re going to enjoy The Rest Of Our Lives like Divine loved her Marilyn Monroe-blonde wigs. However, The Rest Of Our Lives isn’t raunchy like a John Waters film, it’s incredibly sweet, enchanting, sexy, thoughtful and romantic, as well as unabashedly gay. There are even a few chapters set in Provincetown!

Colm and Aidan are two passionate, beautiful souls who have been linked together lifetime after lifetime: one fire and the other ice – unable to exist without the other.

Colm McKenna has spent his whole life feeling like an outsider and a freak. A natural blonde elemental witch who has the ability to control water & ice, freeze everything around him and literally stop time, he was raised by his Aunt Belle in St. Clair, North Carolina and never felt as if she or anyone else in his family truly understood him. When we join him in the present chapter of his life, Colm is a quiet, shy, isolated assistant manager (clueless about his own beauty) of a rare bookstore/photographer in Washington, DC whose ice-blue eyes spot the dark and dangerously handsome Aidan Gallagher for the first time at the annual Pridefest parade. Aidan just happens to be an elemental witch as well, only his element is fire and where Colm “creates stillness, he creates motion and the warming of the South Wind.”

Colm’s boss and good friend Kermit later introduces them at a house party but Colm doesn’t trust that his dreams might come true and that a man who is perfect for him not only actually exists, but truly wants to love him forever. (I suffer from the same stultifying fear.) It takes a cast of colourful characters including Aidan’s psychic Aunt Lu and Colm’s dying Aunt Belle to ultimately convince Colm that in this lifetime, his and Aidan’s destiny will be different from that of their past lives, and they will get to live happily ever after.

Even against a fairy tale backdrop, Dan Stone knows how to write compelling characters and great chapter titles too. Some of my favourites in this book are “Cool, Colm and Collaborated”, “Humping Through The Ages”, “Hex Upon The Beach” and “For Whom The Belle Told.” He obviously has a wonderful sense of humour. For every moment of humour there is also one of poignancy, so by the time I read the final chapter and Colm’s mother’s letter to him, I had tears in my eyes. This is a charming paranormal love story that will burn bright in your imagination long after you read the last page!

I want to live in the world that Dan Stone created in this novel and I want to spend the rest of my life with the Aidan that I hope is out there for me. Sigh…