Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Beach reading


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Channeling Morgan by Lewis DeSimone; Beautiful Dreamer Press, $13.95 paper/$5.99 e-Book

San Francisco author Lewis DeSimone's third novel "Channeling Morgan" takes readers into the mindset of a gay writer who discovers his "truth" in several different ways. Career ghostwriter Derick Sweetwater ventures to the resort hamlet of Provincetown for a week to work on his debut novel, with the aid of a writers' workshop and the serenity of sun and surf. Right from the start, we know who Derick is by his quick-witted banter and youthful bounciness. DeSimone's narrative takes in the minute details of Derick getting dressed for a night out, his comparisons between Provincetown and his home in Manhattan, and the eccentric quirks of those around him.

Derick's plans to work on his novel, "a wildly romantic story about Edwardian England, but with lots of man-sex," become derailed after he meets brawny, closeted movie star Clive Morgan, who's staying at the same guesthouse, doing some busy boy-hunting on the DL. Clive hires Derick to ghostwrite his autobiography, the "tell-all" tome of his career.

In the second half, Derick returns to Manhattan, his life upended by contradictions. Clive's hidden existence as a gay man makes Derick question his own motivations. "Dating a full-time drag queen," Derick comes to understand that beneath all the makeup and glitter lies a gorgeous soul.

DeSimone knows his stuff when it comes to the self-conscious, hypercritical nature of contemporary gay social life. His observations are crisply drawn and delivered. Set-pieces such as Derick's visit to the Atlantic House gay bar are described with precision, right down to the rustic wood walls and antique furnishings. At the Boatslip bar, "fame didn't matter, all that mattered was whether you were hot." At a Crown & Anchor drag show, Jared, aka "Bernadette" (perhaps a thinly-veiled Varla Jean Merman?), gives Derick food for thought about gender assumptions.

"The standoffishness that dominates a gay bar is based not on obliviousness, but pure calculation," DeSimone writes. "The beautiful boys, Derick thought, knew precisely who was cruising them. They made a science of avoiding eye contact while peripherally registering every pair of eyes that glanced their way."

DeSimone's satirical take on gay life, city life, and the world of the struggling writer is a departure from his two previous books, lyrically written stories about the serpentine nature of gay romance, identity, and connectedness. Here he breaks the mold to produce a fun, frolicsome beach book with compelling characters, addictive storylines, fabulous writing, and even the supernatural advice of E.M. Forster. This is terrific work from a local writer who continues to impress.

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