by Bert Archer
(Doubleday Canada)

The last thing anyone needs to read is another middle-aged white fag pontificating on gay culture. Women (bio and otherwise) have generally led the pack in more challenging writing on sexuality: Dorothy Allison, Carol Queen, Tristan Taormino, Susie Bright, Jan Clausen, Kate Bornstein, and Donna Minkowitz, to name a few. Unfortunately, the boys' books were much more widely publicized and read in the 1990s, creating a glut that initially kept me from reading Bert Archer's book, and probably kept it from getting an American publisher.

Archer, a Toronto writer, gets it right. Neither pessimistically reactionary nor idealistically promoting a utopian bisexuality, his book is one of the most articulate and accessible arguments I've found in favor of abandoning the gay/straight dichotomy and looking at sexuality as an aspect of a person rather than the defining element of an individual's identity. Hearts and hormones are fluid and unpredictable--things that shouldn't be confined to scales and binaries, much less be the foundations of identities and political movements.

Archer focuses on sexuality as narrative: the stories we tell ourselves and each other to make sense of the world, but which often sacrifice honesty for social ease and political expediency. "Gay rights are about the preservation of gayness rather than anything more fundamental (like the preservation of more universal human rights, or an evolving understanding of sexuality)...."

While fluid sexuality isn't a terribly new idea, Archer pulls together the best ideas from queer theory, gay culture, sex radicals, les/bi/trans writing, etc. with accessible optimism and humor, unlike many other (predominantly gay male) writers of the last decade who either seem scared, bitter, nostalgic, or hopelessly mired in theory. Ultimately, Archer's arguments are less political and more liberatory--who in queer politics remembers that word? D. TRAVERS SCOTT

by Marie Darrieussecq
(The New Press)

The first thing you notice about Marie Darrieussecq's novels would be their size. Each of this young French writer's novels are small and svelte, no doubt leaner by their elision of classic story elements like setting, character background, and occasionally plot. As a result, between the pages of these apparently benign pocket novels we are ambushed by an unexpected challenge in Darrieussecq's tangled and weighty prose. By refusing to orient the reader in the most basic ways, Darrieussecq requires us to orient ourselves, a task that poses difficulty only if we are unwilling to give ourselves wholly to Darrieussecq's dense style. Undercurrents follows a mother and daughter after their escape to a French seaside, and the husband, grandmother, and private investigator who follow them. The sea's rhythms help tell this story of displacement.

Dislocation is the motif of Darrieussecq's earlier novels as well: Pig Tales concerns a prostitute turned pig who is driven away because of her heinous metamorphosis, while My Phantom Husband tells the story of a woman sent into a spiraling depression after the mysterious disappearance of her husband. Compared to these others, Undercurrents is the most ordinary. In the author's lexicon, however, ordinary is a loaded word; her talent lies in taking the quotidian details of everyday life and rendering them strange and exotic. In light of this, Undercurrents is riskier than what came before. In Darrieussecq's hands, a brief, simple story is exploded into carefully crafted minutiae: "The words slow down, stretch out, coil up." The result is a decadent, indulgent novel that, although grounded in the physical, remains a largely psychological endeavor. KYLA JONES


by Theodore Dreiser
(Black Sparrow Press)

Black Sparrow Press has reissued in full, unexpurgated glory Newspaper Days, the second volume of American novelist Theodore Dreiser's autobio- graphy. Originally conceived as but a single installment in a sweeping literary project called The History of Myself, the memoir documents the tumultuous, ass-busting years Dreiser spent eking out a living as a stringer for various big-city papers. It's a zinger, this book--one of the most pleasing, engaging, and interesting works I've read in a very long time, by anyone.

In its scope (nearly 700 pages), scene (fin-de-siècle urban-industrial America), trajectory (the coming-of-age of a brilliant novelist), and style (straight-up American naturalism), Newspaper Days seems to capture every palpitation of Dreiser's young soul, while at the same time providing a breathtaking, uniquely revealing panorama of American society as it busts the seams on the 20th century. Dreiser, who eventually abandoned journalism to write such classic novels as Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy, is wickedly, hilariously vivid in his depiction of newsroom goings-on: the strange, jaded idiosyncrasies of veteran reporters, the internal politics of bureau chiefs, the elephantine hypocrisies of media spin. He offers sharp, canny expositions on corporate corruption and class warfare, as well as all manner of Whitmanesque disquisition on Western history, literary theory, classic philosophy, and the nature of the teeming, spinning cosmos. And running parallel to and impacted by all of this valuable social history is the most intimate, candid portrait of Dreiser's own anxious, neurotic, hyperactive, libidinous, brilliant psyche as he awakens to the wide world. This is a grand American book. Every sentence sings. RICK LEVIN