Connect with us

Books

Hungarian rhapsody

Family secrets unearthed in touching memoir

Published

on

‘In the Darkroom’ 
By Susan Faludi
Metropolitan Books
$32
432 pages

Author Susan Faludi (Photos courtesy Metropolitan Books)

Author Susan Faludi (Photos courtesy Metropolitan Books)

Your father taught you how to take a decent picture.

He taught you how to tie a tie, too. Because of him, you know how to create a good meal out of almost nothing, how to keep a car running and how to avoid being a jerk. You know a lot of things, thanks to the old man, but in the new book “In the Darkroom” by Susan Faludi, Dad doesn’t show you everything.

On and off through most of her 40-some years, Susan Faludi had been estranged from her father. Even when he was in the picture, she was wary of him, a “household despot,” with a hair-trigger temper and a penchant for violence.

She knew him, but not deeply, so when she heard from her father for the first time “in years,” it was a surprise.

So was the message: her father had become a woman.

He was born in Hungary in 1927, a pampered son of well-to-do Jews who sent him away as a child for reasons Faludi could only surmise. He’d come of age during the Nazi occupation and, according to stories, had survived through wits and bravery and had saved several lives. Because of her father’s reticence and tendency to embellish, though, Faludi never knew if those stories told were true.

In September, 2004, she boarded a plane to Hungary to meet her father, to learn who she really was and to fill in the blanks about her.

It was a prickly endeavor: never one to be forthcoming about her history, Faludi’s father dismissed most questions, refusing to discuss them and was reluctant to show Faludi any Budapest locales with familial significance. Father and daughter argued, Faludi gently prodded, her father pushed back, and she eventually gave Faludi names and places, important (sometimes falsified) documents, but scant insight.

For many reasons, Faludi learned, her father was a damaged soul. She’d been abandoned, misunderstood, terrorized — or had she been? Was Faludi’s father a victim of all she’d endured or was she “an extremely effective liar?”

On the surface, “In the Darkroom” is a bit of a struggle to read.

It’s quite wordy, first of all, and filled with place names that may not mean much to readers who’ve never been to Hungary. I gave up trying to make sense of locales, but there’s no ignoring author Susan Faludi’s recreation of her father’s Hungarian accent. It’s everywhere in the text here and not so charming after a few dozen pages.

And yet, what Faludi finds, what her father admits, feels like a noir whodunit with a different kind of victim. There’s intrigue here, derring-do, a deep mystery that still seems unsolved and a protagonist who’s ultimately worthy of surprising sympathy.

That — the psychological heart of this book — arrives like a strobe in a photography studio, flash-flash-flash with the overall picture remaining tantalizingly fuzzy. In the end, I found that irresistible tease was worth overlooking the irritations, so go ahead. Start “In the Darkroom,” try this story. See what develops.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Books

New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more

Published

on

(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading

Books

Season’s best new books offer something for every taste

History, YA, horror and more on tap

Published

on

(Book covers courtesy of the publishers)

Shorter days, cooler temps, and longer nights can send you skittering inside, right? Don’t forget to bring one of these great books with you when you settle in for the fall.

Releasing in September, look for “Between the Head and the Hands” by James Chaarani, a novel about a young Muslim man whose family turns him away for being gay, and the teacher who takes him in (ECW Press, Sept. 10). Also reach for “Cleat Cute: A Novel,” by Meryl Wilsner (St. Martin’s Griffin, Sept. 19), a fun YA novel of soccer, competition, and playing hard (to get).

You may want something light and fun for now, so find “The Out Side: Trans and Nonbinary Comics,” compiled by The Kao, Min Christiansen, and Daniel Daneman (Andrews McMeel Publishing). It’s a collection of comics by nonbinary and trans artists, and you can find it Sept. 26.

The serious romantic will want to find “Daddies of a Different Kind: Sex and Romance Between Older and Younger Gay Men” by Tony Silva (NYU Press), a book about new possibilities in love; it’s available Sept. 12. Historians will want “Glitter and Concrete: A Cultural History of Drag in New York City” by Elyssa Maxx Goodman (Hanover Square Press, Sept. 12); and “Queer Blues: The Hidden Figures of Early Blues Music” by Darryl W. Bullock (Omnibus Press, Sept. 14).

In October, you’ll want to find “Blackouts: A Novel” by Justin Torres (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a somewhat-fantasy novel about a dying man who passes a powerful book on to his caretaker. Look for it Oct. 10. Also on Oct. 10, grab “Love at 350º” by Lisa Peers (Dial Press Trade Paperback), a novel about love at a chance meeting at a baking-show contest and “The Christmas Swap: A Novel” by Talia Samuels (Alcove Press), a holiday rom-com.

You’re just warming up for the fall. Look for “Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date” by Ashley Herring Blake (Berkley, Oct. 24) and “Let Me Out,” a queer horror novel by Emmett Nahil and George Williams (Oni Press, Oct. 3).

Nonfiction lovers will want to find “Dis… Miss Gender?” by Anne Bray (MIT Press, Oct. 24), a wide, long look at gender and fluidity; “Friends of Dorothy: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Icons” by Anthony Uzarowski and Alejandro Mogollo Diez (Imagine, Oct. 10); and “300,000 Kisses: Tales of Queer Love from the Ancient World” by Sean Hewitt and Luke Edward Hall (Clarkson Potter, Oct. 10).

For November, look for “Underburn: A Novel” by Bill Gaythwaite (Delphinium), a layered novel about Hollywood, family, and second chances. It comes out Nov. 14. For something you can really sink your teeth into, find “The Bars are Ours: Histories and Cultures of Gay Bars in America, 1960 and After” by Lucas Hilderbrand (Duke University Press, Nov 21). It’s a huge look at the spaces that played strong roles in LGBTQ history.

And if you’re looking for yourself or for a special gift in December, check out “Trans Hirstory in 99 Objects” by David Evans Frantz, Christina Linden, and Chris E. Vargas. It’s an arty coffee table book from Hirmer Publishers of Munich. You can find it Dec. 20. Also look for “Second Chances in New Port Stephen: A Novel” by T.J. Alexander (Atria / Emily Bestler, Dec. 5) and if all else fails, ask for or give a gift certificate.

Season’s readings!

Continue Reading

Books

Intriguing historical novel based on the true story of 1800s lesbian couple

‘Learned by Heart’ by Emma Donoghue a moving read

Published

on

(Book cover image courtesy of Little Brown)

‘Learned by Heart’
By Emma Donoghue
C. 2023, Little Brown
$28/324 pages

English landowner, diarist and businesswoman Anne Lister (1791-1840) married her last partner Ann Walker in a marriage ceremony at Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate, York. This is considered by many to be the first lesbian marriage in England, and likely, the world.

Lister, born in a landowning family at Shibden in Calderdale, West Riding of Yorkshire, who’s been called “the first modern lesbian,” is having a moment. In two seasons in 2019 and 2022, “Gentleman Jack,” a riveting series, based on Lister’s diaries, co-produced by the BBC and HBO (streaming on Max), dramatized Lister’s relationship with Walker.

“Learned by Heart,” an intriguing historical novel by Emma Donoghue is based on the true story of the queer relationship of Lister and Eliza Raine. Raine is believed to have been Lister’s first lover.

Much of the novel takes place in 1805-1806, when, at age 14 and 15, Lister and Raine were students at Miss Hargrave’s Manor School, a boarding school for girls in York.

Raine was born in Madras (now Chennai) in India. Her father, who was English, was a surgeon with the East India Company. He and an Indian woman, whom he did not legally marry, had Raine.

In an author’s note, Donoghue writes of a letter of Raine’s that refers to her as having “sprung from an illicit connection.” Another letter calls Raine a “lady of colour.”

Raine is sent to England at age 6. After her father and mother die, she’s left an orphan with a small inheritance.

Through “Gentleman Jack” and her diaries (which are being digitalized), Lister, with her brilliance and charismatic personality, has become a queer culture icon.

Raine is comparatively unknown. Perhaps, for this reason, “Learned by Hand” focuses on Raine’s point of view.

Raine arrives at the Manor School before Lister. Prior to Lister’s arrival, Raine is mousy, rule abiding.

Because Raine’s from India, she sleeps alone in a small room. Aware of unspoken racial bias (against people who are part Indian and part English), she wants to blend in – to stay out of trouble in this school with its many rules. “She’s trained herself to wake at seven,” Donoghue writes, “just before the bell.”

When Lister arrives at the school, Raine’s world and personality are transformed. Lister, known even at this young age for being too smart for her own good, is assigned to room with Raine — isolated from the other girls — in the tiny room they call “the Slope.” Donoghue skillfully illuminates how the girls’ friendship becomes sexual, passionate first love.

One day, Lister and Raine, who call each other by their last names, alone in a church, conduct a marriage ceremony for themselves.

“Learned by Heart” is heartbreaking because its chapters are intertwined with letters that Raine writes to Lister in 1815.

It’s clear from this correspondence that Lister has (and will have) other lovers than Raine. And, that, sadly, Raine is writing from what is then called an “insane asylum.”

As is evident from “The Pull of The Stars,” and her other historical novels, Donoghue has an unerring talent for creating fascinating tales out of true stories.

Unfortunately, as so often happens, Lister, the bad, outrageous girl, is far more interesting than Raine. Raine frequently comes across as loyal, passionate, but too needy and clingy. As Lister’s Barbara Stanwyck to Raine’s June Cleaver.

“There’s nothing noble about Anne Lister…,” Donoghue wrote of Lister in “The Guardian.”
Lister had the sexual ethics of a bonobo, Donoghue continued, “lying to every lover as a matter of policy.”

Yet, Lister is Donoghue’s hero. “Because she looked into her heart and wrote about what she found there with unflinching precision,” Donoghue wrote in her “Guardian” essay.

“I love and only love the fairer sex and thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any love but theirs,” Lister wrote in a coded entry in her diary on Oct. 29, 1820. (Lister wrote one-sixth of her diaries in code to hide from homophobic eyes.)

“Learned by Heart” is a moving, entertaining read. Raine’s story along with Lister’s should be told. Even the clingy can be unsung heroes.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular