If you’ve ever chatted online with someone and found yourself wondering, “I don’t think he’s telling the truth,” then trust me now: you will devour this book. In one gulp. And if you’re a gay male and you own a computer, you’re in that category. Don’t lie.
The title alone is enough to grab anyone’s attention, paying no mind to the half-naked young male, with lit cigarette in hand, the photograph blurred onto the cover. That it would receive such a glowing review within the book industry weeks before publication only heightens the degree of interest.
Despite this, it’s not the kind of book you’ll find stacked high on the front table at Borders, and I suppose it’s not the book you should read if you figure the opportunity may present itself for an acquaintance to ask “whatcha’ reading?”
It will take you back to a time when, at home as a blooming teenager watching some ignorant sitcom, you laughed uproariously along with the studio audience at sexual innuendo which, at your age, you shouldn’t have revealed to your parents that you understood; a time when that one novel in the school library was checked out by nearly everyone in your class, so frequently that you thought you’d never get to read it, much less ever reach the dirty part everyone was so excited about; when your circumstance is, at the same time, a bit scary and really exciting too.
In short, The Sluts is the reason GLBT bookstores exist.
Yes, we can agree on the value of lesbian pregnancy guides and the saccharine “Romentics” brand of novels and the rainbow tchotchkes. But stories like The Sluts can only find their biggest audience in places where readers know their people’s history still lives and breathes in the hardcover and the paperback. This book will belong, for years to come, on shelves alongside classic gay literature that will otherwise be long since forgotten by the much cloned, impersonal chain bookstores.
Why? Because it’s raw. It’s crazy-mad raw. It reveals subcultures within our subculture that most of us would deny exists, if pressed. I know I would.
The Sluts is a novel divided into three parts: the first and last are, essentially, transcripts from the “reviews” section of a website for gay male escorts. The middle section is a transcript from an online message board, a detail of personal-ad posters, their respondents, and, finally, a collection of fax and e-mail messages delivered from an escort named Brad, who is described so often throughout this novel by so many different people that the mental picture you’ll create of him is guaranteed to change at least three times.
Without a third person narrator, who can see everything and essentially guide the reader through the story, The Sluts is developed by the online “voices” of people who’ve either hired Brad, worked with Brad, been acquainted with Brad or just found themselves to be interested bystanders (in a sense). Again, if you’ve ever chatted with someone and began to wonder just how much of his story you can trust, this book will mess you up.
For those of you who actually will pick this book up and read it: I’ve personally never been much turned on by sexual violence, or violent sex. Or hustlers/escorts, or excessive drug use or murder or any of the other social deviations described here. And I should mention the resources section of the author’s website links to other sites that, literally, caused me to wonder if the police were about to, at any minute, kick down my door with some nerd in tow, computer print-out in hand detailing my online history.
Of course, for most of us (I’d like to say all of us!), this isn’t a book about any of those things – as much as it literally may be. It’s an allegory, or perhaps just a big pile of hyperbole: in spite of the sometimes jaw-dropping details, there’s no way any one of us can read this story and not find some connection to the multiple ways we present ourselves and the many ways we’ve come to understand the people we know. Pay no mind yet to our passing acquaintances, the people who we still don’t quite know.
I won’t elaborate more about the plot of the story here; for one reason, the challenge of maintaining the various threads of information manages to make the entire book a deliciously interactive experience; as well, it twists and turns so quickly and marvelously, I’d inevitably spoil a surprise or two.
Again, and especially in light of the writer Andrew Sullivan’s recent screed which, in the end, identified Nashville specifically (if coincidentally) as one of those red state cities where full integration has yet to take place and where communities like ours still thrive because of that continued struggle in this region, it is only in publications like this one and at GLBT stores like OutLoud! where you’ll find a novel like The Sluts displayed for all the community to see.
We still have unique stories to tell: in this case, it is one we can (and probably should) only share among each other and really, we should find it a shame the assimilated masses are more likely to miss out on such a challenging and, in the end, surprisingly rewarding piece of real, honest-to-goodness … (say it with me) … gay literature.