Lambda Book Report   July/August
  Strike A Pose
  by Richard Labonté
  Calendar Boy
  By Andy Quan
  New Star Books
  ISBN 0921586825
  Pb $16.00, 240pp.
  There are 16 stories in this debut collection from well-traveled Canadian writer Andy Quan, and therefore more than a dozen good reasons to appreciate its charms, its snarls, its several voices and its singular center, its moments of coming-out poignancy and racial-politics perception and immigrant-outsider displacement and sexual-play eroticism.

Consider the title story, “Calendar Boy”, like several in the book set in the world of a young Asian teen fumbling with the essentials of coming out and being queer: It’s January: Gary’s shopping for a calendar, but the bulked-up bodybuilders are just too much muscle, the couples calendar is reminder that he’s too single, the policemen and Latino men nice but too limited. It’s February: Gary is working out, through March his chest adds pecs, his arms thicken, his legs fill out the black Levis.

It’s April: Gary, more confident about his body, his sexiness, approaches a blond in a bar, says “hi”, hears a blunt “no”, through May harbors the hurt of the rude white-boy brush-off. It’s June: Gary runs an ad for “hot Asian men to pose for a calendar”, in July he poses, both proud and shy of the buff brown body he's molded, and by August he has photos of four men, Malaysian, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, presents his concept of an Asian-model fundraising calendar to his Asian support group.

It's September: the group nixes the idea, fretting that it’s not “the right message,” that sexy images of muscled Asian men aren’t what “we want to get across to the community.” It’s October: Gary spots Asia, a calendar produced in Hong Kong, an AIDS benefit effort, thinks “scooped, my idea, damn those skinny politically correct geeks.” It’s November: Gary’s in a small business class, hits on the idea of using the photos for a line of cards. It’s December: Gary gets a call from the support group that offered no support, hears their concern that the local weekly gay rag has featured just one black and two Latinos and no Asians in 52 issues, and has nominated Gary to be a cover model.

In this one wry story, the punch and the finesses of Quan’s politics and prose are nicely expressed, the issues which infuse his fictions-racism, self-acceptance, sexual need and availability-are handled with an endearing poise and a defiant bravado which is neither caustic nor cocky nor confrontational, but rather smart, bemused, and sometimes, with genteel but steely firmness, unsettling.

And it’s just one among many good reads in Calendar Boy’s wide-ranging contents, which avoids the failing of many one-author collections by virtue of its eclectic settings (several Canadian cities, several European cities, Australia) and its varied voices, including the reflective “Sleep”, a consideration of dating, monogamy and sleeping, really being able to sleep, with a man; the modulated crankiness of “What I Really Hate” (everything from the narrator’s name, Buster, to “ugly old white men (who) chase young Asians in bars”); the muddled messages of romance during a nude day at “Wreck Beach”; the mixed signals and muffled longings of a traveler for a Polish lad on “The Polish Titanic”; the soul-sating cruising “On the Paris Metro”; the rueful, pointed metaphors in “How to Cook Chinese Rice”; and the standout story, “Immigration”, the most introspective, in which Quan skillfully draws on the emotions of an early 20th Century Chinese immigrant to depict the Millennial coming out of Albert Quan, whose ancestral name was Gwan, “a dip in the voice as it is spoken,” rendered Quan “in the language of the white ghosts . . . a long flat tone.”

Not one flat tone, this book, but a symphony of cultures, gay and Asian, and of communities, Canadian and global, and of emotions, longing and lusty.


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