On the Shelf: Novel explores growing up gay in the ’90s

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For The Recorder
Published: 10/14/2016 9:45:01 AM

BOOK REVIEW: “Not My Mother’s Kitchen” by Rob Chirico (Imagine, 240 pages, $24.95)

“Two Natures” is an unconventional but sweet romance set in an era that is at once far from us and very near indeed.

This engrossing debut novel by poet Jendi Reiter of Northampton tells the story of Julian Selkirk. A Georgia boy from a conservative, religious family, Julian arrives in New York in the early 1990s. He hopes to break into two often related worlds: fashion photography and gay culture.

He makes friends quickly, but it takes him years to find the true love for whomhe longs.

Julian enjoys the sense of belonging that being gay in New York in the 1990s gives him. Although his siblings have guessed at his sexual orientation and his parents may know about it at a subliminal level, he was never able to come out back home in Georgia. In the city he can at last be himself.

Nevertheless, life in New York is far from perfect. Added to the difficulties all young people face in growing into their best selves and finding romance, Julian must face the promiscuity that is part of gay culture at the time.

He is thrilled to be able to enjoy sex at last and openly. Although he longs for exclusivity, he fears asking for it, however — and fears mentioning love to the object of his affection.

In addition, Julian and all of his friends must deal with the threat of AIDS, then at its height in this country.

And although they live from day to day in a subculture in which their sexuality is accepted and even often celebrated, they still come into contact with the larger society. There, being gay is viewed as an aberration by most and a sin by many.

When AIDS strikes close to home, they realize that the legal system offers them few protections from discrimination.

Julian is an engaging protagonist. His friends are varied and often funny, and Reiter’s careful, evocative prose brings the reader vividly into his life and world.

Julian’s struggles to establish a career, find a home and connect with someone with whom he can share his life will ring true to anyone who has ever been a young person trying to become established in the big city.

Jendi Reiter will read from “Two Natures” and sign copies of her book on Saturday, Oct. 22, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at the World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield. Food will be served. Reiter will also appear at the Broadside Bookshop in Northampton on Wednesday, Oct. 19, beginning at 7 p.m.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook” and “Pulling Taffy.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.


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