Across the Page: Books from Independent Presses

 
 

Marosi soon learns that there are no easy answers. Eva
describes herself as “a mistake of nature” to a Major who was investigating
Livia’s husband for attempted murder. When Marosi interviews the Major as part
of his own investigation, he is faced with a challenge: “Maybe you’ll find out,
or maybe you already know why Eva
Szalánczky’s life went downhill. What are you going to do with that knowledge?”

Marosi doesn’t skip
a beat. In many ways he understands that Eva’s story is connected to his own.
“To every belief I had, she put a question mark…Possibly, I can free myself of
her now, can close a door that had been left open. But not in relation to the
future, only in relation to the past. It doesn’t pay to look back.”

But a letter that
Marosi found in Eva’s handbag drives him forward: “There is no explanation. One
cuts open one’s veins…Someone else comes along who will explain it.” Convinced
that he is that “someone,” Marosi continues to examine Eva’s life and the
circumstances that led to her death. What emerges is the story of a woman with
equal amounts courage and fear.

There are many
similarities between Eva and Galgóczi’s life. An accomplished writer and
journalist, Galgóczi’s early support of the Communist Party turned critical and
she was a controversial figure as the General Secretary of the Hungarian
Writers’ Union.

In a compelling
essay at the end of the book, Ines Rieder places Eva and Galgóczi’s lesbianism
in context to the political and historic issues of Hungary during this post
World War II era.  It’s worth reading
before you begin the novel.

Family Outing by Troy Johnson (Arcade)

Troy Johnson was ten years old when his mother’s best
friend, who he calls “Tattle Dyke,” sat him down and said, “Your mom is a
homosexual.” Though he wasn’t exactly sure what the word meant, or its
implications, he knew enough that it wasn’t good news.

In the opening of Johnson’s memoir, Family Outing, the story of growing with a lesbian mom, he includes
an author’s note entitled “Before I Offend You.” In the note, Johnson does not
offer a disclaimer as much as perspective. Growing up in California with his
mother, whom he loved with a “deep, atomic love” that is both believable and clear,
Johnson was admittedly confused and ashamed of her sexuality.

This was, he reminds the reader, during the Reagan era and
before it was common to see two mom families in the neighborhood or on the television.
Though he tried to find information, comfort and reflection, more often he came
across “psychobabble about ‘embracing our differences’ and ‘disarming our
bigotries.’” That’s all well and good, Johnson concedes, but there’s more.

Family Outing is
Johnson’s attempt to provide the “real story,” and in it he reveals “skeletons I
thought I wouldn’t even tell priests. On my death bed. At gunpoint.”

In fact, those secrets take on a certain confessional
quality that’s admirable and insightful. Johnson’s skeletons expose a range of
experiences and emotions, including: when he was a teenager and denied his
mother the right to be affectionate with her lover (“Tattle Dyke” was long
gone) in her own home; a dependence on alcohol and sex — often unprotected and
unemotional — to prove his own heterosexuality; overusing the word “fag” and
“gay” to compensate for his insecurity; and spending a month in a psych ward
after threatening to commit suicide.

Things change in Johnson’s thinking when he is forced to
undergo “sensitivity training” after screaming “fag” at an RA in his dorm at
college. For too long he has justified his homophobic behavior by announcing
that his mom is a lesbian, but after watching a film about a young man who is terrorized
for being gay he finally acknowledges his mother’s struggle.

As part of his recovery, Johnson experiments with some
interesting identities. He becomes a born-again Christian. He joins a
fraternity. Neither hat fits, however, and eventually he begins to settle into
a typical liberal college student whose journey is like many others: to
discover his own path. In the process, he embraces his mother and learns how to
forgive himself.

If there is anything, it seems, that Johnson blames his
mother for it is that she did not do enough to challenge his homophobia. It is
a lesson he now takes seriously, whether it’s in confronting his less than
accepting sister or father, or writing for the Gay and Lesbian Times in San Diego.

Johnson’s story is an important one and it is told with
humor, honesty and, most importantly, love.

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