Lamda Literary: 20th Century Limited
The maturation of LGBT literature provides a vast array of authors, genres, and styles from which a reader chooses what books to enjoy. What a pleasure to see such diversity for our community, which once struggled to publish even the best of writers. New authors abound, coming from a solid amount of publishers. Yet within the new and unique, I often long for the familiar, the safe and sure hands of a polished writer known for creating literary classics that will always remain important works of gay literature. Picking up Felice Picano’s latest volume, 20th Century Un-Limited, provided this kind of comfort and assurance. I can’t imagine being in the hands of a better storyteller.
Picano journeys down a daring and dangerous path in these two novellas, which take up time travel as their principle subject. In the first, Christopher Hall begins in the current era, enjoying life just past middle age, when a strange encounter leads him on an expedition back to the 1930s. The second story introduces the mystery of disappearing people, all somehow connected through different ages by a plot of land in Wisconsin. Thank the writing gods for Picano’s skill because in a less adept hand, these time-bending scenarios could confuse the reader or prove so maddeningly unrealistic that even the most fervent science fiction enthusiast’s head might spin. Instead, Picano weaves in and out of different decades, centuries even, with ease, explaining the plot and setting so effortlessly that it reads as clearly as a chronological history.
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Power and Polish
Twelve O’Clock Tales, by Felice Picano
Bold Strokes Books/Liberty Editions.
236 pages, $16.95 paperback
Book Review by Richard Labonte
Gay Calgary Magazine
From July 2012 (Online)
Think of Picano as a queer literary renaissance man. He writes plays and screenplays, poetry and memoirs, sex manuals and sexy thrillers, historical novels and – this is his fourth collection – short stories. These 13, he notes in a preface, pay homage to writers he savored as a young man (and still reads), the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Saki, Algernon Blackwood, Walter de la Mare and others of their dark, ghostly, eerie and sometimes downright weird ilk. In that sense, Picano is also something of a literary chameleon – there are echoes of each of these writers, and all of those sentiments, in this solid collection. The first, "Synapse," is a creepily science-fictional account of how an elderly man has come to inhabit a boy’s body; the last, "The Perfect Setting," is a masterpiece of detection, wherein an obsessive narrator solves the mystery of a landscape painter’s murder. Not a one of the stories is like another, such is Picano’s wide-ranging imagination; what they have in common is their power and their polish.
by Richard LaBonte
Q Syndicate's Bookmarks
March 4, 2011
True Stories: Portraits from My Past
by Felice Picano
Chelsea Station Editions, $16
If you’ve read all of Picano’s nonfiction, and there’s a lot, portions of these “portraits from my past” will seem familiar – some essays are expanded from shorter versions that appeared in previous books, restoring text excised, most likely, by page-count restrictions or editorial decisions. No matter. Picano is such a vibrant memoirist that every extra word is welcome. As a lithe youth he charmed “British auntie” W.H. Auden and an intimidating Diana Vreeland, was physically aroused at the Continental Baths by Bette Midler crooning for near-naked boys at the dawn of her career, and later crossed paths with Tennessee Williams and revived the literary career of Charles Henri Ford – appealing anecdotes all. But the best essays reveal a less celebrity-centered side: Picano besting a boyhood bully; Picano reconnecting with his curmudgeonly father; Picano explicating with wrenching honesty his complex relationship with publishing partner Terry Helbing; and, most poignantly, Picano remembering men he played with, partied with, and forged friendships with, men who died in the early days of AIDS, when it was a death sentence, and whose shortened lives Picano honors.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler
Out in Print: Queer Books Reviews
Felice Picano is a bona fide legend who has not only been around the block, he’s paved a few as well, so you’d expect a memoir of his to be name-droppingly dishy. And you’d be partially correct. But True Stories works best when it’s telling Picano’s stories, not those of Diana Vreeland, W. H. Auden or Tennessee Williams.
Don’t get me wrong—the chapters on the above celebrities are definitely worth reading and Picano surely has volumes more of them. But a life is not merely comprised of the famous people one encounters. Picano has included some of them—after all, it’s what readers expect in a memoir of a gay literary icon—but he uses them to augment some wonderful chapters starring not-so-well-known luminaries as well as a few childhood memories that will stick in your head longer than any of the profiles.
We meet fellow Violet Quill members Robert Ferro and Michael Grumley (and the ghost in their home) in a particularly engaging episode that details the couple’s lives and deaths as well as illustrates the somewhat prickly relationship Ferro and Picano had—or rather that Ferro had with everyone. He also introduces us to surrealist poet Charles Henri Ford and the difficulties Picano had with reprinting Ford’s 1933 novel The Young and Evil.
Franz Kafka once wrote, "It is hard to tell the truth, for although there 'is' one, it is alive and constantly changes its face." Telling truths is something that popular, prolific author and memoirist Felice Picano does extremely well. This is most evident in True Stories: Portraits from My Past, his latest collection of expanded personal essays and life reflections. While some are new, many of these pieces have enjoyed publication in other anthologies, but Picano presents them in their unedited form, free from the shackles of word counts and the red editing pencil.
In the introduction, Picano bows to the "strange, wondrous, or simply nutty" people who have passed through his life, since they're the ones who helped him become the writer that he is today. By extension, his writings are a grand gesture to "those I related to, over the years."
As far as celebrity encounters are concerned, Picano boasts a lion's share of personal interactions with divas, doyennes, and a few gayer-than-gay scribes along the way. The "British Auntie" in the opening story is none other than poet W.H. Auden, who accidentally (and quite flamboyantly) dropped a geranium flowerpot down onto St. Mark's Place where a youthful Picano and "working" actor-pal George Sampson happened to be strolling. While "his costume was curious and his apartment a horror," Auden remained magnificently "something to behold."