Friday, February 05, 2010

Review: Leather, Licking, and Lawnmowers

Title: Leather, Licking, and Lawnmowers
Author: Dusk Peterson
Genre: GLBT Fiction/BDSM Dark Sexual Comedy
Price: $ 1.99
Publisher: Love in Dark Settings Press
Pages: 50 in .epub format
Point of Sale: Amazon
Review By: Cheryl Anne Gardner

Book Description: Leather, Licking, and Lawnmowers takes leathersex out of its usual bars and back alleys, setting it in unexpected locations: A 5&10. A potluck. A hamburger joint. A college waltz party. Even when the leatherman who narrates these stories returns to the Eagle bar, things don't go quite the way he expected. . .

I have wanted to read this collection of interconnected short stories for quite some time. With a title like that, who wouldn’t, but don’t be put off by the description. It might say leathersex, but in reality, there is very little sex in the book, and what there is of it isn’t explicit by any means, and I found myself reading passage after passage aloud to my husband. To me, the book had more to do thematically with identity and one’s own comfort level with one’s sexuality than it had to do with the act of sex itself or the BDSM gay leather lifestyle. Sure the lifestyle was showcased, but the reader is definitely not bludgeoned with a membership card. Now I don’t read too much in the erotic genre because I find the language puerile in most cases and the scenarios just seem fake and orchestrated, but Peterson’s writing style is casual, and the approach to the subject matter is very free form, almost experimental in an innocent sort of way, and that lent a certain amount of intrigue to it. In each of the stories, the characters, while reaffirming their principles and justifying their life choices on the surface, were actually discovering themselves in the process. The reader was given a very intimate view of the characters’ philosophies and personal struggles, but the stylistic approach was campy and darkly comedic, so the reader never feels aggressively accosted with the satirical social commentary. I have to applaud Dusk Peterson, because that is hard to do without sounding preachy.

Dusk Peterson follows our blog, and recently, we had a comment discussion on transgressive content in literature following my last Thoughts on The Craft article. Peterson knows I read and review GLBT books, so when I was offered an .epub version of this for my ereader, I snapped at the chance to sample the work. I really didn’t know what to expect from the title, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be a black comedy, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I could easily see Leather in Lawnville as a successful cable TV program, much like Queer as Folk.

As our book starts, our unnamed first-person narrator is looking for “clothesline” at the hardware store when he runs into his neighbour Gerth. (Love the name) Anyway, Gerth isn’t quite “out” as a leatherman or a BDSM appreciator at this point. He is repressed, sexually and otherwise, so there is a lot of innuendo and double entendre littering the seemingly innocent and casual man/tool conversation. A conversation that continues back in Gerth’s basement. A grey hankie, a bicycle chain, and a spin cycle on the washer later, Gerth is well on his way to making peace with his inner submissive. Our second story finds our narrator at friend’s house during a leatherman club party, and there really isn’t any way to describe how the event goes without Peterson’s words:

Thinking about it, I've decided that bringing Jell-O to a gathering of leathermen wasn't my big mistake. My big mistake was bringing it on the night that Master Trent was attending.

Of course, our narrator and Mr. Trent eventually get into a heated discussion about stability versus spontaneity. Master Trent takes a moment here to fondly remember the day when sex didn’t come with hours of negotiation and directives. Master Trent remembers when sex happened organically in a crazed and wild fit of discovery. So our narrator should have watched his words:

It must have been the Ho Ho. Sugar rushes cause madness, right? Because I promise you, "Anything you want," is not what you say to Master Trent. Not when he has his black handkerchief sticking out of his left back pocket.

He smiled and put his arm around my shoulders. I'm not into that touchy-feely male bonding stuff, so I tried to shrug him off, sort of like a fly might try to shrug off a bull. I saw Gary suddenly turn his gaze our way, as though alerted by a signal. Trent raised his voice above the chatter.

"Gentlemen!" he announced. "My dear grey-hankied friend here has just offered to let me do anything I want with him. That's right, isn't it?" He turned to me for confirmation.

It was right about then that the Ho Ho turned into a ten-ton cast-iron ball in my stomach. I made the mistake of trying to answer. "Well, yeah, but—"

That was as far as I got. Trent picked me up by my back collar and belt and threw me onto the table.

And if things couldn’t get any weirder, we move to the local Hamburger joint to appreciate a little Homophobic rhetoric. Ignorance is bliss, especially when you are being made a fool of, and here our narrator goes all out. I can’t say too much without plot spoilers, so I won’t.

We have a few more tales after that -- the waltz at the college cotillion being the most sentimental -- and at the finish, our collection of stories, I think, ends on a fine moralistic note. There are a lot of Aunt Abigails in the world: those who appreciate every human as a unique individual; those who understand that everyone has preferences, and that some are a choice and some are not; and lastly, those who fervently believe: to each his own -- among consenting adults of course. Life is about living it; sex is about discovery. Both of those themes are addressed very eloquently in this book. No, this is not a how to manual. Peterson is subtle when it comes to outlining the rules of engagement in the various vignettes. This reader felt that the existential undertones were much sharper than the lapel pins, and that is what worked for me. These stories have purpose beyond amusement, and yet, enlightenment is only a laugh away.

Yes, I really loved this short little book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark sexual comedy with principles and heart. You don’t have to be gay, and you don’t have to be in the BDSM or the leather scene to enjoy these stories. The writing is simply wonderful: campy, self-deprecating, sarcastic, and very, very funny. It’s light-hearted and conversational. Each story flows smoothly into the next, and every story has some sort of epiphany, but in the end, it’s all about finding yourself and finding others who can appreciate you. I like that message.

The reviewer read this in .epub format on her Sony reader, and had no trouble with the font or the rag-right text. I noticed no digital formatting atrocities, either.

9.75/10 simply because I wanted more.
This book was reviewed from an epub file dowloaded free from the author's website.

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