A very different sort of gay writer is central to the engrossing new novel by National Book Award–winner Julia Glass. A House Among the Trees (Pantheon, $27.95. www.facebook.com/AuthorJuliaGlass) revolves around the life and accidental death of Mort Lear, a world-renowned children’s book author/illustrator whose passing leaves behind a complicated estate and a past imbued with mysteries. Glass weaves a remarkable number of narrative strands into the book: there’s the story of Tommasina, Lear’s former-girl Friday who is surprised to find herself named the executor of his will and even more stunned to realize that, while attending to her employer’s every need, she’s failed to build a life of her own. Then there’s Nick, the charismatic but self-doubting Oscar winner set to play Lear in an upcoming biopic. And Meredith, the recently divorced museum curator whose career hinges on attaining Lear’s archives for her museum, despite the deceased’s last-minute change of directive. There are also flashbacks to Lear’s past, including a volatile years-long relationship with a young social climber who is ultimately lost to complications from AIDS. Impressively, Glass makes it simple to follow all of these threads (and more). She also refuses to reduce any character to hero or villain status. This is an immersively humane, curl-up-by-the-fire read.
Susan Sontag would not have taken kindly to being called a hot stocking stuffer. The same is surely true of fellow feminist literary icons Joan Didion, Hilary Mantel, and Barbara Ehrenreich. But the gorgeous new Picador Modern Classics editions of their respective nonfiction landmarks — Regarding the Pain of Others, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Giving Up the Ghost, and Nickel and Dimed ($16 each)—are among the season’s sexiest little literary gifts. Close-up portraits of the grand dames by illustrator Celia Carlstedt grace the textured, curve-cornered jackets of these pocket-sized volumes (it’s as if they’ve already been gift wrapped). This just-released quartet of titles follows a previously issued fiction foursome, also strikingly designed are Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping, Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. The full set of eight would make a smart statement hung as ornaments on a tree.
Channeling Morgan, a comic novel by Lewis DeSimone (Beautiful Dreamer Press, $13.95. www.lewisdesimone.com) is the literary equivalent of a crisp martini clinked against a fizzy flute of Champagne. It’s a little Noël Coward, a little RuPaul. There’s a bustling, farcical plot involving a ghost writer, a movie star, a drag queen, and a cult, but what will really keep readers riveted is DeSimone’s anthropological attention to detail. His elegantly articulated observations of gay social mores are spot on—“If butchness in the American heterosexual is simply the absence of affectation, in the gay world it is its epitome”—and his precise ear for language yields some beautifully metered zingers—“The brooding boy revealed a Southern drawl, which he tried to harness with shortened vowels. The result was a garbled response that might have been ‘I’m Scott from Birmingham’ or ‘I shat on a broom.’” Cheers, bitches!