The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me: An Aristocratic Family, a High Society Scandal and an Extraordinary Legacy by Sofka Zinovieff (Harper)
The author’s grandparents lived and loved with abandon. Her grandfather, Robert Heber-Percy, was a dashing and impulsive charmer who married Jennifer Fry, a famous socialite, and brought her home pregnant. By the time of their marriage, though, Robert had already lived with and loved a man for a decade — Gerald, Lord Berners. The two men lived together in the famed Faringdon House in Oxfordshire, England, when homosexuality was still illegal. When a pregnant Jennifer moved in, it created a formidable ménage a trois that both added something to their lives and also confused people around them. After Gerald's death and Jennifer and Robert's divorce, Robert would become something of a flamboyant, arrogant, and racist gay playboy, until very late in life when he married another woman. The final reveal is what his legacy does to his granddaughter, the author of the book, who unexpectedly finds herself at Faringdon House decades later in this fascinating, quirky, and oddly moving must-read hybrid biography-memoir.
The Holy Mark by Gregory Alexander (Mill City Press)
Father Tony was destined to be a priest at birth. That’s when his Italian immigrant grandmother saw a birthmark on his head and declared it a sign that he was to be a man of God. But his mob-connected uncle is not so thrilled with the move and vows to take Tony down, with the help of his friends in the Catholic hierarchy. When Father Tony fights back, we see the dynamics of power and family, faith and politics, revenge and regret all mired together. But don’t think you’ll find heroes in this psychological thriller about a predator and victim in one. There’s a reason Anne Rice plugged the book, saying it haunted her. Many will be left pondering good and evil, knowing perhaps they are sometimes two sides of the same coin, and what’s wonderful here is that Alexander manages to indict the church as much as the priest in this well-told mystery.
I Left It on the Mountain by Kevin Sessums (St. Martin’s Press)
Kevin Sessums, the famed former contributing editor of Vanity Fair who is now the editor in chief of FourTwoNine magazine, won the enduring devotion of many LGBT readers with his first memoir, Mississippi Sissy. While that book took readers into his childhood in the Deep South (including testifying at the sensational murder trial of the man who killed his gay mentor, Frank Haines), this new memoir takes off as in completely different territory as Sessums risies New York’s arts scene, first as an actor and then a writer, delves into celebrity journalism, and travels the world searching for himself spiritually. For celebrity buffs, his musings on his time with Madonna, Michael J. Fox, and more are worth a gander, while fellow journalists will enjoy his recollections of chatting with Andy Warhol as a writer at the just-launched Interview magazine, and later writing for Vanity Fair under both Tina Brown and Graydon Carter.
But there’s more to this than sheer celebrity spectacle. In fact, it’s in these other stories that Sessums seems most approachable. At some point, Sessums is seeking and not finding, but when he does awaken he realizes he’s a sex-addicted meth user who is depressed and rather empty inside. He’s tired of anonymous sex and struggling for something. When his friend dies of an overdose, it awakens the functional addict and Sessums seeks change.
In one of the best scenes, Sessums, who is also HIV-positive and open about his status in the book, writes about getting a tattoo — a line from a Emily Dickenson poem. But the tattoo artist screws it up and Sessums must ask for an edit, which leads to a breathtaking moment of clarity that will stay with readers long after the book is finished. Now over 50, Sessum writes, “I realized that like my tattoo, I am singlular. I am imperfect. And I am fixable.” A perfect mantra for any of us, especially that Mississippi sissy we fell in love with years ago.