The PODler reviews Richard Grayson's And to Think That He Kissed Him on Lorimer Street today:
Richard Grayson is a prolific writer of over 200 stories, articles, and books. In the 80s, he staged a satiric run for the White House against Ronald Reagan. He has obtained a J.D. degree from University of Florida with honors and is, in addition, a master satirist and a keen observer of the American scene from his own and unique viewpoint. Grayson writes in a deceptively simple style that is, nevertheless, hard to imitate. Using this kind of autobiographical method, bordering on a confessional, Grayson looks through shifting viewpoints (gay and straight; white and black; American and immigrant; young and old) at the people, times, and palaces of a fictional Brooklyn.
In these fictions, Grayson meditates on various topics, mostly race, sexual identity, age, and change by using the device of popular culture, mixing in liberally the icons of pop culture with persons and places from memory to construct a solid literary edifice.
The collection is filled with resonant stories about the lives of ordinary people, and this focus is what makes them interesting and memorable. Somehow, though Grayson's master touch, the ordinary becomes fascinating and highly readable literature. Many of these stories, however, reflect a deep sadness that exists in the heart of the common man and his experience. Nothing seems to happen for the protagonists in these stories, their lives stupefying their subjects. Grayson reminds us with his fiction that our lives are, in the end, rather banal, revolving around the mundane, the ordinary, and the common. At the same time, there seems to be a kind of weird current of apathy that flows beneath the surface of the stories. In the title story, we wonder, for example, whether the narrator is incredibly open-minded about his son's sexuality and the kiss between the boys, or whether he's just too apathetic to care, and we wonder because the title seems to be a kind of subconscious expression of protest by the protagonist. Apathy, or more precisely, a kind of stupefaction, perhaps synergized by the bathos of pop culture, rears its head in "Shirtless Tea-bag Eating White Boys," in which two characters, one stupefied by Haldol, the other just tranquilized by American culture, watch internet videos, which somehow are appropriate for the mentally dysfunctional character and the young elementary school teacher; the first prefers to watch a purple hippo, and the latter prefers to view shirtless tea-bag eating white boy clips.
Some of these stories are biographical, and those are the stories that I like the best. Especially likable are "Branch Libraries of Southeastern Brooklyn," in which Grayson's character reminisces about the libraries that he had known and how they had evolved over the years-this one is probably my favorite story, as I do love libraries, and it seems that Grayson is a true lover of the library as well - and "The Lost Movie Theatres of Southeastern Brooklyn and Rockaway Beach," another story of nostalgia and memory, where we are treated to reminiscences about the various theatres that the author remembers. "1001 Ways to Defeat Green Arrow" deals with change in gay relationships and the longing and emptiness that result. "My Life in The New York Post" is a collection of strange but somehow funny clips from, apparently, the Post regarding a fictional Grayson's plots and schemes.
Other stories that I liked were "In the Sixties," a kaleidoscope-like summary of the Sixties; "Diary of a Brooklyn Cyclones Hot Dog," which deals with the life of a lesbian Uzbek immigrant who is promoted to being the Relish in a Hot Dog Race; and "Mohammad's Therapy Monkey," in which the protagonist, a college student with some issues is assigned a roommate with a pet monkey, which helps him find acceptance and a relationship of his own in a place that he detests.
Grayson chronicles the real through his funny, sometimes sad, but always genuine, if slightly offbeat, fictional world.