Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Laugh a line gay comedy-adventure ... with camels

Knights Press has been gone for a long time, and that's a shame, because they had access to a stable of writers whose work was very different from the norm of what was going through GMP, Alyson and so on, at the time. Back in the 1980s there were loads of small gay publishers, and always plenty of good reads, even great reads, coming along. That's all changed ... and I would say the world is a poorer place because of it. (If you're interested in this, I have a link for you now, and also, I just forwarded this same link over to Mel Keegan, and got a ping back. MK will be blogging about this tomorrow.) I haven't even been able to find out when Knights Press closed, but I think it would be about ten years ago, just before GMP was sold off.

Writer Daniel McVay is also very difficult to track down. He wrote several books, most of them out of print, one apparently still available (Fete and The Legend of Jasper Kell are available secondhand; The Vanilla Kid is still in print.) Of McVay books, the only one I've read is The Baggy Kneed Camel Blues ... and I keep telling myself to get the others, because if they're as good as this one --!

Once in a long long while you find a novel that's not just funny, it's flat-out hilarious. This is one of them. The whole book reads like a stand-up comedy routine, and you'll laugh out loud in places. The book is also very easy to read. You can almost read it in an afternoon, not because it's short but because it's ... easy. In fact, Baggy Kneed... is over 200pp, and it's a good "act" to be able to continue the joke through a whole book, and still be funny at the end.

The storyline follows the development of young Tad, who’s early twenties and looking to escape from what he thinks of as a suffocating job in a dead-end place. Having saved for a trip, he lands in the Spanish city of Barcelona ... but he’s dragged his feet too much on the way there and has run out of money long before he could reach his actual original destination, which was Morocco.

The book opens with Tad killing time and trying to get his act together in Barcelona ... and then, as a cruise ship arrives, he meets a girl called Stacy and catches a glimpse of a Viking God in human form, Gunther. Tad is very gay, which doesn’t bother Stacy. Stacy is one of those fast-mouthed, exuberant young women who could be compensating for being physically tiny by having a huge personality. She's bright, quick-witted and funny -- but author McVay was walking a tightrope with this character.

Stacy’s the kind of character who makes a story start by providing the grit in the oyster that turns into the pearl; she’s also the kind of character that can get annoying if she’s not handled right. Daniel McVay does a very good job of keeping the exuberant Stacy on a leash -- giving her enough rope to let her get Tad moving, get the story going, but not letting her cross the line and become annoying.

Tad, meanwhile is a curious character: young, bright, gay, smart, but he has a kind of "Walter Mitty" complex, where he has a hard time controlling his imagination, and his daydreams can be more real than reality. Anything and everything can spark runaway daydreams, and his fantasies go careening off by themselves like runaway trucks. This provides a lot of the comedy material, and is really where Baggy Kneed... is, in my experience, unique. I can’t recall another novel that ever used this device. Certainly not a gay one.

Then Tad actually meets Gunther, the Viking, and falls head over heels. Gunther is also headed for Morocco, and Tad goes with. It’s the start of a crazy trip, and with Tad as narrator, the whole story is a little bizarre and very funny. The action (and sex, and comedy) have more to do with what’s going on inside Tad’s head than in reality. It’s a device that shouldn't’t work so well -- but does. It works marvelously.

The book is long out of print, but you can still get used copies, and Amazon has a good deal on this item. Very recommended, when you’re looking for a good laugh. AG’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars.


Anonymous,  October 30, 2011 at 3:35 AM  

That was awesome. I also found this funny video on Youtube by a Canadian comedian. You might want to check it out.