A Place in the World; And Finding Yourself 

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A Place in the World

Kirk Read learned how to snap the hard way: by coming out in high school in Lexington, where the redneck factor weighs in at approximately the tonnage of a Dodge Ram pickup and the testosterone level — think V.M.I. — is right up there with that of those women gymnasts on Soviet Olympic teams in the 1970s.

"How I Learned to Snap" (Hill Street Press, $22.95) is his coming-out story, full of all the angst, the joy, the pain and the frustration of learning how to be gay — but mostly the joy, which shines through every page, even the ones that will make you catch your breath and wonder if you'd ever have had his courage. It takes major bravery to make it through your teen-age years unscathed. It takes real guts to do it if you're gay.

And if you have to ask what "snap" means, it's probably doubly important for you to read Read's book. It's a useful bit of homosexual trivia in case one of your kids turns out to be Queen for a Lifetime.

"How I Learned to Snap" is not one of those gut-churning, tear-drenched, coming-out stories full of hostility and bitterness. Instead, every chapter demonstrates what got Read through his teen-age years with nary a scar — well, without scars that show, anyway: his energizing honesty and his unbridled sense of humor, especially his self-effacing ability to laugh at himself. Others who've practiced the coming-out genre have tried hard to fill their books with deep meaning and soul-felt explanations. Read fills his with the right-now wit and wisdom that make his predecessors sound like they peeked out the closet door at a world powered by steam.

OK, since you want to know, Read learned to snap from his flamboyant friend Jesse after "being called faggot by dozens of screaming children." Jesse taught him to make wide circles in the air with his arm. "Three circles and a snap," Jesse told him. And snap on the word not. "I am not (snap) afraid."

Read's book is all the better for his skill as a writer. "I wasn't a boy or a girl. I was between them, a sort of gender diplomat," he writes. And he explains how gay people find "family" outside the confines of their nests: "We're raised, all too often, by wolves."

Raised by wolves? Maybe. But with his debut novel, Read is running now at the head of the pack. — Don Dale

On Saturday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m., Read will be in Richmond for a community event sponsored by Diversity Thrift at the future home of the Virginia Holocaust Museum, 2000 E. Cary St. (353-8890 for ticket information).

And Finding Yourself

In Jennifer Egan's powerful second novel, "Look at Me," (Doubleday, $24.95) the characters are all consumed with the search for identity. While this theme has always fascinated American writers, Egan presents it to her readers in a new way. Instead of developing a single character's individuality throughout the course of the novel, she develops several characters simultaneously. These characters, which range from an aging fashion model to an adolescent girl to a brilliant, but disturbed, middle-aged history professor, show that the struggle for identity is not one that must be endured only while growing up. To Egan, this struggle is universal, one that must be waged by people of all ages, in all areas of life.

Charlotte Swenson, the novel's main character, is a model whose empty life is turned upside down when her face must be reconstructed after a car accident. While Charlotte's story is the primary focus of Egan's book, the author shadows it with other characters whose lives echo and intersect Charlotte's own. Another Charlotte, the teen-age daughter of the older Charlotte's former best friend, finds herself in an illicit affair with a teacher. Moose, young Charlotte's uncle, finds himself drifting toward a madness that threatens to shatter his life. Egan shows her skill as a storyteller as she converges these vastly different narratives into a study of the human condition

"Look at Me" identifies Eigan as a contemporary writer to contend with. — Francis Decker


University Press of New England has published "Everlasting Quail" a collection of the poems of Sam Witt, a University of Virginia graduate with deep Richmond roots. Witt has won the Katharine Bakelss Nason Poetry Prize and the 1999 Millennium Writing Poetry Award. He joins the ranks of U.Va. poets which include Kelly Cherry, Henry Taylor and Dave Smith.


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