the featherbed by John Miller (Dundurn), 352 pages, $21.99 paper. Rating: NNNN
QUEER FEAR II: GAY HORROR FICTION edited by Michael Rowe (Arsenal Pulp), 302 pages, $23.95 paper. Rating: NNN
these two books have almost no- thing in common except that they're both absolutely queer, proving how bang-on this year's Pride theme - Diverse Defiant Divine - really is. John Miller's The Featherbed traces two sisters' conflict-ridden relationship when they meet for their mother's funeral. Their mum's diary takes them on a journey into the past in New York's immigrant Jewish community as it adjusts to American life at the dawn of the 20th century. Stick with it. The Featherbed starts out fairly conventionally but soon takes some surprising turns.
Where Miller's is a gentle piece of poignant fiction, Michael Rowe's Lambda Award-winning anthology of gay horror fiction is a kick-ass collection - erotic, scary and sometimes silly. Highlights include the opening story, Bugcrush, by Scott Treleaven, about boys getting off on the venom from bug bites, and Ron Oliver's Want, which explores the Twilight Zone-like moral "Be careful what you wish for."
To be sure, the stories can get annoying - the writers take a bit too much pleasure in abusive situations, which can get your eyes rolling. But you almost feel like that's the nature of the horror beast. That tendency fulfills the Defiant part of the Pride theme.
Defiance in The Featherbed comes in the form of an unlikely lesbian relationship thriving inside a Jewish family. It's very rare that queer fiction emerges from this kind of setting, and though he's no Elana Dykewomon, Miller does a terrific job of evoking the changing politics and values of Jews in the U.S.
As for the Divine bit, Queer Fear writers get a lot of mileage out of the supernatural and fearlessly head down alternative spiritual paths. The Featherbed's radicals, on the other hand, have trouble with orthodoxies but still feel the power of God.