True Stories

by Richard LaBonte
Q Syndicate's Bookmarks
March 4, 2011

True Stories: Portraits from My Past
by Felice Picano
Chelsea Station Editions, $16

If you’ve read all of Picano’s nonfiction, and there’s a lot, portions of these “portraits from my past” will seem familiar – some essays are expanded from shorter versions that appeared in previous books, restoring text excised, most likely, by page-count restrictions or editorial decisions. No matter. Picano is such a vibrant memoirist that every extra word is welcome. As a lithe youth he charmed “British auntie” W.H. Auden and an intimidating Diana Vreeland, was physically aroused at the Continental Baths by Bette Midler crooning for near-naked boys at the dawn of her career, and later crossed paths with Tennessee Williams and revived the literary career of Charles Henri Ford – appealing anecdotes all. But the best essays reveal a less celebrity-centered side: Picano besting a boyhood bully; Picano reconnecting with his curmudgeonly father; Picano explicating with wrenching honesty his complex relationship with publishing partner Terry Helbing; and, most poignantly, Picano remembering men he played with, partied with, and forged friendships with, men who died in the early days of AIDS, when it was a death sentence, and whose shortened lives Picano honors.