December 2004

Beth Dugan

fiction

Pulling Taffy by Matt Bernstein Sycamore

Pulling Taffy, the debut novel by Matt Bernstein Sycamore exists in the gray space that is between autobiography, creative non-fiction and fiction. Reading more like a journal at some points and poetry in others, Pulling Taffy emerges with only one absolute: that a new voice is sounding off on the subject of appetite.

Told non-linearly, it is the story of Matt’s life as he moves from Seattle to New York to Boston to the perfect hustlers' vacation spot in P-town. “When I go to the beach I wear my green swim shorts, but they come off as soon as I get there. For some reason, I put them on when I go to piss in the dunes -- or to see what’s going on -- but otherwise they stay off. I am trying to lose the tan line.” Firmly in the genre of “queer literature," this is not a book for the faint of heart or sensitive. The main character is a sex worker and most of the book details his interactions with clients and the random encounters that fill his days and nights. Though not technically gay erotica, certain passages read like a graphic “How To…” of fellatio with some of the unfortunate monotonous repetitiveness of stereo instructions. There are only so many ways, apparently, to describe the same sexual act. The narrator goes from situation to situation to fulfill his needs for sex, illicit substances, food and whatever else flits through his mind including the perfect shade of green nail polish and Prada sportswear.

The high points of the book are when the fille de joie narrator steps away from his quest to sate his appetites -- the focus that consumes most of the book -- and tells the reader about his life. The voice is strong and funny, never taking itself too seriously, as in one incident where Matt is taking part in an envelope pushing gay porno where the filmmakers have asked him to be the bottom. Everything is fine until they want him to eat dog food. He is a vegan, (the book also swirls around his constant need to find vegan foods to fend off hypoglycemia, though he has no problems swallowing gallons of another animal by-product) and though he can be whipped and beaten and abused for the camera, he is unable to eat dog food, and ends the shoot.

Pulling Taffy is frenetic and enervated at some points, plodding and soporific at others, echoing the swinging pendulum of the main characters life. It is totally unrepentant, sometimes unpleasant and never less than full of life. Bernstein is not asking to be understood as a sex worker, survivor of incest, or “misguided” youth. He celebrates his life, refuses to apologize for his appetites or his particular gay identity, which does not fit into the mainstream of gay culture. With echoes of the poet Sapphire and Hunter S. Thompson ringing in his voice, Bernstein gives an unflinching view of life and death as an insatiable man.

Pulling Taffy by Matt Bernstein Sycamore
Suspect Thoughts Press
ISBN: 0971084637
224 Pages