Mississippi mudpuppies: Samuel R. Delany's 'Big Joe'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Monday April 19, 2021
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interior and cover art for Samuel R. Delaney's 'Big Joe'
interior and cover art for Samuel R. Delaney's 'Big Joe'

Born in Harlem in 1942, award-winning author Samuel Delany published his first novel at age 19 and his oeuvre to date contains more than 40 works which encompass a wide swath of diversified genres.

Among his most popular publications emerge a widely-known apocalyptic science fiction hit (Dhalgren), a collection of essays on the craft of writing, (About Writing) and another on the queer sex-positive history and gentrification of midcentury gay male culture populating the porn theaters of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue (Times Square Red, Times Square Blue). He has also penned a four-part queer fantasy series (Return to Neveryon) and a revealingly heartfelt memoir (The Motion of Light in Water).

Vastly underrated and underappreciated, Delany's latest creation is a racy, pungent illustrated novella of explicit gay erotica inspired by and dedicated to childhood friend Kenroy Thorsten "who started it all on the first night of summer camp in the boys' bunk-five tent in 1952."

The story follows young Elijah "Ligie" McIntyre, a barely legal vagabond drifting through his youth. He freefalls from Southern town to town until he wanders into a Mississippi porn theatre where he spies two older men fondling each other in the darkness. The scene becomes hardcore quickly and soon involves toes, urine, and a randy Spanish fellow named José.

Upon their post-coital introductions, the men will come to be known as Uncle Shad and Uncle Tommy, two men living in Lot-8, a trailer park in the bosky High Meadow area with a sleazy reputation for the kind of orgiastic debauchery more popularly found in the steamiest of bathhouses.

author Samuel R. Delany  

The park's overlord is Big Joe, who, besides boasting about having the biggest package in the entire camp, is the 21-year-old exhibitionist leader of all things concerning the living accommodations at the sex-drenched Lot-8, where "all the weird people, the interracial relationships, and the gay people" coexisted in harmony.

Ligie currently lives in Lot-3, but soon becomes well known in Big Joe's camp of nearly naked horny men who eagerly take their turns using him as communal new meat, a urinal, and a pass-around fuck toy.

The story is virtually plotless, but who cares when the pages are soaked in vivid descriptions of foreskin, red-hot group sex scenes, Truvada pill-popping, non-politically correct pet-names, and unwashed jizz towels "so stiff you could use the things for surf boards."

While intended to be hot, depraved, and deliciously raunchy, there are ribbons of humor running throughout the story, which can get so racy and nasty (the good kind, of course), it's difficult not to fall into hysterical laughter over the sheer volume of vulgar smutty talk and nasty grinding which appears on nearly every page.

Color illustrations by Drake Carr and Sabrina Bockler are scattered throughout and provocatively enhance and decorate the deliciously filthy set pieces the author has so meticulously created.

Readers unfamiliar with Delany's legacy and body of work will want to begin with his memoir and essay collections to get a more well-rounded sense of the writer and the man. Those books will ultimately lead to this enticing new raunch-fest of unrestrained carnal energy, desire, and genuflection at the altar of the male body, making pornographic devotees of us all.

Big Joe by Samuel R. Delany, Inpatient Press, $20

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