“Patience, Colorado” by Rob Byrnes from Men of the Mean Streets (Bold Strokes Books). Edited by Greg Herren.
In “Carver Comes Home” the author dialed his trademark humor way back. Here it’s switched off. I thought I wouldn’t like that, but on the contrary, I was riveted. As the events of the plot unfolded I was struck by how much the story felt like a classic film. It might easily be a play, also, because it has a limited number of locales and a small cast of characters. There’s the run down motel, the bowling alley, the train crossing and the culvert that runs alongside it. There’s the main character, Conor Laughlin, who takes a wrong turn and ends up in Patience, Colorado in the middle of the night. There’s Tay, short for Taylor, who tends bar at the bowling alley across the railroad tracks. There’s Tay’s boss, Mr. Thursby, who owns the bowling alley, and a handful of incidental characters: the motel clerk, some other customers at the bowling alley, the town mechanic, a police officer. There’s the sexual tension that erupts between Conor and Tay in this most inhospitable place. But the most important element of the story, by far, is the noose the author slowly tightens around his characters as the plot unfolds.
“Keeping the Faith” by ‘Nathan Burgoine from Men of the Mean Streets (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).
When I first heard that ‘Nathan had a story in this anthology I was excited, because I love his work, but also slightly worried. His stories (as far as I have found, anyway) have a common theme that I didn’t think could be incorporated successfully into noir. I was fearful he would abandon that aspect of his storytelling, and I wasn’t sure what the result would be. It turns out I was wrong. He managed to craft a very ‘Nathan-like story that’s also perfectly noir.
The main character is a private eye hired to retrieve property stolen from a priest. He turns up late one night and gets the cold shoulder from the priest’s secretary. While he’s standing in the street, waiting to be granted admittance, he spies someone no one else sees. They can’t see them, because the person in question is a ghost. Right there, you know where you are and that it’s going to be good, and also unlike anything you’ve read before.
What I really, really like about the author’s world building is that being aware of the existence of the supernatural never benefits his main characters very much. It actually tends to hinder them, by rendering them outsiders. Being able to see the ghost gives this main character one small clue to solve the larger puzzle, but he gets small clues from any number of sources. It’s still up to him to put them all together and figure out what’s really going on. There’s no deus ex machina here.
“A Love Story” by Evan Mora from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radclyffe.
This is a cute way to end the anthology. The main character and her lover are sitting under a tree in the park enjoying a beautiful day together. The lover asks to be told a story, and the main character obliges, launching into the fantastical tale of how she met the great love of her life, a story that, we come to realize, has many of the actual details of their meeting and subsequent relationship woven into it. It’s the story of how the main character fell for the lover, only embellished. At the end, as they pack up and head home, the lover makes a suggestion about the flavor the story should take during the next evening’s telling, and you get a sense of the timelessness of this union. There’s the feeling that these two characters will continue to cherish the love they share, and renew it nightly through storytelling, for ever after.
“House of Memories” by D. Jackon Leigh from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radclyffe.
This story really spoke to me, possibly becausd several friends I follow on the internet are in the process of moving, and right now new neighbors are moving in to the house next door to ours. Also because the last five years have seen a lot of upheaval in our lives and the lives of friends and relatives. Loss of jobs, changes of careers, and the relocation to new cities. So yeah, it spoke to me.
When the story starts the unnamed narrator is loading out the last few boxes containing her belongings and the belongings of her lover, who is rushing out the door of their apartment, apparently to meet the cable guy over at the new place. She pauses in the kitchen and looks around, struck by memories from various stages of their relationship. She’s wistful but not melancholy, and it’s not hard to fathom why: this place was her partner’s before they met; the new place will be theirs, and that’s a cheerful, optimistic note on which to end the story.
“The Quickening” by Siobhan Colman from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radclyffe.
Here we have historical erotica. It’s another first for the collection, and a refreshing change. It’s pure fantasy, of course. Eighteen year old Mary endeavors to assist her mistress in getting ready for bed, as she has done for various employers every night for the past three years. This mistress is different. She reads aloud while Mary brushes her hair. She helps her learn her letters, and just generally treats her like a human being, not property. Much to her surprise, Mary’s mistress next invites her to bed. Or not invites, so much as insists they switch places. She says she will be the servant, and Mary will be the mistress, not just for one night, but for always. See? Fantasy. But fun nonetheless.
“Clean Slate” by Lisabet Sarai from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radclyffe.
Ally is undergoing one of many laser treatments to remove a lifetime of tattoos she collected as a member of a street gang. The lengthy procedure is almost finished but also quite painful, and laser technician Luisa suggests that they stop and make the next time the final session, instead of this one, but Ally insists they keep going. She explains that she promised her fiance Richard that she would be done today. It’s his money that has paid for the treatments, and he’s impatient to witness the spectacle of her skin unmarred by brightly colored inks.
Luisa resumes her work, and soon Ally is free of her past, and free to pursue the next phase of her life. Luisa has definite ideas about what it might entail, and she makes a move Ally is receptive to…for a moment. Once it has passed she seems content to go running back to Richard. She explains this by telling Luisa that he saved her life. Luisa doesn’t dispute that, but she challenges Ally to examine her own heart and ask whether she isn’t trading one sort of gang for another, isn’t still conforming to the expectations of those she feels can protect her. She asks Ally to consider living her life as the person she truly is inside.
“Dumb Bunny” by Lee Lynch from Best Lesbian Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Radcylffe.
After I read this story I felt offended by the title, on behalf of the character of Bunny. I understand perfectly well why the author titled the piece the way she did, but still.
Pensioner Frenchy has decided to briefly come out of retirement as a favor to her former boss; and also because the extra money will help her buy a condo in Florida near her brother and his wife; and, finally, because it feels good to feel needed, and they begged.
She used to train employees for a national grocery chain. She was the best trainer around. Even she, though, has reservations when she learns that the difficult-to-train employee she’s signed on to turn around is the grocery chain owner’s fifty-three year old daughter, Muriel, who goes by the nickname Bunny. Not that Frenchy, whose real name is Genevieve, knows a thing about Muriel/Bunny. It’s the father, Dom Sausilito, who has her worried. If she doesn’t deliver, could he make her new lifestyle as a retiree go up in smoke? Things only get worse when she actually meets Bunny, who is a nervous wreck, probably stemming from the fact that she is unbelievably inexperienced at practically everything and naïve to boot. Yet, Frenchy also finds her endearing. She’s drawn to this childlike woman, and determined to see her succeed.
Kudos to the author for giving the spotlight to characters who are no longer young or even middle aged but also aren’t yet extinct.