“A Royal Mess” by Taylor McGrath from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)
This story doesn’t feel like a short story at all. It feels like a novel that’s somehow just fifteen pages long. We’re introduced to Graham, a journalist whose online search for his ex-boyfriend has, at long last, yielded a result. Farrin Zafrani is back in town.
Graham makes a half-hearted attempt to keep from jumping up and dashing out the door by running the idea of seeing Farrin again past a mutual friend, but it’s never really a question of whether or not he’ll go. There’s unfinished business between them, the result of Graham’s inability to stop turning over stones, searching for juicy stories.
There’s a lot of conflict packed into these few pages. We learn that Farrin brought loads of baggage into his relationship with Graham, thanks on two separate counts to his family. First, there’s the fact that he is afflicted with ADD. Then there’s his domineering father, who never misses a chance to make him feel worthless as well as anxious and depressed.
Despite that, since Farrin took off unexpectedly three years ago Graham has never stopped wanting him to return, and he’s never stopped trying to find him. He turns up at Farrin’s new place of employment with no idea just what he may find…
I hope this is the germ of an idea that will become a novel. I would love to know more about these characters and see a greater focus placed on the story conflicts. And maybe it’s all the weddings in this collection, including one in this story, but most of all I’d like to know if Graham and Farrin will live happily ever after.
“Tea” by Jeffrey Ricker from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)
I had a pretty good indication that I would like this story because I’ve enjoyed several other stories the author has written. I liked his first novel, Detours, very much. I also enjoyed the three stories he has up on UnTreed Reads, as well as the one that’s a part of Wilde Stories 2011 (Lethe Press).
So I figured I was going to like it. What I didn’t count on was getting halfway through and running into a scene I’d read before. Because there are some similarities between this story and Detours—an adult gay son relating to a strong mother; the recent death of a character; a contemporary setting—I figured they were related. And because that sort of behind-the-scenes stuff fascinates me, I stopped reading to investigate.
Thank god for the Kindle search feature, that’s all I’m saying. I ruled out all those previous works as a source for this story. It turns out that where I’d read it before was on Foolish Hearts co-editor Becky Cochrane’s blog. She’s been posting story excerpts, and I’ve been reading them…and then forgetting that I did, obviously. For a little while there I was convinced I was losing my mind. Thanks for that, Becky.
There’s not a whole lot I can say about the plot of this story without giving away what’s going on, and I don’t want to do that, so let me just say how much I admire the author’s eye for detail. He gives his characters small pieces of business that are so true-to-life you become convinced that what’s unfolding before you is real, three dimensional. It’s lovely, understated storytelling.
His second novel The Unwanted (Bold Strokes Books) is due out this month. I can’t wait to read it.
“Nude Beach” by Paul Lisicky from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).
This story started off well enough – two men meet on a beach and share an hour of intimacy. There seems to be potential for something between them beyond that one encounter, and so one gives his card to the other.
After that things go wrong for the main character, only he doesn’t seem to notice for awhile. And even once he does it strikes me as not plausible that the situation is not salvageable. (Didn’t he look at the thing he misplaced? Has he truly nothing to go on to try to undo this tragedy?)
That said, it was an enjoyable enough little story and I would be interested to read other work by this author.
“Victoria” by Erik Orrantia from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).
Daniel and Osvaldo have spent decades carving out a place for themselves in rural Mexico, sharing the hard work of running a cattle ranch while dodging the suspicions of their fellow ranchers about the true nature of their relationship. Daniel is content with the life they’ve made, but Osvaldo has serious concerns about their security. His fears have been stoked by the recent death of his sister’s common-law husband, which left her penniless. Also recently, a Federal District judge has ruled same-sex marriages lawful in Mexico. Now Osvaldo is dropping hints to Daniel that to protect themselves they should make their union legal, but Daniel, wary of upsetting a hornet’s nest, keeps sidestepping those hints.
“On These Sheets” by Steven Reigns from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).
If I had a dime for every time I’ve been told I “overthink” things…
The main character of this story uses an offhand comment made by his boyfriend as the jumping off point for comparing and contrasting every relationship he’s ever been in. Instead of slumbering peacefully in the arms of the man who loves him he stays awake and twists himself into knots. His mental gymnastics are breathtaking and so familiar that while reading I continually had the urge to look over my shoulder. I love it when an author captures thoughts I believed were uniquely mine. For the neurotic that sort of thing is deeply, blessedly reassuring.
“Three Things I Pray” by Trebor Healey from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)
You may have gotten the impression from previous posts that I dislike stories that aren’t realistic. While it’s true I’m not a fan of fiction that seems to have no rules at all, it’s equally correct to say I love stories in which select elements are defined as being bent.
Which makes this story a win-win.
I appreciated that from the get-go the reader knows what to expect, though I had an inkling what kind of story it would be because of who wrote it. I haven’t yet read the author’s novel, Faun, but I’ve read great things about it. I have read—and loved—several books categorized as “magical realism”, the genre into which I would place this story. Among my favorites are Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa; Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho; and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
I love the imagery employed here: a fallen angel, Greek gods, the decaying urban wilderness of Buenos Aires, the circus. No surprise there. I was raised Roman Catholic by two theatre fanatics. Hands down, though, it’s the language I liked best about this story. It’s gorgeous, and by that I mean break-out-in-a stupid-grin-while-reading-it / catch yourself whispering the lush word pairings aloud gorgeous.
Faun will have to be an #fridayreads one day very soon.
“How To Be Single At A Wedding” by David Puterbaugh, from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)
Friends Natalie and Peter are the Best Man and Maid of Honor for her brother Brian’s wedding to Jason, and the only single people attending the event. Nervous and tipsy from complimentary champagne, Natalie decides to blog about her many experiences as the member of a wedding party (hence the story’s title). As she types, she and Peter each reflect on their failure to find the sort of love Brian and Jason enjoy.
I thought the moral of the story was going to be spelled out via the bullet points Natalie lists in her blog post, but no. It also wasn’t delivered with the back stories of the characters, nor was the end of the story tied with a bow. I wasn’t expecting that, but I can certainly appreciate it. As I’ve previously noted, I have a friend and former boss who likes to say art should ask questions, not provide answers. This story follows that rule.
This isn’t a feel-good tale chronicling how two people meet and start to fall in love. It’s about two people who yearn for romance and lasting love, who see and appreciate it in the lives of their friends and family and fear they will never find it for themselves. As the main character notes, there are no guarantees in life.
All that being said, it’s still a romantic story because two of the characters presented in it have found true love. And it’s not at all maudlin. You’re left with a sense of hopefulness – surely these people who appreciate love and recognize it all around them will eventually find it – and also with the strong desire to turn the page and experience a neat, storybook ending.
“Hello Aloha” by Tony Calvert, Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R. D. Cochrane (Cleis Press, 2014).
This sweet story is a great opener to this collection and one of several that, not too surprisingly, use a same-gender wedding as a setting.
The main character, Jory, is the best man at his friend Chad’s wedding, which is not simply Disney-themed but located inside a Disney theme park. Chad has invited no less than seven eligible bachelors to the event in the hopes that one of them will hit it off with Jordan. But, still reeling from a bad breakup a year ago, Jordan is having none of Martin’s matchmaking. He prefers to spend his time cracking sardonic jokes to a theme park employee dressed as Goofy, who’s stationed nearby. The performers are forbidden from speaking to the park guests or in any way breaking character while in costume, of course, which makes venting to one of them capitalism’s spin on the Catholic confessional. You talk, the character listens, and there’s no assigning of Hail Marys afterward.
The thing Jory doesn’t count on is that Goofy is only human.
The next story in the collection is mine, “There’s No Question It’s Love”. I hope you enjoy it. But now, moving on…
“Save the Last Dance for Me” by David Puterbaugh from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press).
I absolutely adored this, the final story of the collection. In fact, it’s my personal favorite. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s got the perfect romantic setting – a transatlantic voyage. It has two great couples – the protagonist and his boyfriend Matthew, and Gene and Ed, an older couple the main character has known for a decade, and who have been together for over four decades. It’s got a little camp and a lot of heart, and it’s got inner and outer conflict.
We learn that the main character continually wrestles with his desire to be affectionate in public, something he knows his boyfriend Matthew desires, and his understanding that being open is still dangerous. They’ve had slurs hurled at them by perfect strangers, and he feels that the ship’s other passengers, crowding in around them, might harbor the same hostility. When he voices his frustrations, Gene and Ed remind him (and us) how far things have come and how fast. It never feels, though, as if the story devolves into a history lecture.
The end is very sweetly romantic. The main character takes action that, in hindsight, is the obvious conclusion, but I failed to see coming because I was so caught up in the story. And the image that ends the piece? Priceless.
“Shep: A Dog” by Alex Jeffers from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press)
I had a hard time with this story on the first go round simply because it’s a genre I wasn’t expecting to encounter, and it caught me off guard. But I guess that’s the nature of non-themed anthologies; there can be a little bit of everything.
The story events did seem a little strange, but I was willing to roll with it and suspend my disbelief. Contemporary story, sympathetic main character, we’re all good. As it turns out, though, there’s a twist at the end that changes everything.
Here’s the thing: I don’t do well in that situation. I’ll give you a perfect example of what I mean. Yesterday WordPress decided to display one thing to me via my phone app (an addition I made to my original post) and another to everyone else (the original post I wrote using my laptop). David Puterbaugh tweeted “I think you’re missing the title for this one”. He meant literally. It wasn’t there. Now, to be fair, my reaction was bolstered by the fact that I could see the title, but you know what that reaction was? Panic and mortification. I replied privately, “Missing as in not getting the joke?”
That’s kind of how I felt at the end of this story, the first time through. Like I’d failed to spot the clues and solve the mystery. I don’t want to say anything more specific that might ruin it for anyone else, so let me just say that when I read it a second time I enjoyed it very much.