“Lucky P” by Rigoberto Gonzalez from Speaking Out: LGBTQ Youth Stand Up (Bold Strokes Books, 2011).
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the editor, Steve Berman.
One hundred and two stories and this is only the second one in which the main character is bisexual. Thirteen year old Pedro believes he is in love with two of his classmates: Nemecio and Paloma. They do not know one another, though they are each friends with Pedro, and neither of them reciprocates his deeper feelings. That may actually play a role in his attraction to them; many times first crushes fall on those who are unattainable because they are safe territory. As Pedro continues to examine his feelings for each of them his friends he realizes that what he is suffering from isn’t love after all, but infatuation. This is natural; he’s thirteen. His heart is testing the waters, determining which qualities it desires in a partner and which it does not. I loved that he felt free to express himself to his friends and family, and that his desires were not met with hostility.
On a side note, I really enjoyed the cultural references strewn throughout the story. I felt transported not just into another mind and heart but to another place.
Hands down, this is the most diverse anthology I’ve read to date and one of the most compelling. The common denominator of the stories was the ability to inspire an intense need to read just a little further, to see what would happen next. I found it incredibly difficult to set this book down.
“Angels What You Must Hear on High” by John H. Roush from Fool for Love (Cleis Press, 2009).
The key to this story is in the title. Unlike the song it references, the story is not concerned with what we hear the angels saying. Oh, no. This is all about what they hear. The unnamed, recently deceased main character of this story is busy bending the ear of some poor seraph. The accounting he gives of his life—correction, his love life—is relentless, but therein lies the humor. And this is a funny piece, because this guy was a wreck, by turns self-centered, self-deprecating, terrified, excited, jaded, and naïve.
But then again, aren’t we all?
“Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time” by Greg Herren from Fool for Love (Cleis Press, 2009).
It’s been two years since Terry’s partner died, and though he’s finally through the grieving period he now seems stuck, at a loss for just how to move on. Thankfully he has great, well-meaning friends who continually invite him over to their house for brunch, where they introduce him to eligible men. On the menu today it’s mimosas with David, who turns out to be quite the surprise guest indeed.
The really interesting thing about this story, aside from the fact that, overall, it’s so upbeat, is that Terry’s partner is never named. That’s a great choice, seeing as it’s a piece about letting go and moving on.
“Two Kinds of Rapture” by Andrew Holleran from Fool for Love (Cleis Press, 2009).
The main character is one of four older, single, gay men invited to a dinner party at the home of younger friends, a couple named Paul and Tim. The hosts are in their thirties, the guests in their fifties. Each man is profiled physically and psychologically by the main character as he ponders the concept of happiness as it pertains to gay men (though the hindrances presented are not exclusive to that community, not by a long shot). At one point the conversation turns to the biblical Rapture, and the metaphor is clear: Paul and Tim are each other’s saviors because they have plucked one another from single status, while their four older friends have been “left behind” to age and die alone.
It’s interesting that this piece was included in the collection because so many of the stories deal with modeling the way things might be rather than illustrating the way they often are. This is a romance collection, after all. (If you disagree on that point, please see Timothy J. Lambert’s introduction). I think the hopefulness of the majority of the stories I’ve been reading lately is a major contributing factor to why I’ve liked them so much. That said, there is also a place for examining other possibilities. Here romantic love is examined from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have it and feels he has no reasonable expectation of ever attaining it.
That’s not to say I did not like this story; exactly the opposite. I was riveted. I like it when people get down to brass tacks. And oh, how well drawn the imagery is throughout this story. I visualized every detail. I don’t often think in such terms, but this would make a great film. Or part of one, anyway. And yet it’s the poignancy that arises from juxtaposing the visual aesthetic with the underlying emotional truth that makes this a must-read. I loved it.
“Party Planning” by Rob Williams from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).
This story perfectly captures the mixed emotions of the days between adolescence and adulthood. The narrator is torn between the life he has enjoyed up to this point, acting as assistant to his mother, a legendary neighborhood party planner, as she crafts elaborate events, and the future he desires, with new friends and new experiences. There are pros and cons to both, but they are mutually exclusive, and so he oscillates between sadness, excitement and fear. He reaches a breaking point at Linda Simon’s red carpet movie premiere-themed Sweet 16 party, when he helps with the design and setup but then refuses to remain in the house after the party has started, to play junior host.
Wandering around the front yard he crosses paths with bad-boy Kurt, Linda’s college-dropout brother, in from Berkeley. Kurt is not just older (the main character is a sophomore in high school), he’s also much more worldly-wise, and openly sexual. He doesn’t do or say anything so much as represent the world beyond the neighborhood, all the experiences and knowledge the main character wants to collect. At the end of the story Kurt strolls down the street and the main character is presented with a choice: stay where he is a little while longer or go after him?
“Heart” by ‘Nathan Burgoine from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).
This story is bittersweet. Both times I’ve read it I’ve cried, but I really like Aidan and Miah (short for Jeremiah), and think you will, too. I also like ‘Nathan’s take on the world. In every story by him that I’ve read so far there is a magic pool of energy or life force that some people—usually kind, deserving people—can tap into to right wrongs or even the playing field or just make life a little less painful. Would that it were so.
Aidan works in a gym. Miah has a heart condition that makes just being on his feet something of a strain. They meet in a bar and bond over their shared love of books. Soon they are boyfriends, and then Miah is moving into Aidan’s apartment.
Aidan is one of the special souls who have a gift for tapping into the life force. He calls his ability “the font” because he has the capacity for holding a little more of the aforementioned magic energy than he needs for himself. His grandmother had it, too, and she taught him how to transfer his excess energy to other people. Sounds great but there’s a limit and a cost for exceeding it. Aidan knows this for a fact because he saw his grandmother pay it. How far will he go to heal sweet Miah? How far should he go?
I’m getting really curious about the author’s entry in the noir story collection Men of the Mean Streets. Can it possibly be in this same vein? Surely not.
“Two Tales” by Paul Lisicky from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).
This isn’t a story with a traditional narrative arc; it’s more like a fraction of a memoir. Or fractions, actually, seeing as there are two of them. At the start of the first there’s action that will either capture your undivided attention or alert you to the fact that you’re dead. It feels like the start of a first person point of view story but ends up being more of an impression of a memorable event. The second one is even more experimental, turning inward on itself to examine the storytelling. There’s some very nice language throughout.