“The Green Sweater” by Mark G. Harris from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).
I’ve spent many an evening at an opening night party like the one in this story. I’ve also suffered through the wild mix of runaway hormones and romantic dreams that plagues the main character, Jay, after hitting it off with a really nice guy at said party. (“An hour’s conversation was sufficient to make Jay want to mate socks with Doug at a Laundromat years from now” is one of several great examples the story gives of that particular state of mind.)
It’s going great, and they’ve been chatting all evening. But now Jay is in search of a restroom, and the break affords him a chance to stop and think, and that means irrational self-doubt starts to seep in. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I’d encountered the shocking situation he is then faced with in this tale. Probably I would have fled the party and never looked back, which doesn’t make for much of a story, I know. Thankfully Jay isn’t inclined to run all the way away, nor is Doug inclined to simply sit and wait for him to return.
“New Kid in Town:1977” by Felice Picano from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).
There’s a moment in this story about a writer visiting Hollywood on business where a friend of the main character introduces the concept of verisimilitude in writing. That’s fitting because this piece is rife with verisimilitude. It’s hard to know if this is fiction or a fictionalized account of actual events. At the very least it’s being cheeky with some of the most popular rumors from four decades ago. It even has redacted bits, for crying out loud.
The writer, Vic, follows his buddy Andy to a party in the Hollywood Hills. Only this isn’t just any party; some of the most notable names in the business are there, and it’s expected to turn into a veritable orgy. In a few cases, it’s expected to get wild because the notable names are there.
Vic doesn’t much care about all that. He’s there because he wants to see Mark, a fellow New Yorker also in on business. Mark works for the record label that is throwing the party as part of a publicity package for their latest release. The diva the album belongs to has been and gone by the time Vic arrives, but there’s still plenty of trouble to get into. His friend Andy quickly develops a pattern of running off to find the action and then coming back to give Vic the (ahem) blow-by-blow.
It seems I’m always writing that sort of thing while reviewing stories by Felice Picano, doesn’t it? That’s because he has a penchant, a knack, a gift for creating tantalizingly debauched backdrops for his stories while focusing in on the characters in the foreground. Andy’s off being a party animal, and the paramedics end up being called for a less experienced guest, that’s true. But what are Vic and Mark doing? Why, they’re discussing their mutual love of classical music and quite possibly falling for one another. And as you read it, you think to yourself that they, and you, are not missing a thing.
“Foundations” by Timothy Forry from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)
Oh, this story. This isn’t a short story so much as a Movie of the Week, and I was on the edge of my seat most of the way through.
They’re all here, the elements that make up a great nail biter. A pending storm, a hurricane, moving in on the area; a main character, David, who is away in the city, using work as an excuse to distance himself from his partner, Claude, because of Claude’s recent infidelity; even a dog, a golden retriever, no less, named Riley.
When David calls home to check on things there you could cut the tension with a knife. He says almost nothing, yet his mind and heart are swirling with the hundred things he wants to say, or ask.
And then the backstory. How good it was before it all went to hell, and the way it might be again, if only they can find their way back from this awful phase. And provided the storm doesn’t dash their hopes for a future.
There’s some lovely descriptive language, too. Need a weekend in New England but can’t afford one? Read this story.
Just be prepared for a good, cathartic cry at the end.
“Touch Me In The Morning” by Greg Herren from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)
The narrator of this story awakens to, as they say, a bad case of the icks. He’s alone after having brought a man home from a bar, again; he’s hung over; he reeks of smoke; and his tongue feels fuzzy. More than how he feels physically, though, it’s the worry he feels over whether or not he has damaged his relationship with his friend Dennis which has him reeling. You see, the man he brought home with him the previous night wasn’t just anyone, it was his good friend, his best friend. He’s so concerned about what it means that Dennis wasn’t there when he woke that he entertains the notion of playing a modified version of “Man, was I drunk last night”, not because Dennis is in denial about his sexuality, but because he lives his life by a golden rule: Never sleep with your friends (only stated in somewhat saltier language).
You’re probably thinking it all sounds depressing, and also that there’s a good chance this author is not going to turn things around for his character. But there you would be wrong. This story actually ends on—dare I say it?—an up note, for which I was glad.
“Struck” by ‘Nathan Burgoine from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)
First of all, congratulations are in order for the author, as it was announced yesterday that his debut novel Light is a Lambda Literary Award finalist in the LGBT Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category.
Chris is a beleaguered mall bookstore employee, an Everyman just trying to make his way in the world and hopefully find true love while he’s at it. His immediate problem is that his boss is on maternity leave and her replacement has it in for him, to put it mildly. His only escape comes during his breaks, when he chats with a handsome security guard named Liam. The only reason Chris feels confidant enough to talk to Liam is because the guy has said things that have led Chris to believe he’s straight, and so off limits. No pressure.
Then “Lightning Todd” walks into the store. He’s a hyper young guy, and gay, who claims to be psychic and whose name conjures up images of a stripper. He lays a couple of predictions on Chris which quickly come true, before he returns and sets the stage for the rest of the story. It’s great fun to watch for various clues as the remaining scenes unfold, and try to figure out how they will all add up.
Interesting factoid: for slightly longer than a nanosecond about a million years ago I worked with someone who claimed to be psychic, was gay, and actually was a- Well, no, not a stripper. An adult film entertainer.
Anywho, if you like this story’s paranormal elements, contemporary setting and deadpan humor mixed with outright snarkiness, you will also like Light. [And if in your heart of hearts you want to see an Everyman similar to the main character of this story be the one with paranormal powers and get to kick some ass in a truly unique way, you will love it.]
*P.S. Happy belated birthday, ‘Nathan.
“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.