“Thai Angel” by David Puterbaugh in Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009)
This is the first story by the author that I read, but at the time his name sort of went in one ear and out the other. It wasn’t until I reviewed Best Gay Romance 2014 and Foolish Hearts back-to-back that I really paid attention, because he has stories near the end and at the beginning of those collections, respectively. That meant that I reviewed stories written by him twice in three days.
Sitting down to re-read this collection for this project, I was struck by two thoughts. First, how much I’d really liked this story, and second—after I saw who wrote it—that my liking it made sense.
It begins with a Zagat Survey entry for Thai Angel, the establishment owned by the family of the main character, Kama. It’s a spot-on send up of the real book, and provides us with some key information: we’re in Astoria; the restaurant isn’t fancy; and despite the fact that the name just changed and it underwent a makeover, the same family still owns and operates it. Most importantly, the food remains the star.
One thing becomes clear immediately: Kama, his younger sister Mali, and their mother love one another. That’s not to say they don’t drive one another crazy. Though she’s three years his junior Mali constantly sticks her nose in Kama’s business, steering him toward every possibly-eligible, possibly-gay guy who walks through the door, and his mother is a riot, voicing her true opinions about their customers right to their faces, sort of. She only does so in her native tongue, so no one ever gets their feelings hurt. You get the feeling, anyway, that she doesn’t mean half of what she says. In fact Kama even says so to his sister. It’s as if his mother is playing the Cantankerous Matriarch to his Peacemaker and Mali’s Drama Queen. When we learn that Kama’s father died recently, it all makes sense. They are all actively soldiering on – for each other, and for themselves.
This is a very funny, heartwarming story with a delightful, happy ending. It was a great way to open the collection.