“Trunk” by Trebor Healey from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).
Bobby is a meth-addled, sex-addicted mess of a young man surviving I-don’t-know-how, wasting days and weeks and months—eight of them, to be precise—in a hedonistic blitz. He’s watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the television when the realization hits him that his life is also a natural disaster. The next thing you know he’s down in New Orleans, helping to gut houses by day and by night bunking with a sea of wide-eyed, do-gooder types (of the Christian and Buddhist and Secular Humanist varieties).
If you’ve been following this project from the beginning you know that I am not a fan of stories that use camp and melodrama to introduce social justice issues into the wider culture. While I’m all for the goal it’s just not a style of humor that works for me. Usually. But this story seems to me to employ the style perfectly.
Yes, the characters are rigidly self-righteous and blind to their own flaws, i.e. ridiculous and ripe for mockery, but there’s a certain subtlety to the actual telling that really works. Whereas authors sometimes pile on more and more weirdness and only succeed in muddying things, the prose style of this story is very clean. It leaves the characters with nowhere to hide, and there are quite a few over-the-top characters in this story.
There’s Bobby, of course; and the slimy fundamentalist, evangelical peacock Reverend DuMay, who lords it over the volunteers that he knows best; and there’s Bobby’s gosh-darn-it, über naive roommate Tony; and at the very end of the story there’s an accident-happening-in-slow-motion in the form of siblings Jenny and Jeremy. But there’s also President George W. Bush, and the Federal Levee System, and FEMA, and Bourbon Street, and Old Croc, the creepy guy wandering around Bourbon Street scaring the bejeezus out of people so they’ll give him a buck, and on and on and on. The author keeps turning the spotlight on one after another of this oddball mix, adding them like ingredients in a stew, or more correctly a gumbo. He builds his flavor profile slowly, and stops right at the point where a little more would be too much.