“At the End of the Leash” by Jeffrey Ricker from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).

If I were half as clever as I like to think I am I would have finished reading the author’s second novel in time to comment on it in this review. Instead I am only to the halfway mark. That’s not because it isn’t enjoyable; in fact, it’s just the opposite. At a quarter of the way in I became very conscious of speeding through it, and also of the fact that writing a novel is an enormous time commitment. I made the decision to slow down and savor what I was reading.

Unfortunately, my life is a bit chaotic right now, what with this short story project and finishing the revised draft of my own novel in time for the 11th annual Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, and making other preparations for S&S, and having to spend eight hours a day earning a living. As soon as I cleared a little space on my calendar by choosing to stop continually swiping Kindle pages on The Unwanted, a host of other obligations leapt into the breach. I will say that what I have read so far I have enjoyed immensely.

The second reason I didn’t think to finish the novel in time for this review is that I’d actually forgotten that this was a Jeffrey Ricker story. If you scroll back to review number 62, which is on his story “Tea” in Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, you’ll notice I mention his first novel, Detours, and his entry in Wilde Stories 2011, and three independent stories published by UnTreed Reads, but not this one, the first one written by him that I read.

This has happened before. I had no reference for his name, so it didn’t stick. And then a curious thing happened – I read editor Timothy J. Lambert’s introduction to Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, which expounds on the joys of foolishness and lobbies hard for being allowed to make an unconventional career choice. “At the End of the Leash” concerns a man named Brian who earns his living as a dog walker. Now, you may know that Mr. Lambert is a co-founder of the Rescued Pets Movement, a group that transports dogs from the Houston area to shelters in need in Colorado. Do you see where I’m going with this? One of main character Brian’s clients has a sweetly-bossy seven year old daughter named Hildie; Timothy Lambert, if I understand correctly, is a “manny” to a little girl named Hanley. Fact and fiction sort of melded for me, and so no, I did not remember that Jeffrey Ricker wrote this story.

It’s a great story. Brian inadvertently gets himself into a sticky situation when he meets a man walking a dog in the park and recognizes the dog. He recognizes the man, too, in a way. He’s seen him in photographs because he was paid to walk the dog for a brief time, and he saw the photos while he was in the man’s apartment. He was very drawn to his image, and wondered if he might be gay, and if so, whether or not he was in a relationship. Naturally, he assumes that the man, Carl, only needed his dog-walking services temporarily because lots of folks do. But Carl mentions that he still has someone come in to walk his dog during the day, and then that he had to have the person before the current one fired, and we’re off.

There were obvious sparks between the two right away, and now there’s also a compelling knowledge gap. You and I know Brian should have mentioned recognizing the dog right away, or at least at this point, the “I had to have him fired” point, he should throw up a hand and say “Whoa, wait a minute. That was me. Care to explain what you think I did wrong?” But that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as watching him dig himself deeper and deeper, now would it? No. And he manages to do a fine, fine job of it.

Or actually, it’s Jeffrey Ricker who does.