“King of Shadows” by Aaron Shurin from Best Gay Stories 2009 by Lethe Press. Edited by Steve Berman.
I thought about skipping this entry because it’s an autobiographical essay, not fiction, but isn’t the life we look back on something of a fiction, heavily edited, focusing on only the most dramatic moments?
The boy of the story knows he’s different from other boys, and it so frightens and perplexes him that he’s developed a way of compartmentalizing his thoughts. When he experiences desire it is almost as if it is someone else doing so, and in the mornings he “remembers nothing.”
Still, he’s different even then. He has an ear for language, and memorizes and recites poems for his family. He has no aptitude for sports, excels at his studies, and lands a role in the school play, all the while taking note of certain other men around him and the things that are whispered about them, especially the man who heads the drama program.
The most interesting thing about this piece is that it is introduced with poetry and then that poetry is sprinkled throughout the rest of the narrative in such a way that a phrase embedded here or half a line ending a paragraph there feels completely natural. It’s a clever device, and no doubt maddening to construct. Then again, the author is a poet, and they often work within such frameworks.
Even though it isn’t traditional fiction, this story does take its protagonist through an emotional arc, and it’s worth reading just for the payoff of the last paragraph.