“If Angels Fight” by Richard Bowes from Best Gay Stories 2009 by Lethe Press. Edited by Steve Berman.
As mentioned in previous entries for this collection, I briefly considered skipping the autobiographical ones. This one is billed as an autobiographical essay but is actually—oh happy surprise— science fiction. It first appeared in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Feb. 2008.
It doesn’t start out that way. In fact, it really feels like straightforward memoir for quite some time, lots and lots of scandalous details about mid-century Irish political dynasties that ring so true you wonder if it’s a real family you just somehow missed. But there’s so much detail that eventually you realize it can’t really be true (or at least not any truer than a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of Law N’ Order.)
A little poking around on the internet revealed that while many of the characters and events are inspired by events in the author’s past, it is a work of fiction. And then it gets supernatural. My hesitation to just roll with it stemmed from not expecting science fiction in the collection, and the fact that those story elements are added so subtly that for quite awhile you think you must be misreading something. You wonder, Could he really be implying … ?
In an interview with the author, which I read to get a bead on the piece because I did think I was misreading it, he mentioned that it was also inspired by The Great Gatsby. I can see that, because the story concerns repeated attempts by the narrator, Richard, to uncover the truth about his mysterious childhood friend Mark Bannon. Then there’s the fact that Richard is described in a way that leads you to believe he’s gay. Also, much is made about the uneasiness Mark’s political powerhouse of a father, Mike Bannon, feels around his son. And still later there are hints about a secretive intimate “relationship” between Mark and a washed-up South Boston criminal named Frank Pirelli, but that turns out to be not what you think. Nothing in this is what you think it is, because science fiction, as the cool kids say. Make all the comparisons to Gatsby that you like, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Robert Heinlein’s I Will Fear No Evil, and that is a very, very good thing.