Short Stories 365/31

“His Paper Doll” from Trysts: A Triskaidecollection of Queer and Weird Stories by Steve Berman (Lethe Press 2001).

It’s Tuesday night and Richie and his best friend Han are bored. They’re too young to drive, which means they’re also too young to go to clubs, or to drink, or to do much of anything fun. So they walk to the strip mall near Richie’s house.

A bit of a horndog, Han plans to chat up the counter jerk at the copy center. Richie envies his best friend’s boldness but does not pine for him the way some of their friends suspect he does. His sights are set higher, on true love, but for the time being all he can do to try to make his desires manifest is cut out images of boys he fancies from magazines. While Han makes time, Richie kills it, fiddling with the advanced settings on the copy machines, enlarging and enhancing his contemporary voodoo doll.

 At least, that is, until the door of the shop opens and a hunky – and oddly familiar — stranger appears.

I was impressed by the authenticity of the teenaged protagonist’s voice. It was because of reading this story that I knew I would enjoy the author’s novel, Vintage, which is aimed at a young adult readership.  

Short Stories 365/30

“Stormed and Taken in Prague” from Trysts: A Triskaidecollection of Queer and Weird Stories by Steve Berman (Lethe Press 2001).

This is one creepy and suspenseful tale, the story of an expatriated American in Prague who frequents a nightclub where sexual encounters with the bar’s “living statues” can be had for the right price.

Because of the way the plaster-dusted hard bodies, streets outside the club, and narrator’s apartment building are described, I envisioned the scenes of the story entirely in black and white. It reminded me of the wonderful old movies my mother and I used to stay up late on weekends to watch, which were presented as Creature Features. There’s also a kinship between this story and episodes of Twilight Zone. More than anything else, though, the way the narrator addresses the reader directly and his air of doomed resignation brings to mind the work of Poe.

Short Stories 365/29

“Beach 2” from Trysts: A Triskaidecollection of Queer and Weird Stories by Steve Berman (Lethe Press 2001).

This is the first story by Steve Berman that I read. He piqued my curiosity by posting a bold statement to a Facebook thread I was following (a common occurrence, as it turns out, but I did not know it then). I set out to find out more about him, and the best way I know to get acquainted with a person is to read what they write. Naturally, I looked for his work online.

By that point I was actively trying to get up to speed on the art of the short story, so when I saw he had this collection, that’s what I chose. It seems funny to consider now, having read and enjoyed many collections he’s written or edited, but if I’d understood that by “weird” in the subtitle “Queer and Weird Stories” what he meant was speculative fiction, I probably would have skipped this and gone right to his novel, Vintage, because at that point I still thought spec fiction meant science fiction and that meant little green men from Mars.

If I’d had any idea that a story about four people in a beach house gathered around a Ouija board rated as speculative fiction I would have started buying a whole lot more of it a whole lot earlier. Or, more correctly, I never would have stopped. You see, back in the late seventies to early eighties I devoured a young adult series from Tor that hinged on various occult elements. One book was about Ouija boards; another dealt with the Tarot; in a third a rock band sold their souls to a Russian demon, and so on. I had the whole series, and they enjoyed pride of place on my bookshelves for a long while. I still have them, of course, in a box in the eaves. I called them “Horror”. Come to think of it, I think Tor called them that, too. In the years since I found too many titles bearing that label were, to my tastes, too heavy on gore and lacking in emotion and suspense. So with a few exceptions, I stopped reading horror.

“Beach 2” is like those Tor stories I loved only all grown up and turned subtle and sophisticated. Daniel and his girlfriend Hilary are spending the weekend at a beach house owned by the parents of a friend of theirs, Susan. Like most everything else, the friend Susan brought along for the weekend, Seth, rubs Hilary the wrong way. Daniel, however, is intrigued by him.

Is it mutual, or is he just imagining that? And is his assessment of the relationship between Seth and Susan correct? Is there really no chemistry between them? Moreover, is he right in thinking that neither of them believes there’s any?

They’re all a little tipsy from the wine they began drinking at dinner when Seth decides to trot out his Ouija board. Naturally, Hilary bristles (it’s her default state), but the others are game. Soon they have cryptic messages to ponder. One in particular gets caught in the turbulent thoughts already plaguing Daniel’s mind, and later keeps him from sleep.

I loved this story, which was offered as the digital sample for the e-book version. Based on its strength, I purchased the title and dove right into the next tale.

Short Stories 365/28

“Henry and Jim” by J M Snyder, originally published in Best Gay Romance 2008 (Cleis Press).

This is the story of two men who have been each other’s everything for a lifetime. Partners. Lovers. Husbands in every way except legally, because that wasn’t a possibility. They’ve sewn their lives together quietly and deeply, and been accepted by those around them. They have had decades of the best stuff life has to offer: true love. But now Jim is fading away, forgetting everything, and Henry is struggling to come to grips with that reality. This story is beautifully told but very bittersweet. You will cry, and your heart will ache, and hopefully after you put it down you will better appreciate the love you have, provided you are lucky enough to have a love like Henry and Jim’s.

Short Stories 365/27

“The Sandwich Artist” by Shane Allison, Best Gay Romance 2013 (Cleis Press). Edited by R. D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert.

This story about two soon-to-be college graduates was another light-hearted respite from the heavier tales in the anthology, though I must say I was waiting for the other shoe to drop because of the conflicts the author set up at the start, and I was a little disappointed (yet also somewhat relieved) when they weren’t paid off.

Many of the antics in this tale are downright cringe-worthy not due to the writing, which I feel is meant to be funny and achieves that, but simply because of the setting of the story, a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop. We’ve already had actual YouTube video of a fast food employee taking a bath in a restaurant sink. A fictional depiction of two guys going at it on the cutting board after hours seems like bringing coals to Newcastle. But that’s just how I feel. Your mileage may vary.

Short Stories 365/26

“Charming Princes” by Jamie Freeman, Best Gay Romance 2013 (Cleis Press). Edited by R. D. Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert.

This is just the breather the reader needs after several more serious stories.

Ashe is protesting modern industry and the plight of workers in the Third World when he crosses paths with Fletcher, who is just trying to buy some shoes. Ashe tries to lay a head trip on Fletcher but the latter will have none of it, and a verbal sparring match ensues. Knowing there’s a fine line between love and hate, Fletcher asks Ashe to lunch and then to more, action that very nearly lands them in hot water. But it’s the need Ashe feels to disguise his true self which proves the real danger to their budding romance. Fast and funny, this contemporary tale explores the masks we construct for ourselves and the roles we portray for one another.

Short Stories 365/25

I skipped the next story in the anthology because it is a genre I don’t read often. I will say that the language of the piece is nice and, overall, I enjoyed the story.

“Lonely Boy” by Doug Harrison, Best Gay Romance 2013 (Cleis Press). Edited by R.D.Cochrane and Timothy J. Lambert.

There’s a current of resignation and an innocence running through this bittersweet tale which clues you in early to the fact that it’s set at the midpoint of the twentieth century. Brad is a student just arrived at college, glad to be away from his stifling hometown. Right away he is befriended by Mark, an upperclassman and member of a fraternity tasked with playing welcoming committee to the arriving freshmen. They are immediately attracted to one another, but cannot be open about their feelings for fear of reprisals. A look at the way life was for most gay Americans in the bygone era some folks would love to resurrect. And, of course, the way it still is for many.