Short Stories 365/58

“Three Things I Pray” by Trebor Healey from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)

You may have gotten the impression from previous posts that I dislike stories that aren’t realistic. While it’s true I’m not a fan of fiction that seems to have no rules at all, it’s equally correct to say I love stories in which select elements are defined as being bent.

Which makes this story a win-win.

I appreciated that from the get-go the reader knows what to expect, though I had an inkling what kind of story it would be because of who wrote it. I haven’t yet read the author’s novel, Faun, but I’ve read great things about it. I have read—and loved—several books categorized as “magical realism”, the genre into which I would place this story. Among my favorites are Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa; Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho; and American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

I love the imagery employed here: a fallen angel, Greek gods, the decaying urban wilderness of Buenos Aires, the circus. No surprise there. I was raised Roman Catholic by two theatre fanatics. Hands down, though, it’s the language I liked best about this story. It’s gorgeous, and by that I mean break-out-in-a stupid-grin-while-reading-it / catch yourself whispering the lush word pairings aloud gorgeous.

Faun will have to be an #fridayreads one day very soon.

Short Stories 365/57

“How To Be Single At A Wedding” by David Puterbaugh, from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014)

Friends Natalie and Peter are the Best Man and Maid of Honor for her brother Brian’s wedding to Jason, and the only single people attending the event. Nervous and tipsy from complimentary champagne, Natalie decides to blog about her many experiences as the member of a wedding party (hence the story’s title). As she types, she and Peter each reflect on their failure to find the sort of love Brian and Jason enjoy.

I thought the moral of the story was going to be spelled out via the bullet points Natalie lists in her blog post, but no. It also wasn’t delivered with the back stories of the characters, nor was the end of the story tied with a bow. I wasn’t expecting that, but I can certainly appreciate it. As I’ve previously noted, I have a friend and former boss who likes to say art should ask questions, not provide answers. This story follows that rule.

This isn’t a feel-good tale chronicling how two people meet and start to fall in love. It’s about two people who yearn for romance and lasting love, who see and appreciate it in the lives of their friends and family and fear they will never find it for themselves. As the main character notes, there are no guarantees in life.

All that being said, it’s still a romantic story because two of the characters presented in it have found true love. And it’s not at all maudlin. You’re left with a sense of hopefulness –  surely these people who appreciate love and recognize it all around them will eventually find it – and also with the strong desire to turn the page and experience a neat, storybook ending.

Short Stories 365/56

“Hello Aloha” by Tony Calvert, Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R. D. Cochrane (Cleis Press, 2014).

This sweet story is a great opener to this collection and one of several that, not too surprisingly, use a same-gender wedding as a setting.

The main character, Jory, is the best man at his friend Chad’s wedding, which is not simply Disney-themed but located inside a Disney theme park. Chad has invited no less than seven eligible bachelors to the event in the hopes that one of them will hit it off with Jordan. But, still reeling from a bad breakup a year ago, Jordan is having none of Martin’s matchmaking. He prefers to spend his time cracking sardonic jokes to a theme park employee dressed as Goofy, who’s stationed nearby. The performers are forbidden from speaking to the park guests or in any way breaking character while in costume, of course, which makes venting to one of them capitalism’s spin on the Catholic confessional. You talk, the character listens, and there’s no assigning of Hail Marys afterward.

The thing Jory doesn’t count on is that Goofy is only human.

Short Stories 365/55

The next story in the collection is mine, “There’s No Question It’s Love”.  I hope you enjoy it. But now, moving on…

 “Save the Last Dance for Me” by David Puterbaugh from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press).

I absolutely adored this, the final story of the collection. In fact, it’s my personal favorite. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s got the perfect romantic setting – a transatlantic voyage. It has two great couples – the protagonist and his boyfriend Matthew, and Gene and Ed, an older couple the main character has known for a decade, and who have been together for over four decades. It’s got a little camp and a lot of heart, and it’s got inner and outer conflict.

We learn that the main character continually wrestles with his desire to be affectionate in public, something he knows his boyfriend Matthew desires, and his understanding that being open is still dangerous. They’ve had slurs hurled at them by perfect strangers, and he feels that the ship’s other passengers, crowding in around them, might harbor the same hostility. When he voices his frustrations, Gene and Ed remind him (and us) how far things have come and how fast. It never feels, though, as if the story devolves into a history lecture.

The end is very sweetly romantic. The main character takes action that, in hindsight, is the obvious conclusion, but I failed to see coming because I was so caught up in the story. And the image that ends the piece? Priceless.

Short Stories 365/54

“Shep: A Dog” by Alex Jeffers from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press)

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

I had a hard time with this story on the first go round simply because it’s a genre I wasn’t expecting to encounter, and it caught me off guard. But I guess that’s the nature of non-themed anthologies; there can be a little bit of everything.

The story events did seem a little strange, but I was willing to roll with it and suspend my disbelief. Contemporary story, sympathetic main character, we’re all good. As it turns out, though, there’s a twist at the end that changes everything.

Here’s the thing: I don’t do well in that situation. I’ll give you a perfect example of what I mean. Yesterday WordPress decided to display one thing to me via my phone app (an addition I made to my original post) and another to everyone else (the original post I wrote using my laptop). David Puterbaugh tweeted “I think you’re missing the title for this one”. He meant literally. It wasn’t there. Now, to be fair, my reaction was bolstered by the fact that I could see the title, but you know what that reaction was? Panic and mortification. I replied privately, “Missing as in not getting the joke?”

That’s kind of how I felt at the end of this story, the first time through. Like I’d failed to spot the clues and solve the mystery. I don’t want to say anything more specific that might ruin it for anyone else, so let me just say that when I read it a second time I enjoyed it very much.

Short Stories 365/53

“Dandelions” by Tony Calvert from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press)

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

Jimmy Hutton’s father died three months ago. All of his siblings are in committed relationships or employed in traditional jobs, but he is single and self-employed, the writer of historical romances. Because of it, he gets tapped to move back home to help their mother with the bed and breakfast she and their father started after he left for college.

It doesn’t sound like a great premise for a funny story, does it? But it is. This story fills the void created by the fact that Rob Byrnes contributed a serious piece to the collection. It’s rife with just-this-side-of-groan-worthy puns and lots of good-natured ribbing between Jimmy and his mother, Lilah. She’s no delicate flower, by the way. During the course of the story she’s described as “a pistol” and that couldn’t be more apt. She’s a woman on a mission, intent on seeing her youngest child find true love, and she’s willing to resort to game playing and blatant manipulation if that’s what it takes to get him paired up with the right man. In short, she’s a hoot and a delight.

Warning: by the end of this story your face will hurt from smiling.

Short Stories 365/52

“Brooding Intervals” by Kevin Langson, Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press).

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need much plot if there’s an interesting, complex character to get acquainted with during the course of a story. In this tale we’re introduced to two men meeting up in an apartment on Turk Street in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, for their regular weekly rendezvous.

Mohsen hails from Iran. He is passionate, arrogant, impatient, demanding, and intelligent. He’s alternately gentle and violent, where the latter seems like nothing so much as his frustration at not finding the right words to express his thoughts. That’s not because of any linguistic failure on his part, but owing to the fact that his are not thoughts easily pinned down. Throughout the story the main character finds it nearly impossible to discern what his lover is thinking, or to guess what he’ll say or do next. But much like the reader he is captivated by the mysterious Mohsen.