Short Stories 365/273

“Cinema Love” by Aaron Chan from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

Kaslo, called  Kaz, disdains movies made prior to the year 2000. His best friend Chris, a budding film student, drags him to screenings of the classics at a local movie theater. Chris, though, isn’t really trying to open Kaz’s eyes to great films. Well, not simply that. He’s discovered a potential love interest for his buddy in the guy who works the ticket counter at the movie theater. The stranger and Chris share a love for the classics and also, it turns out, a love for bantering with Kaz about their merits. The stranger, though, adds an element for Kaz that Chris cannot: romance.

I loved this sweet story. I can see these three guys many years on, possibly with the addition of a female love interest for Chris, arguing good-naturedly about a film they just watched together, and reveling in the good fortune of having great friends.

Short Stories 365/272

“The Bachelors” by Gregory L. Norris from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

This story is set within the world of reality television. I’ve actually never seen more than a second or two of either The Bachelorette or The Bachelor while flipping channels.  Still, I found this story to be absolutely engaging from start to finish.

Jake is a contestant on Dudes and the Debutante. He seems like a smart, reasonable guy, so I’m not sure how in the world he got mixed up in such drivel, but whatever, he’s there. He discovers rather quickly that he is, at best, only mildly interested in the debutante, Amy, but is quite attracted to one of the other bachelors, Kasey. Apparently, the possibility of that happening is a complete revelation to him, one he weathers well. It helps that the attraction appears to be mutual.

The drama is heightened by the presence of a villain, a wannabee hip-hop recording artist named Baxter. Now, the villain dynamic is one I am familiar with. I do watch reality television, just never the kind where the only goal is fake romance. People competing to prepare haute cuisine, aim projectiles at impossible targets, build the fiercest fighting robot, design clothes, launch a singing career, cut hair, or makeover a restaurant, a house, or a straight man’s whole life? Heck, yeah. I’ve watched those shows. Oftentimes the real jerk in the bunch stays around much longer than they should, and it’s clear it’s for the ratings. Baxter’s place is secured when he homes in on the chemistry between Jake and Kasey, and starts shooting his mouth off about it.

I wasn’t sure how it was all going to turn out and I was riveted. A very fun read.

Short Stories 365/271

“Hello, Young Lovers” by Simon Sheppard from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

The actual next story in the anthology is “Cody Barton” by Martin Delacroix, but I already reviewed it, as number 365/18 for Best Gay Romance 2013 (Cleis Press).

I thoroughly enjoyed this brief tale. That’s probably because I can relate to the main character, Buster. He works in a rock venue. I used to work in performance venues. He’s past the age of going to clubs himself. Ditto here. He can still appreciate the sheer joy for living that the club’s patrons feel, though. And so can I.

Buster notices one young man in particular, and can’t keep his eye from gravitating toward him all during a performance by Scissor Sisters. He doesn’t know the kid’s name and he doesn’t try to learn it. He just admires him from afar.

That appeals to the writer in me. I’ve always been that way, even when I was young enough to go out to clubs. There was a time when my favorite way to spend an evening was to go to the now long-defunct Sparks nightclub, get a beer, climb to the very top of the carpet-covered cubes that lined one wall, and sit cross-legged for hours, watching people dance. It wasn’t a gay club per se, but it called itself “gay friendly” and the owner that I knew (there were two) was most certainly gay. Stephen Irwin (no, not the animal guy) was friends with my boss at the time, and used to borrow set pieces and props from the theatre where I worked, to change up the look of the bar (slightly mind boggling if you think about it, as we were a TYA company). Stephen was a force of nature, a Tasmanian devil of a guy with shoulder length, flaming red hair and an over-the-top personality. He had the same zest for living that the characters of this story do. Not too surprisingly, his heart couldn’t sustain all that energy, and we lost him way too soon.

Buster thinks that “most straight people, even some Respectable Gays, would look askance at” what he allows to happen out on the dance floor that night, between the guy who’s caught his eye and another patron. He’s right, of course. Most people probably would look askance, or even lose it entirely. It makes me think of lines from the Indigo Girls song “Closer to Fine”, which was getting a lot of radio play back in the days when I was hanging around in Sparks:

…darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.

Listen harder. It’s only life, after all.

Short Stories 365/270

“Prom King” by Rob Rosen from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

We’ve had a couple of books of LGBT fairy tales already, and this would’ve fit right into those, despite the fact that it’s contemporary and doesn’t contain magic. There is royalty of a sort, though, and a definite happily-ever-after ending.

Chuck is a high school aged everyman in love with an unattainable classmate. In his case that’s prom king Jack, the stereotypical dumb jock who’s failing biology. Jack needs tutoring to pass the class. Of course he does. And Chuck’s a whiz kid set to earn straight A’s in all of his classes. Of course he is. This is a fairy tale. Jack hires Chuck to tutor him after school, and the scene we get is fraught with tension. Then Jack’s parents return home and keep things from going as far as Chuck’s heart desires. Of course they do.

But wait, this is a fairy tale. We get to leap forward in time, and Chuck gets a second chance at finding romance with the man of his dreams. It’s a cute, very sweet story. I especially liked the voice the piece employs. It’s an older Chuck who’s looking back, telling us his story. He has just the right amount of self-deprecation and bite in his tone to keep the reader alternately smiling, rolling their eyes, and worried about how it will all turn out.

Short Stories 365/269

“From a Journey” by Hakan Lindquist from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

Why is it I don’t run across this author’s name and works everywhere? This is amazing, beautiful writing. Oh, perhaps it’s because it had to be translated from Swedish? Perhaps it’s because when you reach the end of the story and search for information about him that information, too, is mostly in Swedish? There’s a novel, translated into English, now on my “must read” list. I’ll take everything I can get and hope and pray for more.

This is an understated, gorgeous story about three men: the narrator, his partner Daniel, and Eric, the man who eight years earlier was taken from him, suddenly and unexpectedly, by death. The narrator addresses Daniel as if in the midst of writing a letter to him, wherein he records his thoughts about their relationship, and about the time he spent with Eric, and tries to capture what he thinks it all means. He is almost painfully aware, awake, and appreciative of everything around him, and his attitude is summed up nicely near the end:

…while I tried—and still try—to make you, make us, look upon our limited time here as a challenge to experience something exciting and significant.

Indeed.

It should be mentioned that a quote from Derek Jarman’s Garden introduces this piece. A day after World AIDS Day, we should stop and wonder what more that artist could have shown us, had his time not been so cruelly limited by disease.

Short Stories 365/268

“Splatterdays” by Steve Isaak from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

What fun this story was. The main character, Jeremy, is in a club listening to a heavy metal band, when he meets Adrian. There’s an instant physical attraction and they bond further over their shared love of the music. I particularly loved the names the author ascribes to bands and the songs in this story. I loved that we see a little time pass, that there’s a build-up to the next level. Also, this is the second story in a row to see its characters reach for condoms. Good deal.

Short Stories 365/267

“To Brandon With Love” by Ron Radle from Best Gay Romance 2012 (Cleis Press). Edited by Richard Labonté.

I realized that in skipping past stories I’d already reviewed for other anthologies, I accidentally skipped over this one, too. I didn’t mean to.

This is the short and fairly straightforward story of a college-aged young man, Brandon, trying to figure out how to respond when his childhood best friend suddenly re-enters his life. They were separated at the age of twelve, when Justin’s family moved to another town. Because of it, Brandon has no idea whether Justin views the days they spent messing around the way he does—with longing—or thinks of them as just a phase, a substitute for something different.

He doesn’t get a chance to find out, because the plot takes a turn, and then another, into quasi-speculative fiction territory. I didn’t expect that, but it was an interesting, enjoyable read.