Short Stories 365/244

“Room Nine” by Felice Picano from Night Shadows: Queer Horror (Bold Strokes Books, 2012). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

By page two of this story I’d almost forgotten who penned it, and by the end I found myself asking “Who wrote this???” because it’s much darker than previous stories of his that I have read. I guess that shouldn’t be too surprising, this being a horror anthology.

As with the last story I reviewed, this doesn’t have a nice, tidy ending. The good guys don’t rush in and save the day. A growing menace threatens the character throughout, and even when he isn’t in immediate danger he’s encountering things for which there are no good explanations, things that hamper his enjoyment of day-to-day life, and all the while there are aspects of his own psyche that he seems only dimly aware of, which never get any resolution.

Which is to say, this is one of the most realistic stories I’ve ever read. Horrific, indeed.

Short Stories 365/181

“Imago Blue” by Felice Picano from Men of the Mean Streets (Bold Strokes Books, 2011). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

It should come as no surprise that this author hit it out of the park again. No, really. It’s a great noir story and it takes place on another planet.

Investigator Blue Andresson wakes up inside a “Heal-All”, a sort of high tech medical cocoon, after having been the victim of attempted murder. He took bullets to both sides of his brain and various internal organs. It seems whoever did it wanted to make sure he died, but maybe they just wanted to slow him down and buy themselves some time, because in this world it’s almost impossible to truly kill someone.

Regardless, he wakes up with a bad case of amnesia and a case to solve: his own. He’s got almost nothing but questions. Who shot him, and why? Just who was he before? And who will he be going forward?

The world-building is fascinating and incorporated seamlessly into the plotting. I’ve shied away from science fiction in the past because I don’t usually like stories about futuristic worlds, but I had a great time reading this story. I loved learning about its technology while trying to figure out the mystery of Blue’s life prior to the shooting. I wonder if this is part of a novel. If so, I’d love to read it.

Short Stories 365/90

“Gratitude” by Felice Picano from Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2009).

The careful way this story is crafted is astonishing. It’s a study in juxtaposition. A man of letters, Niels Llewellyn, has just achieved the sort of career success every writer at some point or another fantasizes about, even briefly, whether they admit it or not. His life up to that point is laid out for the reader, even as his bright future stands ready to supplant it. He should be riotously happy, and yet…. The character study of his circle of “friends” is not flattering, and we find that Niels has almost no real friends left, just associates with agendas. This climb to the top has taken so long and exacted such a toll along the way that there is almost nothing left but a success that feels hollow.

We’re told that on his way to the meeting that bridges who he was to who he will be, he was stopped short by the sight of another man on the street, a construction worker eating lunch with his friends. Everything we’ve been shown to that point gets flipped on its head through the author’s choice of language and imagery, and even more doubt is cast on the prospect that what Niels has achieved really is success, really is happiness.

That would be enough, but upon leaving the meeting Niels sees the construction worker again. Again, he stops to admire him. Then something happens that alters his future in ways he could never have imagined, and makes him (and us) contemplate just what it is that makes a life a success.

Short Stories 365/67

“New Kid in Town:1977” by Felice Picano from Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, 2014).

There’s a moment in this story about a writer visiting Hollywood on business where a friend of the main character introduces the concept of verisimilitude in writing. That’s fitting because this piece is rife with verisimilitude. It’s hard to know if this is fiction or a fictionalized account of actual events. At the very least it’s being cheeky with some of the most popular rumors from four decades ago. It even has redacted bits, for crying out loud.

The writer, Vic, follows his buddy Andy to a party in the Hollywood Hills. Only this isn’t just any party; some of the most notable names in the business are there, and it’s expected to turn into a veritable orgy. In a few cases, it’s expected to get wild because the notable names are there.

Vic doesn’t much care about all that. He’s there because he wants to see Mark, a fellow New Yorker also in on business. Mark works for the record label that is throwing the party as part of a publicity package for their latest release. The diva the album belongs to has been and gone by the time Vic arrives, but there’s still plenty of trouble to get into. His friend Andy quickly develops a pattern of running off to find the action and then coming back to give Vic the (ahem) blow-by-blow.

It seems I’m always writing that sort of thing while reviewing stories by Felice Picano, doesn’t it? That’s because he has a penchant, a knack, a gift for creating tantalizingly debauched backdrops for his stories while focusing in on the characters in the foreground. Andy’s off being a party animal, and the paramedics end up being called for a less experienced guest, that’s true. But what are Vic and Mark doing? Why, they’re discussing their mutual love of classical music and quite possibly falling for one another. And as you read it, you think to yourself that they, and you, are not missing a thing.

Short Stories 365/48

“The Invincible Theatre” by Felice Picano from Best Gay Romance 2014 (Cleis Press)

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

If you’re put off by the language of this next story, you owe it to yourself to get over that, quickly. In my opinion it is the sexiest story in the collection. It’s also the most ambitious. Not surprising, when you consider the source. It’s like bringing an atomic bomb to a knife fight.

Monsieur Guillaume Darrot and the Invincible Theatre is the name used by the travelling troupe that sets up shop in the square where the main character sells flowers. On the threshold of his teen years, no longer a child but not yet a man, he becomes enamored with the five mysterious figures who make up the company. He parlays a stint as an unskilled laborer, schlepping boxes off the caravans, into one as a general stagehand, moving scenery and operating the main curtain, and then follows the leading man around until he catches his eye. When the players pull up stakes and prepare to head off to the next town, he decides, quite believably, to cast his lot with theirs. As they journey, he continues (ahem) to insinuate himself into the company. It’s sheer bawdy fun.

While I was reading it I kept thinking of one of the author’s novels, Late in the Season, which has a similar setting (the performing arts), and similar themes (the loss of innocence, bisexuality, polyamory), and yet is a vastly dissimilar story, set in a different country, and time, and time of life. The young man in this story is just discovering the many possibilities life holds, while the novel’s protagonist, in the prime of his life, takes certain actions precisely because he feels his options evaporating.

You ought to read this, and Late in the Season, too.

Best Gay Romance 2014 is here!

Available now from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Trade paperback and ebook formats.

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Romance-2014-R-D-Cochrane-ebook/dp/B00H6UOHEC/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1

Introduction• Timothy J. Lambert

Strange Propositions • Eric Gober

My Adventure with Tom Sawyer • Jameson Currier

True In My Fashion • Paul Brownsey

Sight • Jordan Taylor

Falling • James Booth

Thanksgiving • Shawn Anniston

The Invincible Theatre • Felice Picano

Carver Comes Home • Rob Byrnes

Spill Your Troubles On Me, Love • Georgina Li

Quality Time • Lewis DeSimone

Brooding Intervals • Kevin Langson

Dandelions • Tony Calvert

Shep: A Dog • Alex Jeffers

There’s No Question It’s Love • N.S. Beranek

Save the Last Dance for Me • David Puterbaugh

Afterword • R.D. Cochrane