Short Stories 365/252

“Storyville 1910” by Jewelle Gomez from Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

We’re taking a small detour because the next story up in Night Shadows and this one are both part of The Gilda Stories. I skipped reviewing this story in January because the author was the guest judge for the Saints and Sinners New Fiction contest  which I’d entered, and it seemed like a conflict of interest.

I was not expecting the anthology to include a vampire story, and it was a welcome surprise. I like some vampire stories quite a lot. That is to say I like vampire fiction that reads more like historical fiction and makes a lot of social commentary as it goes.

Go figure, I really like this.

The story is set in the New Orleans district called Storyville, the city’s red light district, created by politicians to keep undesirable businesses out of the tonier neighborhoods. Gilda is a vampire who started life in 1850 as a slave. She’s come back to Storyville looking for one of the two vampires who gave her refuge and immortality after she escaped the plantation. Instead, she finds another character from her past (and an actual figure in New Orleans history). They’ve barely had a chance to speak when there’s a knock at the door. They discover two half-frozen young girls on the doorstep, and soon learn that they fled an abusive boss in a nearby brothel. Of course they give them refuge, and of course the girls’ abuser comes after them. The drama provides a perfect framework for the author to tell us all about Gilda’s life after the plantation, and comment on the mistreatment of people of color and women in this country. It was fascinating and prescient, as only history can be. Consider this passage:

“But the world had gone crazy since Jack Johnson won the heavyweight championship. White men wrapped up their worst hatred and insecurities in the black boxer’s win over his white opponent earlier in the year. Gilda didn’t want to engage with another one who blamed the world’s ills on a black man’s success.”

Naturally, I added the collection to my list of things to read.

Short Stories 365/13

“Mr. Lonely” by Greg Herren, Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

It took David almost two years to re-adjust to living alone after his partner Matt broke things off and moved out. Jeffrey is a younger man who walks past David’s French Quarter home one day and strikes up a conversation with him through the open door. 

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that this story stops on a down note. Because it feels like part of a novel, I’m choosing to believe the main character’s fortunes rise after this.

Now, I will admit I was overly sensitive to this subject with this author because the ending of the first novel of his that I read shocked me – shocked me – and not in any way that could be construed as pleasant or good. I wanted to leap up and throw the book across the room, or maybe throw it at him (this was pre-ebooks). But after I calmed down I had to admit that I admired him for sticking to the decision to do what he did, as I assume most people who got to the end of that particular novel felt the same way I did, and he’s probably taken a lot of flak for it. 

 One aspect of his work that I adore is his depiction of New Orleans. When I did finally get to visit the city last year, it was great fun to see all the places he’d described, and see how accurate he was. Or how honest. I guess that’s it. He’s just really, really honest in what he puts on the page.

 Which reminds me – you can experience more of his honesty for yourself by reading his blog. In particular I’m thinking of a post he did a couple of weeks back where he came clean about not much liking some of the classics and not much liking Hemmingway the man. I appreciated the first sentiment, but when I read the second one I once again wanted to leap up from my desk and shout – only this time with joy. I suspect there are many folks who share his view but are afraid to say so. So thank you, sir. Thank you.

Short Stories 365/12

“The Kid” by Steve Scott, Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

The titular character of this piece is being interviewed about his role in a tragic recent event. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that he is a sociopath, and this is going to be a difficult read.

No two ways about it, I do not like the protagonist, I hate what he has done, and I’m not much interested in knowing why he’s done it. I feel about this piece the way I do about Poppy Z. Brite’s* later horror stories. Just because you are capable of taking me to this place doesn’t mean I wanted to go there.

*He’s changed his name to Billy Martin, but I believe it is appropriate, when speaking about work published under a person’s former legal name, to continue to use that attribution.

Short Stories 365/10

“The Last Excursion” by Jess Wells, Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

This story is a treatise on fatherhood. The main character has had ample opportunity to be a father to a bevy of children, some biologically his, some related to him by marriage alone, and he’s managed to fail on every count. At the urging of his oldest daughter all the siblings (full, half, step) have come together to surprise him on his birthday, only to be disappointed by him once again. The LGBT connection is made because one of the children is gay, and his troubled relationships with his stepfather (the protagonist), and also with his biological father have colored how he views himself and guided his conduct. An enjoyable, intriguing story.

Short Stories 365/9

“Ondine” by Wayne Lee Gay from Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

This story took first place in the contest the Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo) anthology documents, and it’s easy to see why. This is a rich, evocative and thoroughly engaging story. The main character, Elizabeth, hails from a deeply religious, ultra-conservative family. They’ve tried to instill fear in her, yet she longs to break out of their world, and it’s possible to feel her spirit rising as the piece unfolds and she interacts with the other characters. But this story is more complex than can be told by her point of view alone. There are four viewpoint characters in this short piece and subtext at every turn. It’s a great, thought-provoking, beautifully rendered tale.

Short Stories 365/7

“Dancing Pink Roses” by Danny Bracco, Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

This was the second of the contest’s two runners-up.

Ed and Edna have been happily married for decades. For the past ten years Edna has been a school teacher and Ed a house husband, responsible for caring for their property in Sand Coulee, Montana. With the arrival of each school year Edna splurges on one new item for the house. This year she has purchased a set of luxurious, high thread count sheets, and that move awakens long-suppressed urges within Ed.

I liked this story the first time I read it and even more the next two, though the fact that the protagonist’s predicament is left unresolved is unsettling. Mostly I’m unnerved because none of the answers I can come up with to the question, “And then what happened?” are pleasant, and I like these two characters.

This feels like the opening of a novel. If that proved to be the case I would be interested in reading the larger work.

Short Stories 365/6

Home today with the flu. Thankfully, I did a few of these on Saturday so I only have to push the button.

“Saint Daniel and His Demons” by Rob Byrnes, from Saints & Sinners 2010: New Fiction from the Festival (Queer Mojo).

Who hasn’t been through the heartbreak main character Daniel suffers as a result of trying to “tame” bad boy Jay Casey? We’ve all been there; willingly suspending our disbelief and ignoring the hints dropped by our friends, in order to have, or at least appear to have, that which we’ve always thought was unattainable. Who hasn’t wrestled trying to reconcile the person he’s told he “ought” to be with the one he truly is?

This story has everything. It’s impeccably penned, funny, fresh, insightful, and action-packed. None of which is surprising in the least, given who authored it. Did I mention funny? No, it’s really, really funny. Check it out. You won’t be sorry.