Short Stories 365/351

“Always Listen To a Good Pair of Underwear” by Steve Berman from Second Thoughts: More Queer and Weird Stories (Lethe Press, 2008).

The stories in this collection were originally published in a variety of publications over a period of six years. This means, of course, that associations created here were never meant to be. For instance, it feels very much as if the character Mike from the previous story (written in 2003 and published in X-Factor), steps into this tale (Harrington Park Press, 2007), and because he’s still tripping on that peyote button, believes he is someone named Steve who has a roommate named Mike, who wears magic boxers that talk.

See what I mean?

Okay, so the Steve of this story is borderline obsessed with his roommate, Mike. In the best of times, Mike takes advantage of that fact. In the worst, he becomes physically threatening.

I had difficulty figuring out how to process this story. That the gaudily printed boxers talk would seem to indicate a humorous piece, but the first two times I read it I felt unsettled afterward. That shouldn’t be all that surprising; the Mike of the story treats his roommate Steve badly, and the author’s notes reveal that this tale—like many of those in this collection—closely mimics events from the author’s life. There was a Mike; the volume is dedicated to him, and a deep current of regret runs all through it. I imagine someone with no knowledge of the author’s history, who read this as a standalone piece, would have an entirely different reaction to it. But you can’t unring a bell. Reading it here, I was unable to see the character as just that, a character. (It also did not help that it is written in the first person.) Because I couldn’t adequately separate character and author, the humor of the piece couldn’t lift it out of its overall sadness.

What helped immensely was listening to the audio version. Having a narrator voice the character’s thoughts created the distance I needed to, finally, stop being unsettled and momentarily be entertained instead.

Side note: In the digital version of this collection the title of this story appears in regular type, not as a clickable link. In figuring the stories for the end of this project, my eye passed right over this title. It means there are two extra stories in the queue.

Short Stories 365/256

“Ordinary Mayhem” by Victoria A. Brownworth from Night Shadows: Queer Horror (Bold Strokes Books 2012). Edited by Greg Herren and J.M. Redmann.

This isn’t a short story, it’s a novella. It takes up one third of the entire volume.

This story blew me away. It’s incredibly complex but the details are added in careful layers, using repetition in a way that never feels repetitive. We’re introduced to Faye, a student at a Catholic elementary school for orphans. Her parents died in a car crash, hit by a drunk driver. She lived with her grandparents for a short while before becoming a resident at the school as well as a pupil. She’s a thoughtful, inquisitive, sensitive, reclusive, and traumatized child. Everything she encounters gets filed away in the compartments of her mind, to be brought out and studied later on, as part of a quest to figure out the puzzle that is life and death.

The chapters about her childhood are interspersed with ones from her life now, as an adult. Her artistic skill and unflinching ability to look at life’s most grisly aspects have made her a revered photojournalist. The story takes the reader across continents and through time, watching as she collects atrocities. Faye photographs and interviews the “living ghosts” left behind by human monsters.

It’s that fact: that the monsters are not supernatural, that makes this an absolutely bone-chilling tale. It’s hands down the most frightening piece of the entire collection because it’s so grounded in reality. These are the stories we see on the news, about serial killers and genocide and mass hysteria. And though a deep undercurrent of religion runs through the piece, nothing seems capable of stopping the violence.

I first read this story the day the news story surfaced about the grisly murder at the Sirhowy Arms Hotel in Argoed, South Wales. That fact might seem coincidental, but after you’ve read this, it doesn’t seem that way at all.

Every story in this collection is worth reading, but if this were the only one, it would be worth the price of admission. It’s one of the finest pieces of writing I’ve ever read, and one hell of a way to wrap up this anthology.

Best Gay Romance 2014 – In stores today!

It’s here! It’s here! Best Gay Romance 2014 is in stores today!

If you live in Indianapolis or further north, it’s on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. In Louisville it’s at Carmichael’s on Bardstown Road. I don’t get to go see it until after work tonight, so if you rush over there and buy the only copy they say they have… well, I’ll ask them to order more. But, oh, what a fantastic dilemma that would be.

Any advice on whether to / how to approach local bookstores would be greatly appreciated. Nathan, are you reading this? Care to weigh in?

Also available 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