Are these the best?
by Kit van Cleave
Best Gay Stories 2014 has finally come out (so to speak). Due in April, it became available from Amazon in July. Chosen by series editor Steve Berman, these pieces purport to be the best available gay writing for this year’s anthology.
And much of it is quite fine, indeed. “The Country of Dead Bodies,” by Sam Miller, tells the story of Cameron, “. . . poor, working-class boy, born beautiful, cursed with little else, who learned young to barter and trade with it, first at 14 with the older men whose supermarket groceries he bagged, later with the teenage girl classmates whose strength and friendship fed him.” He died early, driving drunk.
His lover seeks phone sex because he is still grieving for the loss of Cameron. On the phone he finds someone who has also recently lost someone he truly loved. It is his own nephew; he’s shocked but doesn’t let on. “‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘You called this number looking to get off, and instead you got a f–king sob story.’”
Anther really good entry is “Lay-By,” by L.A. Fields. Bruce, at 290 pounds, finds his weight interfering with his gay love life. Bruce, in his first semester at college, is living with his Aunt Leena, who keeps tabs on Bruce’s size and diet.
Bruce has met Wade, a part-time lover, who is non-judgmental about the body Aunt Leena tries to help Bruce control. One night, after being beaten on the streets during what he calls “a robbery,” Wade shows up at Aunt Lenna’s house to get help from Bruce. Aunt Leena opens the door to find Wade, who is a wreck. “His clothes are filthy, and there’s a hole in his shirt with blood on it. There are burgeoning bruises on his face. His hair is matted to his neck with sweat, and his fingernails as he waves hi to Bruce are dark and ragged, like he just climbed out of his own grave.” She shows him to Bruce’s room.
But she’s obviously unhappy about Wade’s visit, and calls Bruce out of the room to tell him so. “I called your mother,” she says. “I wanted to know just what kind of boy shows up looking like that.”
“He’s my friend,” Bruce answers.
“Some friend! Your mother said he almost got you fired hanging around all the time, being a useless leech.”
Bruce refuses to accede to Aunt Leena’s request to boot Wade out. She sneers, “I’m such a Christian I’ll let you force me out of my own home, but he better not be here when I get back from Sue Ellen’s,” her friend who lives in the same building.
Wade tries to get Bruce to get out from under Aunt Leena’s control.
“I can’t really leave though,” Bruce says, as his family “won’t let me.”
“Let you,” Wade snorts. “Just let your aunt walk in on us spooning on the couch. You’d hardly have time to pack.”
“So are you saying I should come out?”
“I’m saying you should get out. If you want to,” Wade replies, telling Bruce to go on his own, for his own sake.
Michael Carroll’s “Werewolf” is also particularly poignant, but I don’t want to give away several twists, which will intrigue the reader. And “A Summer Solstice,” by Lou Dellaguzzo, is a memorable tale about how a father reacts when finding his son in bed with a strange man. The sensitivity of the older man is not often found in contemporary gay fiction.
Personally I would have preferred if Berman had included more tales rather than the lengthy essay, “Proem: How to Read Gay Pulp Fiction” by James Gifford. It’s somewhat interesting, but I’d suggest that “stories” infers “fiction” rather than literary analysis.
Erotic tales from elsewhere, as “From the Graveyard of Bitter Oranges” by Josef Winkler, “The Cervantino Baby” by Trebor Healey, and “On the Mosco Metro and Being Gay” by Dmity Kusmin show a wider range of gay authors in countries perhaps not previously submitting work to Berman. At least I’m hoping that’s the case, so that he can continue this valuable series of new gay writing on a global scale.
Definitely worth a read.
Kit van Cleave is a freelance writer living in Montrose. She has published in local, national, and international media.