I tend to shy from universal absolutes like “every fan of gay romance will love this anthology,” but hold on while I ponder that.…Still thinking…Right...moreI tend to shy from universal absolutes like “every fan of gay romance will love this anthology,” but hold on while I ponder that.…Still thinking…Right. I’ve got nothing. Ergo, yes, I think every gay romance fan will want to add this to his or her TBR list.
I discovered new favorite authors and found new facets to authors whose work I've enjoyed before. One complaint often lodged against romance anthologies is how each piece resembles the last. Not here, and that nice bonus is accentuated by skilled editorial flow.
The opening story is light and thoroughly charming. “Strange Propositions” by Eric Gober lives up to its name. With relationship scenarios such as “May I invite you to a movie that I won’t be going to myself?” and “Would you like to go to a protest dressed as a chicken?” Gober has created a tale that will make readers smile while showing the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone.
Speaking of leaving behind what’s comfortable, sometimes the way to risk the utmost vulnerability is to offer a long overdue, heartfelt apology followed by a stammered appeal for a second chance. The job Rob Byrnes does showing the complexity of regret, apprehension, and longing in “Carver Comes Home” is remarkably moving and vivid to the point of being cinematic.
Description is again an incredible strength in “Sight” by Jordan Taylor. Here, the immense, hollow loss that must be experienced by anyone who has gone blind is tempered by a loving partner’s exceptional ability to verbally paint a picture. Readers will find this deeply poignant, but for those who have felt undeserving of someone “too good,” it will resonate even more.
Jameson Currier’s “My Adventures with Tom Sawyer” was written with such sublime grace, I kept thinking “I hope someone sends this to the O’Henry Prize anthology.” The intricate details were phenomenal and the overarching theme—allowing yourself the bliss of the present instead of clouding the moment with the disappointment that it won’t last forever—felt touching and significant.
Thanks to the story “Hello Aloha” in Foolish Hearts and “Dandelions” in this volume, I’m now a fan of Tony Calvert. If ever a fictional character needed a reality show, it is the busybody mother of Calvert’s main character, Jim. The combination of quirky humor, homespun “wisdom,” and the protagonist’s introspection make this story a joy.
Shawn Anniston does a wonderful job with parental “assistance” in “Thanksgiving.” First, he shows how indecision (and revisions that a minute can reverse) invites less than helpful meddling opinions and analysis. Romance can often be toughest for the risk-adverse, and sometimes only someone who has known you all your life can convince you to make the leap.
In Alex Jeffers’ “Shep, A Dog,” it’s the apparently meddling friend, this time, who may be saving the protagonist from misdirected infatuation. Rescue is a common theme in romance, but I bet you’ve never read a rescue story that leads to romance quite like this.
Readers will find the distilled essence of companionship in pieces from Kevin Langson and Georgina Li. Though some may view Li’s story as heartbreaking, I feel it shows how devotion between two impoverished young men living tragic, risk-filled lives is still beautiful and worth celebrating. Langson’s quiet and atmospheric story shows a subtle epiphany where a character realizes that someone who has been a casual “friend with benefits” has meant more and that their bond can only strengthen.
In the book, Quicksilver in the Hand, Jamie Freeman mentions how lifelong relationships can often be reduced to “sixty moments of bliss.” Such moments are captured in delightful vignettes by James Booth, showing the bloom of new love, and N.S. Benarek, showing its affectionate maintenance.
It’s difficult to discuss the importance and uniqueness of Felice Picano’s story, “The Invincible Theatre” without giving too much away. With his family-like troupe of Shakespearean actors and 17th Century (I think?) language, it was a complex read, but still fascinating. In my opinion, Picano gave himself difficult hurdles in writing this story, but leapt each one effortlessly.
In a very different way, and in one that is contemporary, Lewis DeSimone, also shows new definitions of family and acceptance. His story, “Quality Time,” does an expert job shedding light on annoyances, and even hardships, when transitioning to a gay relationship from a heterosexual relationship involving shared custody of a young daughter. Here, self-acceptance and shame appear to be obstacles that, while realistic, are wiped away by a child’s lack of prejudice.
With “True in my Fashion” by Paul Brownsey, I’ve discovered another new favorite writer. Brownsey masterfully shows his character building and trapping himself in his own web of adorable neurosis. We learn here that sometimes a person’s flaws are what make him most endearing. That and how the main character tries to cover up those flaws are what make “True in My Fashion” one of the most charming stories I’ve read.
The delightful final story by David Puterbaugh, “Save the Last Dance for Me,” shows the beauty of seeing a long time love with brand new adoration. Here an individual’s reserved nature and apparent discomfort with being gay need to be overcome, and once again, the protagonist must step out of his comfort zone. Luckily, the people who surround him, both old friends and new acquaintances, show him he hasn’t been appreciating his good fortune.
Finally, the editors, in their commentary, bring up concepts that can make romance work. First, likable protagonists who go out on a limb, taking risks that could leave them crushed. Second, likable “contagonists” or objects of affection readers will know are worthy of that risk. Third, devotion, understanding, or longing that makes the reader comprehend, on a gut level, that this is right—these guys want more than anything to spend their lifetimes making each other smile. Will you find those elements here in spades? Yes, yes, and yes. (less)
Really fascinating, but a bit difficult for me because pretty much each scene is a different set of characters, and it seemed like a number of them yo...moreReally fascinating, but a bit difficult for me because pretty much each scene is a different set of characters, and it seemed like a number of them you only met once. The main character is really not a person, but a gay bar -- The Why Not. This is Los Angeles in the 1960's, though, and life for men who go to a gay bar can be tragic - raids, thugs, brutality. As a piece of gay history, this book felt important and I hope a lot of people read it. (less)
I always love C.B. Potts. I think there are at least two things that work well here. First is the strong relationship between the two main characters,...moreI always love C.B. Potts. I think there are at least two things that work well here. First is the strong relationship between the two main characters, Joseph and Lee. Joseph needs support when his new novel receives a lousy review. Then Ms. Potts does a good job of showing the vast chasm between disappointment of a review and true emotional pain when one of Lee's students is seriously ill. That leads to the second device that works here: I think there's often some resistance to gay men teaching at elementary schools or high schools, but Ms. Potts shows that sometimes teachers who can't or don't have their own children are a lot more deeply invested in their students than what's typical, and that's a refreshing realization. As usual, she has a lot of clever dialogue that will leave you with a smile. :)(less)