Christian Wright's Reviews > A History Of Barbed Wire

A History Of Barbed Wire by Jeff Mann
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Feb 01, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: authors-i-know
Recommended to Christian by: Jeff Mann
Recommended for: Tim McGraw

[This review was originally published on VelvetMafia.com in August of 2007.]

Winner of The 2006 Lambda Literary Foundation’s Award for Best Gay Erotica, A History of Barbed Wire is a collection of ten short stories that crackle with subcutaneous sexual energy and a novella that delves straight into dark obsession on its opening pages. The men who inhabit these pages are a delicious mix of bikers, academics, mountain men, and musicians, all rough around the edges with thick, hairy bodies in perpetual pursuit of same. Encounters between these various characters occur in unexpected places and at unexpected times, like the freshman with “the black chest hair smoking over the top of that wife-beater”(p. 37) who catches the eye of an already frustrated English professor in “Dionysus Redux” or the lusty apparition of the Confederate soldier who torments the flesh of a traveling history buff in “Fireflies” (but in a good way):

“If I’d believed in the supernatural, I would have muttered some invitation into the darkness, would have tried to sense his spirit in the room. Instead, I tried to feel him on top of me, holding me down, his beard pressed hard and hungrily against mine. In the bed where he died, I spat into my palm, stroked myself, gasped and soon shot into my fist. In the bed where he died, I licked the semen off my hand, rubbed it into my beard, pretending it was his semen, his blood. It was the only intimacy available to us.”(p. 119)

Restraint and bondage are the most prevalent themes running through A History of Barbed Wire, as evidenced by the narrator of “Everett’s Boy” who muses to himself that, “If St. Sebastian could suffer arrows, I can suffer this. Proudly I stick out my chest, suck in my belly and bite down hard on the bit. Everett twists the pins one by one, brushes them back and forth with his fingers till I’m aching, then adds a few all along my cock and over my balls.”(p. 55) Ball gags, rope, and duct tape are the tools of these tradesman and Mann uses them to greatest advantage in “Snowed in with Sam” and in the longer work, “The Quality of Mercy” (the former almost a study for the latter). Put simply, men writhe in musky agony and in bourbon-infused ecstasy in Mann’s capable hands.

In stark contrast to the often-brutal scenes of hardcore sex is the subtle tenderness of Professor Mann’s prose that will, no doubt, catch some readers off guard. With quotations from the likes of W.B. Yeats, John Donne, and Hart Crane, and references to Nietzsche and Shakespeare, this is hyper-masculine erotica so deftly written that it will appeal to both bear fetishists and to literary aesthetes simultaneously. Consider a line like: “This is the rightness of rain reaching the dark thirst of root hairs deep in the earth, the inevitability of sunflower fields shifting hour after hour toward the sun,”(p.31) a phrase crafted to describe the first exquisite moment of anal penetration. Like the author himself, A History of Barbed Wire is a satisfying combination of both brain and brawn whose Southern drawl is so seductive that readers will find it hard to resist and even harder to put down.
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