Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Best Gay Love Stories: Summer Flings

Edited by Brad Nicols
Best Gay Love Stories

Published by Alyson Publications

Reviewed by John Dixon

Several American publishers – principally Alyson Press and Cleis Press - specialise in gay short story anthologies. There are now so many series that to distinguish between volumes needs a year and a subtitle. This particular volume contains twenty stories, none more than twelve pages, all bar one by men, all about gay men. Fifteen of the authors concentrate exclusively on this genre. The editor Brad Nichols had edited ten other volumes.

So what’s the appeal? Ask the same question about Mills & Boon. Comfort reading, short, light, reinforcing not questioning, with a happy ending, ninety percent of the time. What’s wrong with that? It shouldn’t be perhaps from a ‘literary’ point of view, but if people want it . . . .

Still, something is missing in these stories that even Mills & Boon has. One of the better stories, Fratelli, states ‘In a love story there would have been a crisis; an argument, a disappointment, an epiphany of disillusioning.’ What forms can the crisis take nowadays, given greater tolerance? I’m not suggesting the Bad Old Days made for better literature. It may be ‘legal’ to varying degrees (in the West), but there is plenty of hostility around. Little is mentioned in these stories. Most are mere pick-ups and sex scenes, set in a world where politics, money, race, religion and women don’t exist. Wealth is never spoken about; the characters seem on the same, comfortable income level. Only three stories feature women; a possessive fag-hag, a tit-jiggling temptress, and a girl-friend who unwittingly acts as a Pandar. There is one Japanese boyfriend, one Greek; but no Black, Hispanic, etc.

This lack of variety is made worse by the themed basis. ‘Summer flings’ means a sameness of setting; mainly beaches and bays, three summer camps; and three flats featuring a breakdown in the air conditioning (lovely plumbers!)

There are some worthy stories. In Second Chances, the narrator picks up a tramp who’s been on the streets for ten years after being turned out by his anti-gay parents. The story is underdeveloped but the setting and the bond formed between different backgrounds make a refreshing change. In Manna, the narrator works for a charity supplying food to down-and-outs, meets a rich farmer eager to get rid of his surplus stock, organic, of course. Gay Love as a redistributor of wealth? Perhaps not, but at least a darker side to society is hinted at. The day the governor came out has irony and humour, as does the previously mentioned Fratelli.. KC at bat is about a baseball player at odds with the macho image thrust on him; it has a real variety of language, and no happy ending.

Indeed, the better the language the more logical the presentation and the more believable the story. Thirteen of the stories are in the first person and chatty in style (“I saw this gorgeous . . .just what I needed . . and I just . . “) Any supposed heart-warming, feel-good factor is undermined when the editor lets pass a sentence such as -
“Turning to go into the room, hoping something good was on TV, I noticed something out the corner of my eye.”

On book production – the blurb says ‘From coast to coast and everywhere in between, explore the spark of gay eroticism in these twenty-two tales of summer loving.’ There are only twenty stories. (Thankfully!)

John Dixon has had several poems and short stories published, including in Chroma. He has won a prize in the Bridport Short Story competition, and was editor/contributor to Fiction in Libraries. He is a member of the Gay Author’s Workshop and is on the editorial board of and contributor to the forthcoming GAW short story anthology ‘People my mother warned you about.’ He hopes shortly to have his novel ‘Push harder Mummy, I want to come out’ published by Paradise Press. He has read his work at launches and several local LGTB events.

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