Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Review: Ganymede Stories One

Ganymede Stories One
edited by John Stahle

Published by Ganymede

Reviewed by Marc Bridle

This anthology brings together short stories published in the first six issues of Ganymede; and like all anthologies it is a hit-and-miss affair. But what sets it above many similar collections is both the quality of the writing and the audacity of its editors in establishing a new gay literary benchmark for anthologies of this kind. The (mostly) contemporary prose in these 200 pages is seen squarely in the context of a Nineteenth Century aesthetic, one that stretches from the horse-drawn hansoms of gas-lit London to the bloodshot-eyed edginess of modern day San Francisco and Paris.

From Andrew J. Peters’ adorably amusing gay fairytale, The Vain Prince, to Cyrus Cassells’ aphoristic Another Horse on Your Horse Ranch established principles of prose are overturned. Peters’ fairytale anti-hero, Adalbert, is rather like a queer Turandot, and his prose swaggers along like a drunken queen in a nightclub, the very antithesis of what a fairytale should be. The opposite are Cassells’ exquisitely drawn short paragraphs, dexterously poetic and dripping in color like a golden-tongued seraphim. Elsewhere you can clearly see an individual writer’s non-literary influences. B.R.Lyon’s As is, I aspires to the condition of music, as does Marc Andreottola’s Lots. What sets Andreottola’s story apart from others here is the filmic quality he brings to his narrative. Just as a filmmaker can focus on one image and make the viewer seem unsettled so does Andreottola: “All the entertainer could see was the thigh of the Stump, a strong meaty thigh. The thigh activated the entertainer somehow, like a switch. He felt like the thighs could crush him like a nutcracker.” On a completely different level, John Stahl’s brilliantly articulated Memories of Inexpression shows that evocative writing doesn’t need to be a dialogue. With Beckett-like precision Stahl’s prose bears the imprint of isolation and memory like few other pieces in this anthology.

Gay writing is universal and it is, therefore, good to see the Ljubljana-based writer Boris Pintar included in this anthology. Slavic Thicket: Two Stories, translated from the Slovene by Rawley Grau, is coruscating. Whether by design or by translation his writing positively reeks of scents; pissing is not so much about the act as it is about the smell. In fact, this is prose that assails the senses in every way: cocks are eye-balled, sniffed and licked; nostrils are there not just to smell the aphrodisiac of sex but to snort coke, poppers and glue. Paragraphs are long – but never over long – but their very tightness leaves one feeling rather as if one has been clubbed over the head. They are brutal. The only other story which comes close to this kind of semi-pornographic wasteland of spunk and hard fucks is Eric Karl Anderson’s Beauty Number Two.

There used to be a time when gay literature had one ubiquitous theme: HIV and AIDS (think especially of the works of Hervé Guibert or David Wojnarowicz) so it was astonishing to find that the acronym HIV appears twice and AIDS just once in this entire anthology, and even then in just one story: Beauty Number Two. Anderson is certainly neither quixotic nor passive about it (“I’ve had enough of this fucking AIDS death camp”) but neither is he remote from it (“He is HIV positive: each revelatory fact makes him more perfect in my fevered imagination”). And jostling with the poetry of Anderson’s prose is a veritable shopping list of modern-day triviality, from celebrity blow-jobs to branded underwear, all neatly bound together in a very Noughties framework of queer happiness.

Cyrus Cassells

Which is, I suppose, what Oscar Wilde and Robert Louis Stevenson might have been doing in the Nineteenth century. The inclusion of works by Wilde and Stevenson, taking up a full quarter of the pages here, strikes me as problematical, though it does underline the extent to which some recent gay writing has retrenched to a more inverted form of beauty. Neither author could be said to be a model for Dennis Cooper’s anti-queer deviancy, but I can see the partial influence of their aesthetic on some of the writers appearing earlier on in this collection. Stevenson’s The Adventure of the Hansom Cab is indeed evocative, but its links to anything gay are tenuous. It reminds me more of the subtle homoeroticism of a Mapplethorpe still life. Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime is more semi-comic than semi-erotic; it’s inclusion based on the assumption that it is a rarity amongst Oscar Wilde’s prose works is, I think, unfounded.

Nevertheless, their prominence in this collection doesn’t detract from the sheer overall quality of the writing elsewhere, which is uniformly of a high standard. The sharp-edged writing of these authors might have benefited from equally sharp writing to stand beside them – perhaps some Samuel R Delaney (unfamiliar to many, even in North America) or a translation of some of Pierre Guyotat’s Prostitution, for example. Production values are high, and similar in style to Ganymede’s quarterly journal. Lavish black and white photographs are interspersed throughout, including some of the authors - who tend for the most part to be an attractive bunch. A perfect stocking filler – or as Marc Andreottola might have put it in his story a “dirty black sock” filler.

Marc Bridle is a critic and writer. He is based in Vancouver and London.

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