Muscle Men: Rock Hard Gay Erotica – Richard Labonte, ed. (Cleis Press)

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I’ve never understood the muscle thing.

Most of my friends drool over those firefighter calendars with the ripped abs of August and the defined delts of December, but that body type has never done it for me. And the few muscle guys I have chatted up have had personalities varying from bland to loathsome. I would have passed this antho up had it not been for Richard Labonte’s track record, and I’m happy to say he’s mostly packed the gym with winners. 
My usual disclaimer about there always being a couple of stories in an anthology that don’t do it for me applies here, but Labonte’s average is always high. He has a strong starter in Joe Marohl’s “The Lair of Carlo de la Paz,” which features a mysterious old guy who likes to watch two muscle boys spar in a ring he has set up in his mansion. Steve Bereznai takes us inside a bodybuilder competition for “Mr. Muscle Pump,” but the contest isn’t where the action is. Cage Thunder also has a winning entry with “Thunder and Lightning,” but it’s with Jamie Freeman’s “The Ambivalent Gardener and the State of Grace” where the book really takes off for me. 
This marvelous story is a muscle-sex romp as well as a touching coming out story with some interesting girl-girl dialogue between the main character’s wife and her best friend. It not only titillates, but it has great characters and an interesting scenario. And speaking of interesting scenarios, Thomas Fuchs’ “Bobby Lo and the Evil Sakata” combines muscle worship and cum-vampirism in a quasi-supernatural tale that will leave you wondering about what will happen at the end of your next blowjob. 
Rob Wolfsham’s “Nephilim Lover” is another great story from this young writer who has a gift for erotica and a talent for creating terrific characters with which he populates his bedrooms—or in this case, dorm rooms. Labonte even goes as far as ending with an essay by Larry Duplechan, “Bigchest: Confessions of a Tit Man,” which details his obsession with big chests and how to get them. So, even if muscles aren’t your thing, the writing here packs more punch than a protein shake. 
And if you open this the next time you’re on the elliptical, who can tell what will happen in the steam room?
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler

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