The line between truth and fiction is easily blurred. At its
very core, what is the truth anyway but someone’s version of a set of
events? That’s why the commingling of fiction and non-fiction serves Steve
Berman’s most recent compilation of Best Gay Stories so well.
The collection starts with a story—Anthony McDonald’s sweet,
romantic tale of a brief affair between two Shakespearian actors in “Mercutio’s
Romeo”—then glides into essay territory with Paul Lisicky’s “Two Tales” and
Jeff Mann’s “Loving Tim; or My Passionate Midlife Affair,” a thoughtful
exploration of Mann’s infatuation with country music superstar Tim McGraw (from
the recently reviewed Binding the God: Ursine Essays from the Mountain South).
This round of essays ends with another take on fandom, Nowell Briscoe’s
portrait of gay Southern author Lonnie Coleman in “Lonnie Coleman Remembered.”
Then it’s back to fiction with a chilling first person
account of a public park hookup gone terribly wrong with G. Winston James’
“Somewhere Nearby.” This is a perfect example of blurring that border between
truth and fiction. From its opening line, “I am a corpse being dragged to
shallow burial,” we fervently hope this is a story but deep down we realize
that in a world where a slight, small man like Matthew Shepard can be tied to a
barbed wire fence and tortured to death, it could be all too real.
D. Travers Scott’s brilliant “It’s Not You” both blurs and
delineates, alternating sections titled “Fiction” and “Journal” as he gives an
account of an “affair” between the story’s narrator and a straight boy. While
not exactly idyllic, the fictional portions are more romanticized than the
shorter, straightforward journal entries, but the shorter passages certainly
contain more “truths” about their relationship.
Some of my other favorites include Wayne Hoffman’s “Duncan,”
a bittersweet story of unrequited love, Lewis DeSimone’s “Auntie Mame,” a
wonderful ode to one of my top five movies of all time (Rosalind Russell was genius
in that, dammit—I hope Susan Hayward choked on her goddamn Oscar that
year), Lee Thomas’ hysterically harrowing “Crack Smokin’ Grandpa” and Sean
Meriwether’s heartfelt “So Long Anita Bryant, and Thanks for Everything.”
But these are among the pieces that spoke to my truths. Of
the twenty well-chosen selections, you’re bound to find many that you’ll
remember until Best Gay Stories 2011 when our brightest voices will
carry us away once again.
And that’s the truth.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler