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, Lowell 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 theshorter, 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.
© 2010, Jerry L. Wheeler