Tricks – Rick R. Reed (MLR Press)

“Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Buy it direct from MLR Press or from our store – Tricks

Reed first gives us Arliss, “…young, handsome, and
vital.” Pierced ears, tattooed, eyes that stab and entrance with blue ice,
and outfitted in “…a costume that would make the construction worker
from the Village People look demure.” Yes, Reed gives us this
“…perfect fantasy specimen of pornographic machismo.” And the
allure of this package, of this boy, of this embodiment of sensuality is not
lost on the patrons of the bar, Tricks. Tricks draws older men mostly, whose
appreciation and generosity is meted out in dollar bills, fives, tens and
twenties, as Arliss climbs upon the  bar
to gyrate and smile, squatting here and there to allow those greedy fingers to
stuff those greenbacks into the jockstrap pouch in front, or between and up
into the naked cheeks behind. Arliss does not mind the attention, the gropes,
the come-ons, the hungry eyes of these men. No, this is his job; the fantasy he
provides to others in order to live.

Then we meet Sean, a “thirty-something” somewhat
nerdish, somewhat cynical presence that finds himself in Tricks after
discovering his present boyfriend’s commitment to him colored with feeble
clichés: “I need my space. I’m
feeling suffocated. …it’s not you, it’s me
.” So, Sean steps into
Tricks in need of oblivion, in need of forgetting about Jerome for perhaps just
one night.

Sean is enamored of Arliss, although certain that the boy’s
life is besotted with all the trappings of the life of a stripper: drugs,
carless carousing, sleeping with anyone who offers the right price. We learn
that Arliss’s life has, since childhood, been lived on the edge of misery, with
few opportunities to see anything of himself worthy of the interest of others,
except his body. 

Arliss, as he makes his moves, struts his stuff upon the
bar, notices Sean in the crowd, appearing so unlike the bar’s usual clientele,
and is himself, if not fascinated with Sean, at least interested, curious. But
the clean-cut, thirty-something Sean leaves the bar by the time Arliss finishes
his act.

Fate provides Arliss and Sean with a chance meeting on the
Chicago shore of Lake Michigan, where both find themselves disposed to slough
off the events of the night, and to cherish the calm of the cool breeze, and
the ebb and flow of the water. It is here the plot advances: “Excuse me,
mister,” [Arliss says] “but is this seat there—the one next to
you—taken?” It was not.

Suffice it to say, Sean and Arliss pursue their mutual
attraction. Sean, being Sean, sees the worth of moving slowly. Arliss is, after
all, not much more than a boy, a stripper, a beautiful presence who, alas,
allows old men to stuff money up his ass. But Sean sees something else in
Arliss: a young man with dreams, natural intelligence, a good heart, an
insatiable urge to succeed…if only to turn his “career” toward
porno films.

Arliss sees Sean as a kind presence, someone interested in
more than just his body. Arliss realizes, however, his past will forever cloud
any relationship he might have with Sean. “There was too much in his past
that would shock the man sleeping next to him, shock him enough, Arliss was
certain, to send him running in the other direction as fast as he could.”

Reed provides a wholly believable journey of the eventual
body and soul coupling of two men who, on the surface, are the unlikeliest of
lovers. He advances the plot to the edge of Arliss’s dream to be in the movies, something that Sean
cannot fathom, cannot accept as something compatible within the context of
their newfound love for one another. However, there is big money to be had, and
Arliss cannot resist the offer to do a shoot.

Quite apart from the seediness of Tricks—the booze-breathed
old men, the thick fingers rummaging over Arliss’s body, the leers, the
come-ons—there is a more sinister intent amongst those who would use Arliss,
the beautiful Arliss, for their own gain. Yes, Arliss is the perfect specimen
to appear in a video intended to be much more than the usual fare, much more
than just another excursion into the earthy delights of bodies entwined in the
old in/out; the suck, the fuck.

This is a love story. This is a story that explores the
darkest depths of mendacity and greed that feed off the dreams of a young man
yearning for a break against the hard knocks life has handed him. This is a
story of two men from disparate realms of experience who, in the end, find
their saving graces in the simple gift of love, of caring perhaps more for the
other than they do for themselves.

Reed’s prose is, as always, clean and precise. Reed’s fans
will not be disappointed.

This is a quick read of only 182 pages. If I have one
complaint about Reed’s storytelling, it is that this one ended too soon.

Reviewed by George Seaton

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