As edited by founder Steve Berman, Lethe Press’ Best Gay Stories collections are truly as advertised, almost all uniformly strong and solid. He has a knack for finding the right notes to strike, resulting in chords that reverberate. Now, his stewardship has passed to the gigantically talented Peter Dube, who shows himself to be just as keen and canny when it comes to selecting the finest gay fiction.
I didn’t get a chance to review Lammy award winner Sandra McDonald’s Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories, so I came to “Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy” fresh. I was absolutely captivated by the sense of whimsy and charm McDonald creates as Comet and Captain Landan journey to the Circle W Ranch and, ultimately, to hear famed author Whitney Waltman. Even though I rarely get time to read anything not for Out in Print, this is worth searching out.
From Sandra McDonald’s whimsy to the outright weirdness of Daniel Allen Cox’s “A Nose Commits Suicide” to the beautifully metaphoric “The Crow,” by Judas Garbah (Tanith Lee) to the breathless, restless journey of David Gerrold’s “Thirteen O’Clock,” Dube seeks to widen the scope of the possible narratives that shape and underlie our own individual queer philosophies, and in that, he succeeds without question.
Take, for example, Steve Berman’s “Tell Me What You Love, and I’ll Tell You What You Are,” a parallel story of Steve’s nephew at the circus as well as Berman’s own musings on queer life. Though the stories may be different, the ache and longing in both are evident. And I have some experience with this story since it came from my own Lammy-finalist effort “Tented: Gay Erotic Stories from Under the Big Top” (plug, plug…).
But Berman’s alternative narrative structure is not the only one here—Paul Lisicky pulls one off brilliantly in “The Pillory,” as does Ernest Hardy in “Cold and Wet, Tired You Bet…,” whose title is taken from the jazz standard “My Man.” Dube has even given us two novel excerpts: Jameson Currier’s “July 2002” from his recent The Third Buddha and Michael Alenyikov’s “It Takes All Kinds” from his Ivan and Misha. Also among my favorites are Aaron Hamburger’s wonderful “Finders Keepers,” which tracks the backstage life of a dancer at a New Orleans strip club called the Corner Pocket a very real establishment author Trebor Healey took me to for the first time about six years ago, enticing me by saying it was full of “Louisiana trailer trash boys stripping down to badly laundered underwear.” How could I have refused?) and Wayne Lee Gay’s “Ondine,” a beautifully done coming-of-age story about a girl, her piano and her awakening.
So, rest assured that even though Steve Berman may have passed the Best Gay Stories torch, Peter Dube is keeping the flame blazing. Carry on, boys.
© 2011, Jerry L. Wheeler