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Daniel M. Jaffe’s latest—a collection entitled Foreign Affairs: Male Tales of Lust & Love—might lead one to believe that he has written a collection entirely of erotica (especially with that provocative cover illustration!). And while I must disabuse you of that notion (yes, some of the stories are titillating, but most are not), I strongly urge you not to pass this collection by.
Jaffe has already written two novels (The Limits of Pleasure, Yeled Tov), a novel-in-stories (The Genealogy of Understanding), and a prior collection of short stories (Jewish Gentle and Other Stories of Gay-Jewish Living). His novels deal with the intersection of Gay and Jewish identities, and these themes reappear throughout his short stories. The dozen stories in his latest collection all feature a male protagonist, who is American, and they all occur abroad; those, however, are the only common traits shared by all twelve stories. Many of the protagonists are Gay, but a couple are not; some are Jewish, but again, not all are. All of them, regardless of their sexual orientation or ethnicity, are searching for something: usually it is to fulfill desire (illicit or not), but some seek knowledge, or to make peace with the past (in some cases entire centuries of the past), or even redemption (in one case, quite literally). The “Affairs” in the title is meant in all sense of the word.
I realize now that the above is not entirely true: all of the stories are filled with the colors, scents, and flavors of the places where they are set. In addition to each one serving up a sensual feast, these stories are filled with the intimate details of a traveler who has navigated these landmarks, viewed these artworks, and visited these neighborhoods. (Spoiler alert: in his Afterword, Jaffe recounts how each story was inspired by his travels to the places in question.) It sounds cliché, but reading these stories feels like being in Dublin, Mexico City, Seville, Munich; and I suspect that many quarantine-weary readers will enjoy the escape.
Always before, when I review a collection or anthology, I end up focusing on a couple of stories that either stood out, for whatever reason, or appealed to me personally (usually because of some fantastical element). After reading this collection, I have to confess that I enjoyed reading all of the stories herein, even the ones that were horror (“In the Colony,” “The Return,” “Walpurgisnacht”) or lacked a fantastical element (“Innocence Abroad,” “The Trickster,” “El Bochorno”). Whatever your pleasure—be it erotic delight, absurdist humor, a bit of otherworldly magic, or simply the vicarious thrill of the armchair traveler—I can guarantee that you will find something to enjoy in this travelogue; like as not, several somethings.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske