Monthly Archives: November 2020

Compassion, Michigan: The Ironwood Stories – Raymond Luczak (Modern History Press)

Raymond Luczak has written and edited twenty-four books of fiction, non-fiction, plays, poetry—you name it, he’s written it. His latest offering, Compassion, Michigan: The Ironwood Stories, is a collection of sixteen short stories set in Ironwood, Michigan, his hometown. With one notable exception, all of these stories center on the lives and loves of Midwestern women, a departure from Luczak’s last collection of short stories, The Kinda Fella I Am, which focused exclusively on the disabled Gay experience.

Which is not to say that Luczak’s experiences as a Deaf Gay man do not inform these stories; in fact, the two stories that begin and end this collection (“Numbers Six and Seven,” “Independence Day”) feature a Deaf protagonist growing up in a hearing family, and it is impossible not to view them at least as partially autobiographical, the female protagonist notwithstanding. The subject of “The Traitor’s Wife” eventually comes out as Lesbian, and the narrator of “Stella, Gone” (although she does not say it in so many words) would now be considered ace. Several additional stories feature Gay characters as well, but the stories are not “about” them and their struggles; these stories are always about the women at their centers, women who deal with desire (frustrated or not), the demands of their families, infidelity, domestic violence, and the myriad experiences of everyday life.

This book is as much about Ironwood as it is about the women who lived and died there. Luczak includes many details about its geography and history; so much so, that I want to know how much of the setting is “real”–instead I went and looked up the Wikipedia article about Ironwood to compare. Set over most if its 130-year history, these stories retell Ironwood’s founding after the discovery of nearby lodes of iron ore, its expansion due to an influx of numerous immigrant communities, its booming heyday during the two World Wars, and eventual decline. “Yoopers” (for non-Midwesterners, this term describes inhabitants of the U. P. [Upper Peninsula] of Michigan) is a delightful story about acknowledging the unique qualities of where you grew up, whether you celebrate them or not. Two of my favorites imagine lost glimpses into small-town life at the beginning of the twentieth century, which are also glimpses into lost LGBT history. “The Ways of Men” re-creates the life of a transman who leaves his privileged life in Detroit for the relative anonymity of Ironwood; according to Luczak, it is based on a true story (although most of it has been lost to time). “Beginnings” is the poignant story about a marriage of convenience between two teachers—and when it suddenly becomes inconvenient.

“Beginnings” and “Stella, Gone” figure among my favorites in this collection for another reason: both retell part of the history of Ironwood, but both also are the recreations of the subject’s lives from the research and memories of the stories’ narrators. If being unable to tell your story is a living death (if not a literal one) as Rebecca Solnit states in the book’s epigraph, then these stories are affirmations of these women’s lives and choices, regardless of the circumstances they had to withstand, or the mistakes they made. Comparisons to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio seem inevitable, given the Midwest setting and the similar themes of isolation and loneliness; however, Luczak has not written a short story cycle (a novel in short stories) like Anderson did. Luczak has crafted an homage, not to Anderson, but rather to the place he grew up and the women who created it.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske


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North Point (Jagged Shores, Book One) – Thom Collins (Pride Publishing)

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Thom Collins’ debut novel in a planned romance series is set in the remote, picturesque northeast coast of England and features two men with accomplished careers but no luck at love. While a mysterious assailant looms in the background, they forge a deep, much-needed companionship in an unlikely place for a budding gay relationship.

Arnie is a star of the silver screen who is taking time off from the limelight to introduce his nine-year-old son AJ to the town of North Point where he grew up and enjoyed an idyllic boyhood. Since he moved away for college and his career, he sacrificed personal fulfillment to toe the line as the perfect, hetero leading man, and he was burned by an arranged, high-profile marriage to protect his image. His ex-wife Tara, also AJ’s mother, is a hard-partying socialite and a favorite of the tabloids whose exploits are a constant concern. Arnie is now parenting alone, trying to shield his son from his mom’s media spectacle, and figuring out how to live as an openly gay man.

Dominic is a best-selling author of military thrillers who writes under a pen name and moved to North Point for a quiet place to stay under the radar. He’s a naval veteran who spent his younger years on tour around the world, lacking roots and the ability to explore gay relationships. He takes great pride in volunteering with the local coast guard, and he feels like he’s found his home, albeit without someone to share it with.

When Arnie and Dominic meet, their attraction is instantaneous, but personal concerns stand in the way. Arnie wants to normalize life for his son after the disintegration of his tumultuous marriage. Pursuing a boyfriend feels like it would complicate that goal. Dominic needs to extricate himself from a lackluster relationship with a guy who’s not going to take the break-up well, and that guy happens to be a childhood friend of Arnie’s.

Early in the story, Arnie and his son are witnesses to the shocking attack of a female jogger. A masked and hooded man throws her over a cliff. One thinks things are headed in crime/mystery direction. But North Point is first and foremost a slow burn traditional romance.

The portrayal of Arnie and Dominic’s relationship is enjoyable and puts a refreshing focus on guys outside the young adult or new adult spectrum. They’re both in their middle thirties, though on the other side, Collins takes an idealized “older hunk” approach. There’s plenty of gratuitous exposition on each fellow’s muscular, mouth-watering physique to please romance fans, and the sex scenes run rampant with superlatives.

Both men are well-drawn out, likeable characters who seem perfect for each other. Despite his fame and fortune, Arnie is a down-to-earth guy, owing to his small-town roots. Dominic meanwhile is a protector of his community, where extreme tides can endanger novice boaters and seaside hikers. The reader feels the stakes for Arnie as he carefully measures his personal interest against what’s best for his son. He’s in uncharted territory as a gay single dad, especially since he doesn’t have the freedom to live his life entirely privately. Can he trust Dominic to respect his relationship with his son and to not exploit his media profile?

There’s not an extraordinary amount of intrigue with the murder/mystery theme, but readers who prefer sweet, relationship-driven stories surely won’t mind. Danger lurks for Arnie, who could have several enemies who resent his rise above his small-time hometown and his gayness. One gets the feeling early on that love will save the day. Overall, North Point is a nice, atmospheric romance, perfect for fans of Rick Reed and Jay Northcote.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Peters

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