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Consent – Jeff Mann (Unzipped Books)

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Really, there is only one thing you need to know about Jeff Mann’s erotica.

It is hot.

(And coming from someone who admits to no interest in bondage, now or ever, that’s saying something.)

This is, of course, testament to Mann’s ability as a writer.  Mann clearly writes what he knows; but it is a rare writer who can write about sex with such poignancy and humor (yes, humor!) and with such honesty and authenticity.

Consent, recently published by Unzipped Books (the erotica imprint of Lethe Press) collects ten stories by Mann, each previously published in other erotica anthologies, and all with a focus on bondage.  A variety of scenarios set up the sex, but each one of his stories is a fully crafted narrative; although what constitutes a happy ending may be somewhat ambiguous in a story centered on BDSM.  (In any event, this is an erotica collection, not a romance collection, so happy endings are not guaranteed.)

There is just one recommendation I would make concerning this collection, and it is this:  Consent is not a book for reading entirely at one sitting (especially if one may be unfamiliar with bondage as part of sexplay).  Doing so will cause the stories to blend one into the other:  most are set in Appalachia, with one of the protagonists (the dom, usually) as a thinly-veiled stand-in for Mann.  (Indeed, “Inescapable” and “Demon Seed” strike one as autobiographical recollections, despite the fantastical elements in the first story.)  Best to savor each of these stories individually, like the bourbon that Mann obviously favors.

This volume also includes three original pieces.  The opening nonfiction essay, “A Defense of Erotica,” in the vein of a classical apologia, reminds one of a similar essay written by the late John Preston about being a pornographer.  “Erotica is about passion, and passion is about life, and life is most especially to be celebrated and affirmed in dark times such as these.” Mann, as a member of a life-affirming religion (neo-Paganism) makes a strong case for the religious aspects of his writing, and religious metaphors can be found throughout his stories, most notably in “Highland Sleeper” and “In the Shadow of Devil’s Backbone.”  Mann’s passion for and about eros is a direct reaction to the shame he has been made to feel about his erotic leanings, a shame experienced by several of his characters.

The remaining two original pieces close the collection.  “Triptych” is a retelling of the photo shoot (in which Mann himself participated) that produced the cover and interior photographs, entwined with an idealized, erotic reworking of that weekend as reimagined by Mann.  “Triptych” is the most humorous piece in the collection, from Mann’s wry observations of the shoot, becoming laugh-out-loud funny when his fantasy really takes flight near the end. “Carpetbagger,” which closes the volume, is the longest piece, a short novella.  Here Mann gives full rein to his erotic impulse, and even though this story too is set in Appalachia, with a Jeff Mann-like character, it is unlike the other stories in the collection, mostly due to several plot twists within the story that I will not disclose here.  (An homage to Lee Thomas, it almost could be a Thomas story, with break-neck pacing and a captivating narrative that demands a reader’s attention.)

Appropriately, Mann’s sensual writing is accompanied by erotic illustrations, an additional appeal to the senses.  Besides photos from the above-mentioned photo shoot, the introduction is illustrated with black and white drawings; unfortunately my advance reader’s copy does not credit the artist.  Obviously this book will appeal to fans of Jeff Mann; however, collectors of well-written erotica will enjoy these bedtime stories too.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

© 2017, Keith John Glaeske

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Wilde Stories 2017: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Lethe Press’s Wilde Stories has always reminded me of the Pan horror series from Britain I loved as an early teen. This review occasioned me to Google the very first Pan volume, coming across names and stories I hadn’t thought of in years, including George Fielding Eliot’s “The Copper Bowl,” a delicious torture tale about a copper bowl with spiced meat, restraints, and a hungry rat who eats his way through a traitor’s lover. That one alone provided me with some nasty dreams for weeks. The stories in the latest Wilde Stories volume are just as interesting and far-reaching as the Pan classics, and even though the tales are short on rats, they’ll still lead you to some fascinating places.

The first stop is Steve Carr’s “The Tale of the Costume Maker,” a glittery little story that demonstrates the value of keeping some treasures to yourself. This leads into “Das Steingeschopf,” G.V. Anderson’s well-built tale of a carver and restorer of living sculpture and the ancient creation he encounters. Matthew Cheney then parts from conventional narrative with “Where’s the Rest of Me?”, his alternate-world tale of Ronald Reagan and his lover, Alejandro, each short chapter titled by a Reagan film. And, yes, Nancy’s there too.

But Ronnie’s not the only celebrity here. Historical figures play central parts in many of these stories, from Alan Turing obsessing over an automaton of three Oscar Wildes (Eric Schaller’s “Turing Test”) to the delightful Americana-gone-weird Johnny Appleseed/Paul Bunyan mash-up, “The Death of Paul Bunyan.” As if those mythical figures weren’t enough, ‘Nathan Burgoine’s “Frost” provides a lovely, fairytale origin story for Jack Frost.

Sam J. Miller, however, corners the mythical figure market with “Angel, Monster, Man,” his brilliantly conceived and well-executed story of Tom Minniq, the pseudonym of three men living through the AIDS epidemic who have inherited a wealth of unpublished and unseen art from their dead and dying friends–those lost voices of a generation we often lament. Minniq becomes the voice of those men until one of the three actually meets him in the flesh. From there on, we join in a different reality that becomes a little more different every day of the T—p era. The barbs in this story are sharp, and you won’t know you’ve bled out until the last word.

Of all the places Wilde Stories took me, though, none affected me more than the Tongass National Forest in southeastern Alaska, where Mathew Scaletta spins “The Sound a Raven Makes,” a bleakly romantic story about Ash and JB, two men who make their living butchering the sasquatch hunted by the tourist trade. This story is rooted in all things Alaskan, especially hidden dangers. The images of the illegally taken baby sasquatch as well piles of squatch arms and legs will stay with me long after I finish writing this. But mostly, this story reflects the environmental and societal changes the region faces as well as providing one shining silver bullet of hope. Or is it despair?

Wilde Stories 2017, then, keeps up the Pan tradition as well as its own by being our yearly touchstone with the fantastical and the horrific. Truly the year’s best and highly recommended.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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At Danceteria and Other Stories – Philip Dean Walker (Squares & Rebels)

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Ask any Gay Man of a Certain Age, and he will tell you about the horrors that were the 1980s in America:  a backlash decade after the revolutionary 1960s and hedonistic 1970s, a decade defined by the policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, when Gay men could be discharged from the military with impunity, before any notion of marriage equality, and that above all saw the onset of AIDS.

And yet….

The 1980s too had an over-the-top element to them, as exemplified by the emergence of the materialistic “yuppie.”  They were also the decade of the glamorous Diana, Princess of Wales, the gender-bending Boy George and Annie Lennox in popular music—not to mention the ground-breaking Madonna!—and the outrageous resistance of ACT-UP.

(Full disclosure:  Because the 1980s were the time of my youth—I attended college from 1984-89—I am prone to romanticize this decade, and especially susceptible to 80s nostalgia.)

Philip Dean Walker explores the paradox that was the 1980s throughout his At Danceteria and Other Stories, a slim volume of seven stories (four of which are reprinted from Jonathan: A Queer Fiction Journal).  In six of these stories, the protagonist is some (now dead) icon from the 80s:  Halston, with Liza Minelli and Andy Warhol (“By Halston”); Princess Diana (“Don’t Stop Me Now”); Rock Hudson (“Charlie Movie Star”); Sylvester, with a Bette Midler cameo (“Sequins at Midnight”); Jackie Onassis (“Jackie and Jerry at the Anvil”); Keith Haring (“At Danceteria”).  Several stories are set in iconic bars that likewise are no longer with us:  Studio 54, The Anvil, and Danceteria in New York (all closed 1986); Tracks in Washington, DC (closed 1999); and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London (still going strong).

Walker grounds his bigger-than-life characters by basing his stories upon little-known but historically documented events:  Halston did indeed launch a J. C. Penny line in 1983; Rock Hudson did indeed attend a State Dinner at the Reagan White House in 1984; Jackie O. did indeed go to the notorious hardcore sex club The Anvil with Jerry Torre.  (Walker has noted the intense research he underwent while writing these pieces, with only the occasional artistic license:  for example, Keith Haring’s birthday party actually occurred at Paradise Garage, not Danceteria, so that he could juxtapose Haring and Madonna.  Which raises the question:  Did Princess Di really attend a drag club in male drag with Freddie Mercury?)

The center (literally) of the collection is held by “The Boy Who Lived Next to the Boy Next Door,” the only story without a celebrity, not even a cameo.  Narrated by an anonymous (and presumably average-looking) protagonist, he describes the new gay cancer—or, as he dubs it, “Hot Guy Flu”—since he observes that only the good-looking guys are succumbing to it.  As a result, he unexpectedly finds himself suddenly desirable, even by the attractive who had previously spurned him; until finally even the not-so-attractive start dying.

To survivors of the 1980s, the discovery of AIDS remains a watershed event, a point after which the world irrevocably changed.  Its specter haunts all of Walker’s stories to a lesser or greater degree, but it is not the only truth of the decade.  Walker acknowledges both extremes of the 1980s, the horror and the glamour.  In so doing, he produces something mighty real, which is more than just plain real.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

© 2017, Keith John Glaeske

 

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Love Wins: The Lovers and Lawyers Who Fought the Landmark Case for Marriage Equality – Debbie Cenziper & Jim Obergefell (William Morrow)

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We’ll occasionally break from our mission of reviewing independent press releases to cover something queer from a major publisher, so when I received the press release promoting the paperback edition  of Love Wins, I eagerly emailed for a review copy. I don’t get the opportunity to review as much non-fiction as I’d like, so this seemed a natural. And, indeed, the book is a clear, concise, obviously heartfelt account of the Obergefell marriage equality case, certainly worth a read. However, this edition settled on me differently than the hardback release might have.

Cenziper does an admirable job of encapsulating not only the story of Jim Obergefell and John Arthur’s relationship but the background of civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein and what made him so passionate about the case in question. Along the way, Cenziper paints deft little portraits of the minor players as well and has truly taken to heart Gerhardstein’s adage that in order to have a case, you need a story. Plus, this has courtroom drama. How could you not love courtroom drama? Those scenes are among the best in the book.

What the hell is my problem, then?

The question for me is one of timing. Releasing this book in the T—p era shrouds it in a thick cloud of irony, refocusing its look-how-far-we’ve-come to look-how-much-we-have-to-lose, especially with an increasingly conservative Supreme Court itching to overturn the very gain this book is about. The story is compelling enough to survive scrutiny through that different lens, and the telling of the story is flawless, but the end result–the feeling I got as I turned the last page–was one of sad nostalgia rather than hopeful optimism. I laughed. I cried. But not for the reasons or maybe even in the places the author had intended.

Unfortunately, we no longer live in a world where love consistently wins. Perhaps we never did. Love has historically had an uphill struggle, but it used to win more than it seems to now. In the eight years I’ve been writing this blog (one on hiatus), many of the books I’ve reviewed have made me cry, but not with the sense of longing and regret that this one did.

Can I recommend it? Sure. It’s highly readable, and the narrative is well-constructed. The characterizations are well-done, and the prose is clear and explains some complicated legal questions quite well. I can’t, however, guarantee what mood it will leave you in. Maybe you’re farther along in your grief process than I am. Maybe you think we have nothing to grieve for. Maybe you don’t connect the two. But I don’t think I’m alone. If I am, we’re in more trouble than I thought.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

 

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His Seed: An Arboretum of Erotica – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Life provides some interesting juxtapositioning. While reading His Seed, I was also working my way through a box set of Hammer horror films on DVD, those wonderfully cheesy mid-sixties campfests starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or–glory of glories–all three. Among the choicer morsels was Twice-Told Tales, an adaptation of three Nathaniel Hawthorne stories, including the root (see what I did there?)  of plant erotica, “Rappacini’s Daughter” (1844). Hammy, plummy, busty, lusty, and OTT, it was a perfect complement to Steve Berman’s superbly twisted collection.

Apparently, this volume grew out of a dare between Berman and designer extraordinaire Matt Bright, who took Berman’s groaner of a title as an artistic challenge. Having inspired the incredible cover you see above, Berman had to put out a call and come up with the goods. Fourteen brave souls responded with tales ranging from lyrical to pornographic. Sometimes in the same paragraph.

Proving right out of the gate that this isn’t your garden-variety (see what I di–okay, I’ll stop now) collection, M. Arbon’s “Ship in a Bottle,” details the affair between a plant-based alien life form named Redleaf and the human who rescues him from the pocket of a 129-year-old coat. That may not be the most normal scenario here, but it’s in the top two.

Since the collection is billed as erotica, you’d expect lots of sex between men and plants and you’d be right. The variety of scenarios in which these deeds are done, however, is pretty damned astonishing. From the boy who has sex with a forest spirit to cure his ill sister (Evey Brett’s “Guardian of the Grove”) to your basic fucking-a-plant-to-make-it-grow tale (Dale Cameron Lowry’s “Darling Proktiphallus”) to Keith Glaeske’s lyrical yet still erotic “Jack Pine,” creativity abounds.

One of the most creative pieces, and the only one that doesn’t imagine plant-based sex is L.A. Fields’s “King of Fruits,” which sees Perry, who lost his sense of smell and taste in college, in a heated affair with Art. Part of their foreplay consists of Art describing in gory detail the taste, smell, and texture of the most disgusting foods Perry can find for Art to consume. Century eggs. Corn smut. The meat of the story concerns a durian fruit, and I’ll just stop there.

Also of note is John Linwood Grant’s “The Jessamine Garden,” which basically queers the aforementioned Hawthorne tale, setting the romance in a poison garden cultivated by one Julian St. Claire, who entraps a young, wounded Mexican-American war vet. It’s wonderfully entertaining, both in terms of homage and on its own merits.

His Seed, then, may not be everyone’s cup of Miracle-Gro, but those who seek creative, literate short fiction should definitely give this a try. From alien plant forms to durian fruit to anally-puckered orchids, this book has a little bit of everything. Except Hammer Horror’s conception of Rappacini’s poison plant: 

Now, that’s what I call a bush.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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Pride Recovery Day – “Yuri: A Pride Memoir”

Hello everyone, and Happy Pride Month. Denver celebrates its Pride this weekend, so there will be no review on Monday, June 19th. Regular reviews will resume June 26th. However, to keep you amused, I decided to post a piece I originally wrote for the late trans activist Matt Kailey’s anthology of Colorado authors, Focus on the Fabulous and was reprinted in my collection of stories and essays, Strawberries And Other Erotic FruitsIt’s called “Yuri: A Pride Memoir,” and I hope you enjoy.

I’ll call him Yuri. He was short and stocky, with short brown hair and watery aquamarine eyes. In his early thirties, Yuri had only been out for a few furtive years in his native country. He was staying in Denver on a tourist visa with some people he’d met online. It would be his first Pride parade.

My friend Arthur had found Yuri in a chat room and asked him out to the Wrangler, a local leather-and-Levis bar, for a drink the Friday of Pride weekend. I went along to provide moral support for Arthur and an excuse to leave if necessary.

Their eyes met, and it was magic. It was bliss. It was heaven. It was a quick drink and then total abandonment. They hopped in a cab before my ice could melt, leaving me at the north end of the bar to be pawed by a drunken bear with a shaved head who leered at me, fell asleep, then woke up and leered at me again. I wasn’t sure if he was tired, drunk, or narcoleptic.

When Arthur and Yuri arrived at my Pride party the next day, they looked as if they hadn’t seen much daylight. Their eyes may have been dull, but they only looked at each other anyway. Yuri sat on Arthur’s lap or with his back between Arthur’s legs as they stretched out on the lawn beneath the shade of the box elder in the backyard, eating from the same plate. They were at the charged particle stage of the relationship, where constant physical contact had to be maintained or they’d be thrown off into the dating vortex once more.

We hated them. No. We envied them. We didn’t hate them until after the third pitcher of margaritas, when we started taking bets on whether the relationship would last hours or days. And even then, we still envied them—because they were long gone by that time, off to Arthur’s apartment where Yuri was spending Pride weekend, leaving us to speculate on their future until well past midnight.

We reconvened at eight the next morning at Arthur’s love nest, where he answered the intercom in the foyer of his condo building on the first ring and buzzed us in, bounding down the hall to greet us.

“This one’s a keeper!” he said, pointing back at his apartment and leaping around us with the glassy-eyed glaze of too much love and too little sleep. That clarified the situation. We’d all had experience with Arthur’s keepers before, kept for somewhere between a week and a month before being thrown out like overripe bananas.

Once inside, we smiled, nodded, and made nice with the doomed Yuri, treating him with goodhearted generosity, secure in our assumption that he probably wouldn’t last past Wednesday. It was, after all, Pride weekend—as Yuri continually reminded us. His enthusiasm was as refreshing as it was irritating. Charming in a goofy way, he wore a snug NYPD logo T-shirt, matching ball cap, black leather shorts, and boots.

“I have uniform fetish,” he explained. We smiled and nodded some more. “When do we leave?”

“In a few minutes,” Arthur replied, his hands on Yuri’s shoulders. “Don’t worry, we won’t miss anything. We just have to go two blocks.”

We downed our mimosas, made last minute bathroom trips, and moved in the general direction of the door. Yuri prodded and swept us along, his camera already out of the bag. He snapped pictures of Arthur locking the door behind us, and then he was gone, covering the two blocks by the time we had congregated on the sidewalk. We heard him calling Arthur’s name, and Arthur was soon running off, too. As we got closer, we saw Yuri, posing with his arms around a group of Denver cops, his grin as toothy as a sturgeon’s. Arthur manned the camera while Yuri shouted out the angles he wanted.

“From here! Now here! Try one from this side now.”

The shoot might have gone on forever if we hadn’t heard the motorcycles. The crowd buzzed and necks arched as parade watchers tried to see down the street. Yuri leapt away from the policemen with quick thanks, grabbed Arthur’s arm, and disappeared into the crowd. We followed more slowly, taking time to say hello to people we knew as we worked our way towards the Colfax Avenue parade route.

Motorcycles roared as we approached the curb, and there was Yuri, giving a “thumbs up” to the camera, posing on the knee of a butch leather dyke on a Harley. Then Arthur and Yuri scurried to the sidelines, where Arthur lit a cigarette. Yuri frowned at him when he wasn’t looking, pretending to check the camera.

A disco thump preceded the arrival of the twink bar float, but Yuri saw it coming first. “Look,” he shouted, “they are dancing.” And then he broke into the most arrhythmic cluster of moves a non-neuropath could possibly make, whipping his baseball cap in the air and grabbing Arthur from behind. Yuri ground his crotch deeper into Arthur’s ass with each block the float progressed, until it was finally within leaping distance. He then tossed Arthur aside like Godzilla discarding a busload of tourists and advanced on the dancing twinks with his finger on the camera’s shutter trigger.

They must have seen him coming. Just as he moved within focusing range, they began pelting him and the rest of the crowd with a mix of condoms and rainbow refrigerator magnets. Yuri seized upon the trinkets as if they were manna from Heaven, lowering his camera and stuffing the tiny pockets of his leather shorts. It didn’t take long until they were full.

Throughout the morning, Yuri collected kitschy favors and free passes from every float and car that passed, hauling Arthur around by the waistband of his cargo shorts. He crammed Arthur’s pockets so full of loot that his misshapen thighs bulged—picture Pan in flip-flops and a Cher T-shirt. And when Yuri wasn’t picking up treasure, he was taking pictures of banners and political candidates stumping for votes.

“Look, look,” he said excitedly, pointing at a tanned woman with graying brown hair, sixtyish but marching enthusiastically in a PFLAG T-shirt, her face polished with a thin sheen of sweat. The placard she carried read “I LOVE MY GAY SON!!!!” Yuri snapped a picture.

“I love my gay son!” he said. “Can you fucking believe it?”

 

I could believe it, but apparently he couldn’t. Ugly American that I am, it had taken me that long to understand that he was documenting a sentiment that he didn’t see expressed regularly at home, as if to prove to himself that a place existed where you could be proud of who you were.

Yuri’s enthusiasm took on a more poignant note for me after that. I saw him with admiration instead of annoyance, watching a man in the throes of becoming, of stepping out from behind whatever walls trapped him so that he could gaze at the vistas they had obstructed. I had scanned those same horizons long ago, but they were too familiar to move me anymore. Their magic had turned to monotony. Watching Yuri discover them gave them a vitality they hadn’t had in years for me.

For a moment, I was nineteen and going to my first Pride parade—innocent, vulnerable, and staggered by the complexity of my newfound community. My stomach became queasy with possibilities, the way it had then, and standing right there on the corner of Colfax and Emerson in Denver, on a bright, hot morning in late June, with thousands of my fellow queers surrounding me, a tear welled up in the corner of my eye—just the way it had that day, so many years ago.

 

Three hundred and seventy two pictures later, it was over. The last banner had flown and the last float had dropped its loot. Yuri stood holstering his camera amidst the parade detritus. Stray condoms dropped out of his overstuffed pockets every time he moved. Plastic bracelets were stacked like vertebrae up his arms. The Mardi Gras beads garnishing his head and shoulders clacked as he and Arthur jogged toward us.

“Did you see the parade?” he shouted. “It was so beautiful!”

“Of course they saw it,” Arthur said, beaming at Yuri.

“What now?” Yuri asked, shifting his weight from one foot to the other like a five-year-old who needs to pee.

“I thought we’d all go back to my place for another round of mimosas, then head down to the festival,” Arthur said. “Is that okay with everybody?”

We all nodded and murmured our agreement as Yuri’s brown eyes widened.

“More? You mean there is more?”

“Of course. There’s a whole festival with food and music and stuff.”

“Just for being gay?” Yuri asked.

Arthur grinned with smitten indulgence. “I guess you could say that.”

Back at Arthur’s place, Yuri downloaded photos onto his laptop. He shouted and pointed at the images, reliving the last forty-five minutes as heartily as he’d spent them. He catalogued and sorted the pictures, and when he was finished, he fidgeted in Arthur’s computer desk chair while we talked and drank.

Finally he sighed, went into the kitchen, and came back with a bottle of water. “When is festival?”

“Oh, it goes on all day,” Arthur said. “We don’t want to get there too early—it’ll be easier to move around once the parade crowd thins out.”

Yuri sipped and frowned as if he was swallowing more than water, a look Arthur must have noticed. “But we could start walking down there,” Arthur hedged, looking at everyone else for agreement. “C’mon, drink up and let’s hit the road. Anyone need the bathroom?” Even when he was in love, he was still in total control.

The reek of funnel cakes, deep-fryer grease, and warm beer hit us as we were crossing Broadway in front of a verdant drag queen—stick-thin and outfitted in green tights, green tutu avec spangles, bobbing antennae, magic wand, and green platform boots. Yuri grabbed her around the waist and posed with her in the middle of the intersection while Arthur snapped his brains out.

They hit the festival like a tornado gutting a trailer park, cutting a random swath of mirth and exhilaration. We were swept along breathlessly, lurching from one destination to the next until we couldn’t do it anymore. We wanted some time to talk with friends, have a quiet beer, or at least sit down. We made plans to meet them by the fountain in two hours to go to lunch.

They showed up two hours and forty-three minutes later, staggering under the weight of at least ten plastic sacks full of T-shirts, brochures, flyers, and handouts. Well, Arthur was staggering anyway. Yuri looked as if he were ready to run a marathon.

Three memory cards!” he shouted as he ran toward us. “Three memory cards full!” Clearly a personal best.

His energy was no longer infectious. We were all showing signs of Pride wear and tear—especially Arthur, who had a good ten years on Yuri.

“Are we ready for lunch?” Arthur asked wearily, dragging his bags on the ground.

Lunch threatened to be more of the same. Yuri snapped various views of us at the table, demanding smiles and poses until the waitress politely forced him to sit down and look at the menu. He wasn’t even going to drink the Jagermeister shot we ordered for him until we convinced him that it was a Pride ritual. The next three shots were his idea.

The alcohol kept him in his chair long enough to scroll through his pictures until the food came, passing the camera around to share a few choice shots. Once he had eaten, he sank fast—into drunken gratitude.

“I say thank you to all my new American friends,” he slurred as he put his arm around Arthur. “And I especially like to thank my daddy, Arthur.”

Arthur choked so hard, it appeared that the Heimlich might be in order. His face reddened and his eyes bulged until he finally swallowed the word daddy. And the sour look on his face said he didn’t much like the taste of it. Yuri was too busy hugging us to notice. A photo of them at that moment would have proven more prophetic than any taken that weekend. They broke up in less than a week.

 

Arthur soldiers on, in search of yet another keeper. Yuri moved to Canada and got married to a sugar beet farmer named Dale in Saskatchewan a month later, but that doesn’t matter. I only include it because the stories I like best have endings. That weekend is all that matters. Both Arthur and Yuri will have that to savor whenever their lives get too bland.

Because Yuri’s life will become bland. If he stays in the gay community, no matter where he is, leather dykes on motorcycles and green sequined drag queens will become as commonplace as putting on his shoes or brushing his teeth. And even though all the fanfare is not just for being gay—even though it’s about history and civil rights and struggle and oppression and celebrating the escape from our collective closet—he’ll find that freedom breeds complacency, even though it shouldn’t. And when that happens, I hope he finds a way to fill his eyes with wonder once again.

We should all be so lucky.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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I Stole You: Stories from the Fae – Kristen Ringman (Handtype Press)

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The mail brings me delightful surprises every so often. The burden of circulars and slick mailers gets to be too much for my  pith-helmeted letter carrier, and she leaves a gift among the bills–just to keep me coming back to the mailbox, you know? And that’s what Kristen Ringman’s book of fae short stories is. A gift from places unknown. Okay, it really comes from Handtype Press out of Minnesota but a book this otherworldly and shrouded in mist needs murkier, less prosaic origins.

The concept here is a series of stories from a variety of beings–a Thai ghost, a dream thief, a crow fae, and an Icelandic birch tree elf–about their obsessions with and acquisition of, for lack of a better term, victims. Each story begins with “I stole you…” but their similarity ends there, for these stories are as wide-ranging and diverse as anything I’ve read lately. Ringman, however, never loses the mystique. The atmosphere of twilight mystery does not dissipate until the last page. Granted, this fever dream of fourteen short stories lasts just over a hundred pages, but one can’t look into this world for too long before it vanishes. And that’s how it should be.

As to the stories themselves, several stand out. The opener, “The Meaning, Not the Words” introduces the concept with succinctness and, marvelously, sets the tone with a few, well-chosen broad strokes. Then, the wonder begins. For the canine lovers in the crowd, “A Real Dog,” featuring an Irish spirit trapped in the body of a dog, will have you rushing to hug your furry friends. Dogs are also a prominent part of “Shining Orange,” in which sees Uluka, the goddess Lakshmi’s mount, stealing the spirit of a person who saves dogs. Indeed, the reasons for stealing humans are incredibly varied but many border on obsession, as in “Love Within Tangled Branches,” about the aforementioned Icelandic birch tree elf taking a human for love despite the objections from the rest of his clan and even the birch trees in the forest itself. But some of these tales are dark, especially the spirit who steals suicides in the haunting “So Many of You Want to Die,” and the crow fae looking for victims to feed on in “A Murder of Two”:

Like I said, I first pecked out his eyes. Two jewel candies slid down my throat. Then the bullets. One by one, I gathered them up in my beak and spit them out into the dirt. I licked his skin. I licked all the blood mixed with rain until he stopped bleeding, until the rain stopped, too. I pecked one hole after another into his soft flesh. I gulped each piece of his skin down. With my beak, I absolved him of more judgments. No more struggles. That human was finally free when he was turned into bones scattered over moss.

None of the stories address gay or queer characters or issues per se, but the pansexuality of these spirits combined with Ringman’s intimations that no sexual, gender, or even species boundaries exist when dealing with fae, shifters, or other fairy folk certainly lands the book firmly in queer territory. I Stole You is a remarkable work that will open a few windows in your soul and let the wind of the fantastic blow through.

JW

© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler

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