Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Pop lit


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Recent submissions to our daunting book review pile include three subcategories of gay fiction: the suburban farce, the historical romance, and the ubiquitous short story anthology.

Eric Arvin's Subsurdity: Vignettes from Jasper Lane and its sequel Suburbilicious (Dreamspinner Press, $14.99) offer lighthearted romps even after "beach reading" season is over. Taking equal parts Desperate Housewives and gay farce, Arvin's stories lack a full-tilt comic edge, even though the situations he sets up aim high. While the possibility of a hunky straight husband becoming a gay-for-pay porn star doesn't surprise, the inexplicable growth of a Gay Porn Wives Club among the neighborhood ladies defies, well, explication.

This fictional cul-de-sac is set in an imaginary gay, lesbian and fag hag-filled world where conflicts and controversies simply serve the amusingly fluffy plot intrigues involving the occasional buried corpse, which, like the stories, aren't buried too deep. There's plenty of gay fun, including an eye-patched muscle hunk whose affair with an Army vet hits some expected snags from lotharios horning in. But never fear. In this suburb, the grass is always greener on the gay side of the fence.

Homophilic love weaves its way through history in Running Press' new line of male-male historical romances, codpiece-rippers, you might call them. Erastes' Transgressions ($12.95) plants us down in 1600s England, where British teen Jonathan winds up working as a blacksmith on the plantation of a kindly owner and his handsome son David. It doesn't take long –well, actually, it does, after chapters of longing glances and pent-up frustration; this is the 1600s, after all– before the two end up sharing a bed, and the purple passion prose that describes their sex fits the overwrought style of such historical fiction.

Crises and separation lead to a strange turn for the worse when David gets caught up with a sadistic witch-hunter. The story spirals downward to anguish and guilt-ridden torment, nearly eradicating the potential for an enjoying read. [Note: corrections have been made when, after mere hours online, this review was noticed by the book's author. My apologies. I confused Transgressions with another all-too similar book in this genre. - J.P.]

Alex Beecroft's False Colors, also in Running Press' M/M romance line, is set mostly aboard a ship, where the stormy romance between a captain and his hot mate fulfills most of the dank, creaky, cloistered passion one would expect. But like Transgressions, Beecroft's tale gets bogged down in historical descriptions of England's war with the Ottoman Empire, leaving the romance predictably interrupted by mistaken betrayals, the cruelty of outsiders, and huge stretches of ocean. The potential accuracy of the historic descriptions in this subgenre is undermined by the authors' need to construct painful conflict between the lovers.

Washing up on shore, Surfer Boys, one of three new Cleis Press anthologies ($14.95), splashes back to the present with a smart variety of sexy romps of men getting off in and out of their wetsuits. Written by T. Hitman, Rob Rosen, Keith Peck, Aaron Michaels, and others, the stories range from intense one-offs to plot-thick intrigues. From California, Hawaii, Florida and Sydney, the average beach pick-up trick tale is given different board-grabbing twists and turns. If saltwater and board shorts are an aphrodisiac, this is a must-have.

Don't be fooled by the title. Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction (Cleis Press, $14.95) smartly blends a potpourri of some of the best gay male writers' short tales. Ranging from the surprising intrigue of a Manhattan dog-walker's secret obsession in Jeffrey Ricker's "At the End of the Leash," to Greg Herren's wistful "Everyone Says I'll Forget in Time," where a widower finally makes a move to meet someone new, editors Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane have assembled a diverse array of perspectives. Brandon M. Long's "A View" takes a blind date to multi-million-dollar proportions. Trebor Healey's "Trunk," set in post-Katrina New Orleans, is actually more of a novella in the midst of smaller, more innocuous works. While a few stories get sexual, this collection is more about how gay men fall in love, not what they do afterward.

Best Gay Romance 2009, also published by Cleis Press ($14.95), is just that, the best gay romance anthology of the year. Under Richard Labonté's veteran editorial duties, familiar writers share their fantasies of gay love. Jack Fritscher uses a historic letter to share the implied romance between two men separated by miles and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. T Hitman's "One" shows how to stalk and romance a hot fireman. Simon Sheppard's strangely tragic tale is handicap-inclusive, while Mark G. Harris' "As Sweet by Any Other Name" brings a few neighbors closer via a tree house. Other stories are as much about getting over past wounds as much as opening up to new love, making for a mature and diverse collection.

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