Category Archives: GLBT short stories

“Stella Maris: And Other Key West Stories” by Michael Carroll— In the Conch Republic

Carroll. Michael. “Stella Maris: And Other Key West Stories”, Turtle Point Press, 2019.

In the Conch Republic

Amos Lassen

I love Michael Carroll’s new story collection but I have been hesitant to post my review since it will be out until April. This means that it cannot be read and enjoyed just yet. Nonetheless,  something whispered in my ear today to go ahead and write the review and post it to perhaps build up some enthusiasm for the collection of stories. I have a tendency to gush over books that I really like but I am going to restrain myself this time and be a bit conservative even though I want to yell out that I LOVE THIS BOOK.

I also love Key West but it has been many many years since I have been there and I doubt I will get there again anytime soon. Carroll did make me want to reconsider that thought and who knows what may come my way. I would never have dreamt that I would leave the intoxication and magic of New Orleans to live in staid and intellectual Boston but here I am.

What surprised me the most about “Stella Maris” is that I traditionally do not read or like short stories; I just do not enjoy them and I found myself deeply involved in each of Carroll’s eight stories. We enter a different world in Key West and even today it reminds us of how it was when who-was-who mixed with who-was-there and social class and fame held no importance. Key West has always had that mysterious quality of drawing people to her and not letting them go even when they physically depart. And those who depart do so with some Key West within. It has become of “the” places to go to and has been a beacon that brings people in to its bohemian world that still manages to exist. It is a mecca for the LGBT community and it certainly provided Michael Carroll with a home from where to spin these stories. If you know Key West, you can place the stories in their venue without much thought and if you don’t know Key West you can make up venues—it really doesn’t matter. What you do need is grit to go along with the grittiness of what you read here. I had forgotten (just go along with this lousy sentence structure— I am very aware of it) just how important where you went to college was and what fraternity you were a member of in the lives of Southerners but Carroll quickly reminded me rekindling my memories about the genteelness and class consciousness of Southern queens— especially those from Charleston and Savannah. “My wife was a goddamn alligator. And the weather sucked. I like cute Southern boys, the ones that went to their moron dads’ frats. Kappa Sig and ATO. Hot sexy dopes”.

We have a story about a memorial for a drag queen, Harlan Douglas aka Cherry de Vine (I hadn’t heard the name Harlan since I left college but one of my best friends and fraternity brothers [not Kappa Sig or ATO] was named Harlan). “Key West Funeral” had me flipping pages very quickly. We have a story about two Southern sisters on a cruise ship holiday who have to deal with alcoholism, estrangement, and horrible weather. Then we have a look at two newly divorced gay men who pick themselves up and become part of the evenings at the end of the world. Another story is set at an all-male, clothing-optional resort where guys of all ages literally fall into one another’s paths, enjoy themselves as they please, and  also regale one another on their views and preconceptions. 

Michael Carroll also does not allow us to forget that there was a time that our lives revolved around illness and death. The past may leave us but its mark remains and that mark is often those graves that were left by those who died from AIDS. We became very aware of “our own mortality and the unpredictable nature of life and of survival. It’s about new beginnings and final recognitions.” As you can probably imagine, Carroll is outspoken yet tender, lustful and often enraged, sad and fun at the same time. His writing sparkles and shines as he embraces  the lives of his characters and I am quite sure that he based them on people he knows or had seen in Key West giving these stories a relevance since we all know people like the ones we read about here.

I was not expecting to be emotionally touched by these stories but I am glad I was because it gives me one more thing to give Carroll credit for. The stories are microcosms of our lives and who we are with comedy and tragedy combined. I only met Michael once and that was over a coffee a few years ago and I realized that whatever we talked about that day came back in these stories. They are about our lives and how we see them and it takes a certain kind of writer to be able to relate this—- Michael Carroll surpassed any expectations that I had. He is bold and original and he writes what he wants to write about. Using death as his unifier of his stories, it is our last party on the circuit. I daresay that the sadness we feel in reading some of these stories is replaced by a jubilance  of being alive.

“The Looking Glass: Tales of Light and Dark” by H. L. Sudler— Looking Within

Sudler, H.L. “The Looking Glass: Tales of Light and Dark”, Archer Publishing, 2018. Looking Within Amos Lassen I feel I must begin this review with an explanation. “The Looking Glass” is not a new book for me; I have had a copy for months now and I actually read it when I first received it. I sat down at least five times to write my review and nothing came out of me. Regarding this book, I had complete writer’s block and I could not understand why. I finally realized that this was because this book spoke to me on such a deep and personal level that I did not want to share my feelings but that was not fair to writer H.L. Sudler who was waiting to hear how I felt about his work.  Had reviewed him in the past several ties and my thoughts were always positive but I had reached a point where I had nothing to say and if any of you know me, you know that has to be a special time. To make thigs even more interesting is that I had just posted my “Best List” and this book was not on it. I thought to myself that if it had affected me so much why was I not  sharing that? I decided the time had come to make myself write this review so here goes….. something. One of the blurbs on the book reads, “Are you prepared to look in the mirror? Are you ready to look deep inside yourself”? We know the answer to that. Most of us who read do so for enjoyment and not for self-inspection, etc. We know ourselves, don’t we? I think we can all be surprised at how little we know about ourselves and here is where the personal aspect of Sudler’s book takes us. There are eleven diverse stories here and they take us on self-journeys without our realizing it. We go inside ourselves to places we do not usually go, if ever. Let me just quote Sudler’s thoughts about the stories:
“In GOODMAN, the Devil takes on an unexpected form to torture his prey…in SKEEVE!, a thousand inhuman heartbeats seize the night…in BLOOD MOON, a fraternity hazing takes a monstrous turn…in WRAITH, frightful apparitions deliver a ghastly truth…in NIGHT AS WE KNOW IT, lies and deception underscore a reunion between two old friends…in WAKE THE DEAD, grave robbers discover that evil never really dies…in MIDNIGHT, a handsome playboy has the worst birthday ever…in YOU WON’T FORGET ME, a serial killer plans an elaborate trap for his unsuspecting third victim, his wife…in DAYTRIPPERS, teens take a field trip they’ll never forget…in THE FURY, a devastating betrayal sends a marriage spinning irreversibly out of control, and in THE LOOKING GLASS, flirtation takes an unusual route to love.” While the themes may at first seem quite distanced from our daily lives, I have the feeling that once you read them, you will understand why I say this is such a personal read.  But wait a second— these thought provoking and disturbingstories deal with horror, something that we believe to be far away from us.What we might not realize that each of us has horror buried deep within himselfand like there is love and innocence that is part of our psyche other is alsohorror, fear and even bigotry. This is what I did not want to commit to paperbecause as long as it is in my thoughts no one has to now. The moment it iswritten, it is up for grabs and I do not like allowing myself to be so vulnerable.It usually takes being vulnerable to know who we really are. I did not thinkthat Sudler know me well enough to write about me but then we was not writing aboutme, he wrote about us. I am probably making very little sense but I am completelyin command when I tell you that you must read this book and for the very simplereason that the more we get to know ourselves, the better friends we can be.This review is disjointed and does not make much sense to me andprobably not to you. What I am trying to say is that this little book will helpyou know yourself and all you have to do is to allow yourself to be pulled in.


“Are you ready to gaze into The Looking Glass?”

“Trans Teen Survival Guide” by Fox Fisher and Owl Fence— All you Need to Know To Know

Fisher, Fox and Owl Fox. “Trans Teen Survival Guide”, Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2018.

All You Need to Know

Amos Lassen

Frank, friendly and funny, The “Trans Teen Survival Guide” is “frank, friendly and funny”. But more than that, it is filled with valuable information for transgender and non-binary teens. It is a book that keeps them informed, empowered and armed with all the hints and tips, confidence and practical advice that are needed to navigate life as a trans teen. Fox and Owl Fisher try to answer every question that has to do with trans life. There are chapters on coming out, on proper pronoun usage, how to put on a packer and how to get through cross-hormonal therapy to name just a few.

Fox and Owl are Trans youth activists Fox and Owl put the focus on self-care, expression and pride your unique identity. Because they themselves are trans Fox and Owl are able to tell what it is like to be trans teen and help save some with potentially life-saving advice on dealing with dysphoria or depression. Here is a look the major issue of gender identity and we see that gender is a complicated social construct and is a difficult concept to define.

Being trans means being different and I believe that no harder one tries, the definition becomes more and more difficult. Here is where this book really helps. It is such an important addition to our literature.

 

“Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock” by Eric Stanislaus Stenbock— A Decadent Writer

Stenbock, Eric Stanislaus. “Of Kings and Things: Strange Tales and Decadent Poems by Count Eric Stanislaus Stenbock”, MIT Press, 2018.

A Decadent Writer

Amos Lassen

“Of Kings and Things” is an introduction to the decadent writer Stanislaus Eric Stenbock for the general reader. It is made up of morbid stories, suicidal poems, and an autobiographical essay. W. B. Yeats, the poet, called Stencock a “scholar, connoisseur, drunkard, poet, pervert, most charming of men,” Count Stanislaus Eric Stenbock (1860–1895) is the greatest exemplar of the Decadent movement of the late nineteenth century.

He was a friend of Aubrey Beardsley, patron of the extraordinary pre-Raphaelite artist Simeon Solomon, and contemporary of Oscar Wilde. Stenbock died at the age of thirty-six as a result of his addiction to opium and his alcoholism, having only published three slim volumes of suicidal poetry and one collection of morbid short stories. He was a gay man and a convert to Roman Catholicism who owned a serpent, a toad, and a dachshund called Trixie. It was said that toward the end of his life he was accompanied everywhere by a life-size wooden doll that he believed to be his son. His poems and stories are filled with queer, supernatural, mystical, and Satanic themes and original editions of his books are highly sought by collectors.

“Of Kings and Things” is actually the first introduction to Stenbock’s writing for the general reader, offering fifteen stories, eight poems and one autobiographical essay.

Lilith’s Legacy: Prose Poems and Short Stories” by Renee Vivien— First English Translations

Vivien, Renee. “Lilith’s Legacy: Prose Poems and Short Stories”, Snuggly Books, 2018.

First English Translations

Amos Lassen

“Lilith’s Legacy” is made up of four entire collections of the prose poems and short stories of the lesbian Symbolist “Renée Vivien” that have never before appeared in English. These are “Fjord Mists”, “From Green to Violet”, “The She-Wolf Lady”, and “Christ, Aphrodite and Monsieur Pépin”.

This is the first of a projected three volumes of Vivien’s work in translation., collects all the short work published under that name. Vivien is the pen name of Pauline Mary Tarn (1877–1909), a London-born woman who settled in Paris in the late 1890s and became part of the famous lesbian literary and social circle surrounding Natalie Barney; all of her published work was written in French. Her poetry and prose unite symbolist and decadent language and influences with the realities of her life as a lesbian. Some of the work collected here is minor, such as the early snippets and prose poems that begin the book. Vivien’s reworkings of folk tales and Bible stories (such as “The Veil of Vashti,” in which Vashti refuses her husband’s summons to emulate Lilith are original and beautiful). Her series of horror stories in which male narrators fail to understand or work well with the competent and spectacular women around them reflect society of the time and are quite dark. Some of Vivien’s writing has been translated before, but these new translations are comprehensive and readable and give the English speaking world a chance to read her.

Embracing her sexuality as a lesbian in Paris in and her introduction to Natalie Clifford Barney, an American lesbian heiress in Paris greatly influence her work. Vivien’s poetry was influenced by Keats, Swinburne, Baudlaire and Hellenic culture. After bouts of sexual indulgence, drugs and anorexia, Renee died from pneumonia in 1909.

During her lifetime, she published fourteen books of poetry, two novels and three books of short stories. she is credited with bringing Sappho’s sexuality out of the shadows and spent time translating the known works of Sappho into French, illuminating the Greek poetess’ lesboerotic passions. It is through Renee’s works that Sappho has attained the level of muse, goddess of lesbian passion and love.

 Vivien was a woman ahead of her times. She wrote stories and poetry on strong-willed heroic women facing seemingly insurmountable problems in a time when women were encouraged to embrace the domesticity of a drab housewife. Although Renee was a very prolific writer, it is her relationship with Natalie Clifford Barney that interests readers the most.

“If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi: Stories” by Neel Patel— The Complexities of Modern Life

Patel, Neel. “If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi: Stories”, Flatiron Books, 2018.

The Complexities of Modern Life

Amos Lassen

We live in a world where stereotypes have taken on lives of their own or so it seems even though we know that stereotypes are commonly held lies. Neel Patel looks at stereotypes and undermines them in eleven very sharp stories. Almost all of his characters are first-generation Indian Americans that face the coming together of the old world and the new world, the differences of small town and big city, the collisions of traditional beliefs and modern rituals.

Patel looks at Indian-Americans and dares to write about subjects that are often overlooked or laughed at such as “helicopter parents, conflicts between spouses, sibling rivalry, racism, sexual orientation, and identity.”

We feel his deep empathy even when his characters infuriate us. He explores universal themes in unexpected ways and excels at portraying nuanced characters. We see the gap between how characters experience their lives and how they are expected to be seen—and how those gaps can become life-changing fissures.

Neel Patel writes with wisdom and compassion and is fun to read because his characters are human and their stories are simply told. Most important is that he writes about the freedom to be flawed.

We meet “terrible spouses, warring siblings, unapologetic liars, and naive kids, searching for happiness, love, or maybe just sex”? The stories are moving, thoughtful, entertaining, and discomfiting and we get a different look at Indians in America. The characters are both sympathetic and deeply flawed. We have two brothers mixed up in an elaborate web of envy and loathing; a young gay man who becomes involved with an older man whose secret he could never guess; three women who almost throw off what society asks of them and a young couple dealing with community gossip.

All of the characters have to deal with moments of truth and have to make a decision that will have serious ramifications.

It is important to state here that while a majority of the characters are of Indian descent, any reader of any background will be able to identify with these characters and their experiences. When reviewing a collection, I do not usually summarize each story but here I want mention a few of them.

“Just a Friend,” is about a young gay man wants to know the secrets his older, married boyfriend has been hiding—but doesn’t quite expect what he finds out;

“God of Destruction,” which tells of a woman enchanted by the wi-fi repairman.

“Hare Rama, Hare Krishna,” juxtaposes a teenager’s navigating his parents’ marital troubles with his acknowledgment of his own sexuality, and all of the good and bad that comes with that.

“If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi” is about the relationship of two brothers from the teenage years through adulthood.

“World Famous” and “Radha, Krishna,” are connected. They follow a young man and a young woman who were thrown together as children but went their separate ways, and then reconnected in adulthood, only to find that their lives had been deeply scarred.

The character development in all the stories is amazing and the stories were very so different than what I usually expect in short stories. Patel gives us humor, emotion, sexuality, empathy and even surprise at times. We care about and feel for, the characters even those we do not like or understand.

The stories reflect the complexities of modern life and Patel wonderfully captures everyday emotions and there is something to be taken from each of the stories.

“Sweet and Low: Stories” by Nick White— Maculinity, Identity and Place

White, Nick. “Sweet and Low: Stories”, Blue Rider, 2018

Masculinity, Identity, and Place

Amos Lassen

The characters in Nick White’s story collection “Sweet and Low” are trying to figure what is the next step in life and that makes them just like us and certainly identifiable. They are all trying to figure out their next steps. These are all different kinds of people—widows, ex-lovers, teenagers and disillusioned yet all struggle with questions and decisions that will ultimately impact their lives. I found it hard not to like a book in which you realize you are reading about yourself.

White’s stories are beautifully written and beautifully compelling. White is quite a storyteller. We have both random stories and those that are lined and follow Forney Culpepper from boyhood to adulthood. I am not going to summarize all of them but I will share with you about a few. “The Lovers” is about a widow who is dealing with life without her husband and his lover who wants something back that he gave his man before he died. In “The Exaggerations”, we read about a young guy who lives with his aunt and uncle and is just entering the world of what adults do. A high school senior has to deal with a scandal in the family while at the same time cannot stop thinking of his school’s coach. This is the story of “Lady Tigers”.

The Forney Culpepper stories are built around the character of Culpepper (duh) and I really enjoyed those and am ready for more. In fact I am ready for more Nick White. It is his prose style more than the stories that kept me reading. It might also be that since I am originally from the south and educated there that these stories pulled me in. There is a grand touch of the moonlight and magnolias that we find in Southern literature here. On the other hand, these stories are deconstructed versions of Southern literature as we see via the flaws of the characters. One cannot anticipate what will happen in the stories and that adds to the great fun of reading them. With characters that are searching for who they are, you cannot go wrong by reading this collection. In fact, it is more of an experience than a read.

“Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions” by Orlando Ortega-Medina— Thirteen Stories

Ortega-Medina, Orlando. “Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions”, Cloud Lodge, 2017.

Thirteen Stories

Amos Lassen

Orlando Ortega-Medina’s “Jerusalem Ablaze” is a collection of thirteen short stories are about sexuality, death, obsession, and religion. Each story contains characters who are flawed individuals trying their best to make sense of their lives. Ortega-Medina says that, “the stories in the book come from below my consciousness. They are to entertain and not leave any kind of message. I think the interesting thing is how people read the stories and what they take away tells a lot about the people reading them. I don’t mind what people come up with as long as they were moved by the story.”

The darkly humorous stories are occasionally violent, often uncomfortable, and always populated with characters on a quest to find their place in the world. They were inspired by four periods of travel in his life: California, Quebec, Israel and Japan. Ortega-Medina said the Israel stories are the most biographical of the whole collection and are firmly rooted in his experiences and the time he spent searching for himself there.

“An Israel State of Mind” is perhaps the most biographical story in the collection. A recent high school graduate from Southern California arrives in Israel to spend a year working on a kibbutz. He hopes to rid himself of his desires; instead he is reunited with the man he loves.

The stories are not for everyone but there is a quality of writing here that is enticing and darkness. For example, the first story “Torture of Roses” is about a reviled aesthete who enjoys skewering his skin. He feels it is time to choose a young man to be his heir and servant. The two have a convoluted relationship and when the man is dying, his heir, has little pity left.

The stories explore the deep corners of the mind and the soul and are filled with hidden feelings and desires. These are stories of people looking for themselves are of those who have found it yet re afraid to show it to the world. It is as if we are looking at ourselves as we read.

The stories in “Jerusalem Ablaze” explore life’s imperfections and the fragility of the world. Each story introduces us to ordinary human beings who deal with compulsions or external influences. Styles of writing shift from sadness to creepy to affection to the macabre.

Because these are stories, characters had to be developed quickly but that does not mean that thy re not fully developed. In fact, I found some of the characters addictive and this led me to read the book in one sitting. The themes of sexuality, death, religion are present in almost all of them, albeit in different forms and different settings and we read the characters’ inner thoughts and desires which are much more important than the plot. In other words, these are characters that we care about.

I debated with myself as to whether summarize each story or just look at the book as a whole. I realized that it would be difficult to do each story without a spoiler so I generalize here. This is a fascinating read written in gorgeous prose that has something for almost everyone who enjoys dark literature.

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

30th Annual Lambda Literary Award Winners (2018)

Lesbian Fiction

Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press

Gay Fiction

After the Blue Hour, John Rechy, Grove Press

Bisexual Fiction

The Gift, Barbara Browning, Coffee House Press

Bisexual Nonfiction

Hunger, Roxane Gay, HarperCollins

Transgender Fiction

Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, Bogi Takács (ed), Lethe Press

LGBTQ Nonfiction

How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Haymarket Books

Transgender Nonfiction

Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity, C. Riley Snorton, University of Minnesota Press

Lesbian Poetry

Rock | Salt | Stone, Rosamond S. King, Nightboat Books

Gay Poetry

While Standing in Line for Death, CA Conrad, Wave Books

Transgender Poetry

recombinant, Ching-In Chen, Kelsey Street Press

Lesbian Mystery

Huntress, A.E. Radley, Heartsome Publishing

Gay Mystery

Night Drop, Marshall Thornton, Kenmore Books

Lesbian Memoir/Biography

The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, Flatiron Books

Gay Memoir/Biography

Lives of Great Men: Living and Loving as an African Gay Man, Chike Frankie Edozien, Team Angelica Publishing

Lesbian Romance

Tailor-Made, Yolanda Wallace, Bold Strokes Books

Gay Romance

Love and Other Hot Beverages, Laurie Loft, Riptide Publishing

LGBTQ Erotica

His Seed, Steve Berman, Unzipped Books

LGBTQ Anthology

¡Cuéntamelo! Oral Histories by LGBT Latino Immigrants, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Aunt Lute Books

LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult

Like Water, Rebecca Podos, Balzer + Bray

LGBTQ Drama

The Gulf, Audrey Cefaly, Samuel French

LGBTQ Graphic Novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Emil Ferris, Fantagraphics Books

LGBTQ SF/F/Horror

Autonomous, Annalee Newitz, Tor Books

LGBTQ Studies

Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness, Trevor Hoppe, University of California Press

“The Affliction: A Novel” by C. Dale Young— Telling Stories

Young, C. Dale. “The Affliction: A Novel in Stories”, Four Way Books, 2018.

Telling Stories

Amos Lassen

Dale Young’s “The Affliction” is a novel that is told in short stories that bring together people who are not want they seem to be. We meet Javier Castillo who was born with the ability to disappear; Rosa Blanco who sits in her small kitchen musing over a moment from the past over and over again and Leenck who is aware of his impending death, but no one is aware of him. These and other characters are the people who live quiet lives, the kind of people that we never hear about and rarely, if ever see. They now move forward in lyrical prose. They hide and their lack of visibility affects those who love them and those who fear them. Most of us live in the present and have knowledge of the past and thoughts about the future. Some are obsessive bout the past and in fear of the future and some just are in the present.

Stories like people in that we can take each differently and in many cases we do so based upon our own life experiences. In communities of marginalized people, the ability to disappear comes with the marginalization. Like the stories in which these characters appear, they are unpredictable and varied. Then we realize that the way we know people, is often through the stories we hear about them but what about those that we do not hear about? These are the people that C. Dale Young introduces us too and as he does, we take them in. The stories are linked and we are taken to visit places where, like I said, we ordinarily would not go. What is so beautiful here is that in reading these stories, we actually experience them and they are transformative. I want you to see that I make this claim without telling a word about any of the stories because I do not think it is fair to do so. I want the stories to affect you the way they have affected me as personal thoughts. Every person will find something in these stories to identify with or to even call his/her/their own.

Our memories of the past differ as they should since we do not share a personal past. My past, for example, includes personal experiences that I prefer to keep personal and yet that past can be haunting and it can also be beautiful. Most of us are unable to tell as story the way Young does here. These stories share history and heart and while set in the Latino community, they could be set anywhere and at anytime. In rereading what I have said here, I realize that on one hand I have not said much and on the other, perhaps I have said too much but that is what we, philosophers, do. It is my goal to get you to take a look at “The Affliction: and taste its glorious prose. I think that once you do, like Javier Castillo, you will disappear for a while as you read what is here. Do not expect to close the covers and walk away from the book. It will stay with you and you will consider and reconsider what you have read.