Category Archives: GLBT short stories

“If We Were Electric” by Patrick Earl Ryan— Twelve Stories about New Orleans

Ryan, Patrick Earl. “If We Were Electric: Stories”, (Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction Series), University of Georgia Press, 2020.

Twelve Stories About New Orleans

Amos Lassen

Being a New Orleans native, I search out books about my hometown and that is how I came upon this exquisite collection of stories about the Crescent City. Patrick Earl Ryan celebrates New Orleans with all of her special qualities and the city becomes a character, sometimes hidden and sometimes overt throughout the collection. There were times that I was brought to tears while simultaneously grinning and there were stories that pulled me in with the first sentence. Here is a new voice that we must pay attention to and from whom I have great expectations of hearing much more.

I attended a zoom session at Octavia Books in New Orleans with the author recently and it confirmed the way I felt as I read his stories. Most of the characters are outsiders and on the fringe of society who deal with the despair of not fitting in yet holding the desire to do so. Each word seems perfectly chosen to depict the inner feelings of these characters and the world in which they live. It is impossible not to feel Ryan’s love for words and language as we read.

When I sit down to write a review of a collection, I usually find myself at odds as to whether to review the work as a whole or give synopses of each story and I find myself at the same crossroads here. I will try to do a bit of both. As a whole, what struck me most is the originality of the stories. We have had many books and stories about New Orleans in the past so to find something new is often difficult. However, here it is not difficult but a wonderful surprise.

All of us who have grown up gay have had that outsider feeling and find ourselves not knowing how to cope. Most of us eventually find our ways but when we are young, it is so very difficult to do so. We see in “Before Las Blancas”, the opening story, a youth is so much in love with who he is that he creates his own world in which to survive the outside world. In “Where It Takes Us”, we read of the coming together of two brothers, one gay and one straight with HIV who manage to find a way to continue together through life. In “Blackout”, a story of a guy in an abusive relationship finds a way to experience a bit of happiness with someone else. And there is so much more, all rendered in the voice of a new writer who knows how to write what he feels.

As I said before, New Orleans is always there as a kind of omniscient character who reminds us of where we are and guides us through stories that many of us have felt— stories of desire, of unfulfilled love, of relationships, of loneliness and of the world. When I closed the covers of “If We Were Electric”, I remained haunted not only by the stories but also by how they were told. Be prepared to clear your day when you sit down to read. I found it impossible to stop and continued on though the night, pausing to reflect on each story after I read it and now two days later, I am still reflecting and will certainly do so for a very long time.

“Foreign Affairs: Male Tales Of Lust & Love” by Daniel M. Jaffe— Fulfilling Desires

Jaffe, Daniel M. “Foreign Affairs: Male Tales Of Lust & Love”, Rattling Good Yarns, 2020.

Fulfilling Desires

Amos Lassen

I am a long-time fan of Daniel Jaffe and look forward to everything he writes so when I received his new book, “Foreign Affairs: Male Tales Of Lust & Love”, I immediately began to read it. Here are eleven stories about American restless  men who are vacationing out of the country and each story is special. They are sexy and yet they are touching looks at how we live.

Most of the men we meet here are gay, Jewish and go to unfamiliar places to that will satisfy them erotically and spiritually. carnally and spiritually. I always find it difficult when reviewing a collection to decide whether to write about the book as a whole or to summarize each story. Here I will do a bit of both.

Jaffe has created characters that are well drawn in his lovely prose that is at times humorous and filled with social observation. Strangers in strange lands experience strange adventures. This is not erotica but it is thought provoking. Now on to a few of the stories.

In “The Importance of Being Jurassic,” we read about an American reporter in Dublin who meets a closeted Catholic man who sees oral sex as a filthy sacrament. Ireland is going through its national referendum approving gay marriage. The reporter has sex with Declan, another mature man he picks up in a gay pub but this is not a story about sex but rather it is a discourse on a time and a place.

Sol, the narrator, in  “Cobblestone Elegy” has come to Prague to visit Holocaust sites in the place from which his Jewish family escaped.  He is in Prague to awaken his historical memory and his journey is emotional and shaking. Time has progressed but not without leaving behind pains of the past. it beautifully evokes the pains and gains of time of each.

Jaffe explores both his religion and his sexuality in “Gift Wrapped”. The narrator is on his way home to the States after been in Tel Aviv for the Gay Pride celebrations. He is dealing with how we, as gay men, should deal with other gay men who pretend to be straight so not as to bother those who do not agree with the lifestyle. We look at prejudice, both internal and external and see that who we are depends a great deal on where we are from, how we were raised and the influences on our lives. I found so much of myself in this story that I reread every line three times.

 Other stories  deal with pedophilia (“In the Colony”), aging (“The Trickster”), an orgy on the way to eternity (“Walpurgisnacht”), love with a sex worker (“El Bochorno”) and changing one’s ways (“The Return”). There is no way I could fairly cover all of the stories but I do want to mention one more story that really shows writer Jaffe’s skills.

“Innocence Abroad” has no gay sex and is not a gay themed story. Through a simple plot and well-drawn characters, we meeta middle-aged Soviet woman, trying to find a way to immigrate to the United States. She attempts to get a much younger American student to marry her.She is desperate to escape the economic, political, and spiritual repression of Russia and the story is a real heartbreaker. 

In each story, the main characters, regardless of their sexual orientation or ethnicity, are searching for something and in most cases it is the fulfillment of desire but there is also a search foe wisdom and knowledge, the past or some form of being redeemed.  Jaffe wonderfully gives us the places where the stories take place through fine descriptions and sensuosity.

Jaffe bings humor, suspense, and eroticism together to show that we still have a great deal to do in our lives. I realize that I did not say anything about “Tilting Ilana” and “Where the Old is New” so that there are two stories that those reading this will know nothing about. I can assure that after reading them and the other nine stories, you will feel like a better person. Location, history, personality and prose come together to give us a read that is also an experience.

 

“If I Had Two Wings: Stories” by Randall Kenan— Ten Stories

Kenan, Randall. “If I Had Two Wings: Stories”, W.W . Norton, 2020.

Ten Stories

Amos Lassen

The ten stories in Randall Kenan’s “If I Had Two Wings” are set in fictional territory of Tim’s Creek, North Carolina. We read about an old man raging in his nursing home, a parson who beats up an adulterer, a rich man who is haunted by a hog, and an elderly woman who becomes an unwitting miracle worker, a retired plumber  who travels to Manhattan where Billy Idol sweeps him into his entourage, an architect who lost his famous lover to AIDS reconnects with a high-school fling and Howard Hughes who seeks out the woman who once cooked him butter beans.

Filled with humor and sharp inventiveness and maturity, Kenan writes of the persistence of history and about “unstoppable lovers and unexpected salvations.” We meet quite a cast of characters, both corporeal and fantastical in stunning sense of place. Themes of faith, fury, chicanery, miracles, and weather in Down East North Carolina provide an unforgettable read. The prose is absolutely gorgeous in this social commentary.

It has been thirty years since Kenan’s last book but it has been worth the wait. Kenan chronicles ineffable events in ordinary lives as he writes about the human relationship with the transcendent. The stories are strange and somewhat surreal as they deal with race, sexuality, religion, and personal history. There were times that I stopped to wonder if I believe about what the narrator is sharing.

Kenan has a strong vision and there are many fascinating characters here. I am not much of a short story reader but I found myself pulled in with the first story.

 

“The Ministry Of Guidance and Other Stories” by Nour Gooinoosh— Sex, Longing and Desire

Nour, Goolnoosh. “The Ministry Of Guidance and Other Stories”, Muswell Press, 2020.

Sex, Longing and Desire

Amos Lassen

Set in Iran and Europe, the stories here are about the dilemmas of their characters and “argue for nuance in a world that wants to make things black and white.” We read ofsex, longing and desire in many of its forms with an emphasis on LGBTQI relationships.  The sexual encounters are explicit and stark yet relationships between characters are nuanced and change quickly. Some characters look for sex as a way of escape in which their painful memories are erased thus  and they gain a feeling of their own self-consciousness about being in the world. Other characters love their hedonism  and we gain a different look at those who we are not used to seeing express themselves sexually. We have a range of different points from young women who come to understand more of the world to unrequited love and the corruption of the publishing industry. 

We read about what it means to be a Muslim and in love and why there are so many rules and regulations around who a Muslim can love and how this is seen by the larger society. We are told in the dedication that these stories are “for all the queers”and the stories are profoundly queer and come together at the meeting pointof gender, ethnicity, class and sexuality.

“The Ministry of Guidance”, the first story (set in Iran), Sogol visits the ministry to see if her collection of poems is publishable. Sogol comes from a secular, intellectual family but in order to appear to be a good Muslim girl she wears the correct clothing and acts as chaste. The man she meets at the Ministry, Mr. Mohammidi, tells her her book won’t approved if she does not have sex with him. This sets the tone for all of the stories—the  hypocrisy of those in power and playing a role. 

Both Sogol and Mr. Mohammidi assume being something they’re not as we see this played out in the other stories.  In Tehran Yaoi, a young gay man pretends to like Lady Gaga in order to impress a boy he is interested in and in “God’s Mistake”, a young woman pretends her sex journal is a novel she’s writing when her mother discovers it. The truth makes one vulnerable to being hurt.

Most of the characters are young LGBTQ people who deal with finding a way to deal with desires that are forbidden and who search for some kind of guidance but find none.  The stories are filled with both life and fear and the characters lack direction and on the edges of society. I was reminded that there was a time in this country that we dealt with our sexuality in much the same way.

 

 

“Horrorsexual: The Queer Erotic Fright Fiction Of M. Christian” by M. Christian— Terror and Queer Erotica

Christian, M. “Horrorsexual: The Queer Erotic Fright Fiction Of M. Christian”, Amazon Services.com, 2020.

Terror and Queer Erotica

Amos Lassen

I want to give my friend, M. Christian, a shout out for his new collection of queer erotica. If you have ever read Christian, you know that he is great off-the-wall fun. If you have not read him, this is a good time to start. Christian is a genius for being able to mix the terrifying and queer erotica in “explicit tales of man-on-man passion mixed with the shivers and shakes of your most shocking nightmares?”

“Horrorsexual” gives you  “ stygian darkness where forbidden lusts dance hand-in-hand (and tentacle-in-tentacle) with paralyzing fear”. The stories are outrageous, sexy and  spine-tingling creepiness  and they are haunting and exhilarating. Ghosts and specters, cannibalism and dark revenge, serial killers and vampires bring us disturbing surprises throughout.

“Echoes” – What’s worse than being haunted by the vengeful spirit of an ex-lover? For Red, it’s when terror pushes him over the edge … and into even deeper darkness.

“Suddenly, Last Thursday” – Sebastian likes to play dangerous games with people, but when he takes things too far he bites far more than he could ever chew.

“Matches” – Dying was the best thing that’d ever happened to Mr. Skila. But, as with all good things in his sad ex-life, even being a ghost was too good to last…

“That Sweet Smell” – JJ could make or break an entertainer’s career on a whim. But when it came to Sidney, JJ had only one thing on his mind–something far worse than just crushing his dreams of success.

“Chickenhawk” – The bait was laid out, the trap was set, and the needle was in his hand. But who is the prey and who is the predator?

“Whatever Happened To…?” – Bouncin’ Betty used to be a star but now, broken and bitter, there was just one, very dark and disturbing thing that gave this old drag-celebrity any pleasure.  

“Friday Night At The Calvary Hotel” – Everyone has at least one of them: a dark and twisted fetish we’d love to enact but are just too frightened to make a reality. But one night, in a seedy hotel, someone will do just that…
“Bitch” – Quinn hated his neighbors. Their laughter was too loud, they flaunted their toned bodies, and, worse still, they were happy. He wished someone would do something about them. Then, to his terror, someone does.

“Counting” – In the near future, religious fanatics despotically rule over San Francisco. But the city has a hero, one on a mission to bring his own unique form of terror to the terrible. Or maybe he’s wants something else entirely…

“Wet” – You might call Doud a vampire but he’d disagree. One thing he most definitely is, however, is lonely.  

“Boy Oh Boy” by Zachary Doss— Love, Loneliness and Longing

Doss, Zachary. “Boy Oh Boy”, Red Hen Press, 2020.

Love, Loneliness and Longing

Amos Lassen

I have always believed that the purpose of literature is to teach us something. We grew up with Aesop’s fables and knew that each story had a strong moral lesson. Writer Zachary Doss who won the Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction brings us his fables in “Boy Oh Boy”, a collection of short stories (or fables) that exploreloneliness and longing and society’s expectations about love.

Told in the second person, we become part of those explorations of joy and longing. “Your boyfriend is many boyfriends, possibly all the boyfriends you’ve ever had or will have. But you must ask yourself whether you have them or they have you. Your boyfriend plays jokes on you—plays jokes on the world. He is forever unattainable, and still you love your boyfriend, even when it hurts you. Doss explores how relationships can be all-consuming, how we transform ourselves to fit within their contour. Eventually, you might change so much that you don’t even fit inside your own body. This book is so much about space—the physical, emotional, and mental spheres that everyone inhabits. Doss uses humor to deal with the isolation that each of us experiences—not because we’re alone, but because we’ve become detached from ourselves, our needs, and our desires. Boy Oh Boy is our chance to understand Zachary Doss, as well as our strangest selves.” This should sound very familiar to all of us.

As Doss explores love and queerness in our lives, we become part of what we read here. He raises our consciousness of who we are and how we live. While often humorous, the stories are also deeply serious and relatable. We cannot help feel vulnerable as we read and afterwards as well. As we live in the world and society, it becomes our duty to “make of it what we can.”

I am haunted by this book and will likely remain so for a long time. Using the character of “your boyfriend” in all of the stories, I felt slapped and made to realize what I never really wanted to think about before reading this. Unfortunately, we will not hear more from Zachary Doss. He left us in 2018 when he was only 34.

 

 

 

 

 

“Black Light: Stories” by Kimberly King Parsons— The Darkness of Desire

Parsons, Kimberly King. “Black Light: Stories”, Vintage, 2019.

The Darkness of Desire

Amos Lassen

In “Black Lights”, Kimberly King Parsons writes short stories about desire  and those hidden places where most of us are afraid to look. She shares thoughts about first love, self-loathing, addiction, marriage, and childhood. The settings range from Texas highways to family kitchens, pay-by-the-hour motels and private school dorms

We read of people who struggle with disappointment, both in themselves and others. Parsons is a prose poet with a unique sensibility. She is intimate, weird and enchanting.

The language is gorgeous and personal and very Texas. The characters deal with changes in the realities of their lives. The girls are bad-ass gals have attitude with imperfections and thwarted desires.  

Here is the messiness of being alive;  mess of words and ideas. There is nothing cute or heartwarming, the focuson the seamier side of life, the things that happen, that nobody speaks or writes about— our fears and disappointments instead of aspirations and achievements. 

“Lord of the Senses” by Vikram Kolmannskog— Short Stories

Kolmannskog, Vikram. “Lord of the Senses”,  Team Angelica Publishing , 2019.

Short Stories

Amos Lassen

Vikram Kolmannskog’s “Lord of the Senses” is a collection of short stories that universally set from the suburbs of Oslo to the bustling heart of Bombay; from the  banks of the Ganges to the nightclubs of Berlin. Kolmannskog is of Berlin, this collection of short stories by gay Indian-Norwegian writer who captures contemporary sense of what it is to be queer, cosmopolitan, spiritual and sexual. Here is the essence of the gay Indian experience  and the stories are funny, sensual, heartbreaking, and exhilarating, at the same time. 

We explore what it means to be a young, gay, defiantly sexual and spiritual man navigating complex identities with a sense of fluidity. The stories are relevant and relevant. The characters deal with prejudices, disappointments, and multiple identities of nationality, religion, caste, and sexual orientation. The stories embrace  the Indian contemporary issues and nuances of casteism, politics, sexuality, poverty, devotion and renunciation.

The author’s voice is original and distinctive and we sense his honesty in the stories that are written from the heart. There is sincerity and sensitivity in the stories of the heart and written with love. And there is intimacy allowing us to really connect with what we have here.

“I Know You Know Who I Am: Stories” by Peter Kispert— Using Lies to Get to the Truth

Kispert, Peter. “I Know You Know Who I Am: Stories”, Penguin, 2020.

Using Lies to Get to the Truth

Amos Lassen

Peter Kispert’s collection of short stories reminds us “that fiction tells lies in order to discover truth.” We have stories about characters who have lied, who have sometimes made up elaborate falsehoods, and who now must deal with how those deceptions influence the fabric of life. Kispert examine ideas of personal truth, deception (self and other), and lies with insight. The stories are about relationships, particularly queer interpersonal relationships, the sense of self, loyalty attraction, and identity. 

All of the stories reflect on an aspect of the LGBTQ community and use themes about lies that often affect the leave characters and cause them to be depressed,  lonely, and, in at least one of the stories, suicidal.

The concept of lying is a key component of many of the characters’ relationships as well as the ideas about our wish and fear of being seen and the vulnerability of intimacy. They are tender with characters longing for connection.  

What happens to us when we lie in relationship? Kispert explores deceit in excellent and smart prose. While the protagonists are gay, the truths they share are for  everyone without regard to gender and/or sexual orientation.

Kispert looks at “deception and performance, the uneasiness of reconciling a queer identity with the wider world, and creates a sympathetic, often darkly humorous, portrait of characters searching for paths to intimacy.” He shows that we hide the truth because being seen means to risk everything. The liars here punish themselves and their lives show lies at work.

“A Little Chatter” by Terry Connell— Twelve Stories

Connell, Terry. “A Little Chatter”, Terry Connell, 2019.

Twelve Stories

Amos Lassen

I must admit that I am not much of a short story reader and I have never understood why. I suppose that I prefer to be engaged with plot and characters for longer periods of time. Yet, every once in a while, I come across a collection of stories in which each one pulls me in and doesn’t let me know and this was the case with Terry Connell’s “A Little Chatter”. Each story totally stands alone with unique characters and plot yet they are all tied together by the familiarity we find in them. After all, do we not all challenge the way things are.

Rather than go story by story, I prefer here to take the collection as whole and reflect on it. We live in an age where everyone wants to write a book and so we are often bombarded with mediocre literature that really does not speak to us. From the moment I read the first story, “Good-Bye Willow Grove” and on through the last story. “Silver Lake”, I identified with what I read. We look to our pasts and reflect on the errors we have made and we form judgements. I find here that it is much easier and certainty more circumspect to read what others have done and measure the way I am affected. Terry Connell grabs us early and does something really unique— each of the twelve stories has something personal to say. This is really special since each story is so different.

“Each story had a unique voice and took me someplace different and interesting.” I laughed and I wept, I smiled and I grimaced. More than that, I realized how affected we are by the little chatter that everyone seems to engage in when thinking about others. Rereading this I see that I have really not said anything about the contents of the collection and that is deliberate. Too often reviews give away too much and thereby spoil the surprises that await the reader. I do not want that to happen here and have therefore remained generic. Instead, I am looking at the way Connell sets up his plots and introduces his characters. “A Little Chatter” is something of a master class in how to construct stories that are meant to be shared.