Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Review: Best Gay Romances 2009 edited by Richard Lebonte

Reviewed by Alan Chin
Published by Cleis Press Inc.

Although I love short fiction, I’m not a huge fan of anthologies. I always seem to read several nothing-special stories before stumbling on something unique and gripping. I found this to be the case with Best Gay Romances, 2009. Of the eighteen stories by some notable writers, there were only two I considered poorly written. A few others I classified as erotic rather than romance, but only two, Pools of Paradise by David Holly and Finders Keepers by Rob Rosen, that I’d labeled bad porn. The majority of these short stories were cute and romantic and well written, yet not the kind of stories that blew my socks off. Of course, there were a half-dozen fresh, sensitive stories that made the read worthwhile, I for the rest of this review I’ll focus on them.

One by T. Hitman, is a cute tale about Lyle, who works on a loading dock and has the hots for Mike, his straight co-worker. Word gets around the job site that Lyle is gay and be begins to take a lot of heat from the red-necks, but then an encounter with Mike changes everything. The fact that this story is predictable and a cliché did not keep me from enjoying it. Both the characters and their situations seemed real and kept me turning the pages.

What We Leave Behind by Shanna Germain deals with the loss of a loved one, and finding someone new. After losing his lover, the narrator takes in a dog, Annie, who is dying of cancer and only has months to live. The care-person who delivers Annie is just the kind of man the narrator craves. Caring for the dog makes the narrator relive portions of losing his lover, while at the same time, regular visits from the care-person seems to heal the pain. A touching story about loss, with a positively sexy ending.

Briefly Forever by Lee Houck isn’t kidding when it says briefly. It is only two and a half pages long, yet describes a love that lasts a lifetime. It’s about the kind of choices one makes early in life, and what can happen when you let go of those ideals and let life play you. Life brings something totally fantastic into your experience, then eventually takes it away, leaving an impression so deep that nothing else can ever fill it. These are powerful images painted with very few words.

Liebestod: Love/Death final Aria with Imaginary Music by Robert M. Dewey is perhaps my favorite of the lot. It’s a brilliantly told story of an old man trying to kill himself while remembering his dead lover. It kept me on the edge of my seat. It has beauty, originality, and was extremely well written. I could feel this person’s pain and past joy. A delight.

Afflicted by J.M. Synder was my other favorite. It is the enthralling story of falling in love with someone who holds so much pain in his heart that he must mutilate himself with razors in order to focus on the pain outside, to ease the hurt inside. It’s about being powerless to help the one you adore. It’s a sensitive, convincing drama told with grace and deep insight into the human heart. J.M. Synder has become a master of short fiction.

Sail Away by Tom Cardamone is a bit of a strange tale that spans a man’s entire life. It begins with his first sexual experience as a boy, and follows his free-as-a-bird life style as he cruses the beaches and back roads of Florida, hooking up with sailors and men on the fringe. He takes comfort wherever it is offered, until he meets Dag on Lido Key. A bit older but just as free-spirited, Dag and the narrator spend a life together until Dag passes on. After Dag, the narrator wanders the world, from Baja to Bangkok, until he finally finds peace in the place he first met Dag. Well told, absorbing. My heart went out this man of whom I never leaned his name.

Although most of the stories in this collection are enjoyable, these six make Best Gay Romances, 2009 a very worthwhile read. If you’re a fan of short fiction, I highly recommend putting this book on your must read list.

For more info about his book, press here.


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