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Reviewed by Stefani Nellen
What can I say. I was preparing for a massive dose of pure, fluffy romance bliss, the literary analogy to steaming, cinnamon-drenched apple pie ŕ la mode with a dollop of cream on top. Then the waiter brought a plate of oddly shaped cookies. Some of them were heavy and hard to digest. Others turned out to be bland, bitter or inedible. Quite a lot of them turned out surprisingly rich and satisfying.
There's a lot of sickness in this book. Love is all about comfort, coping with loss, memories, going forward. In the very first story, One by T. Hitman, the gay main character convinces his straight buddy who is recovering from testicular cancer that it doesn’t take two balls to be a man. In What We Leave Behind by Shanna Germain, a dog with nasal cancer and a "Pawspice" volunteer help the hero to overcome his grief for his dead boyfriend. Two other stories evoke the loss and disorientation following the loss of a lifelong partner. One of these stories, Chiaroscuro by Jay Mandal, paints a beautiful and ultimately uplifting portrait of the lovers' life using the setting in an Italian village to great effect. Liebestod: Love/Death Final Aria with Imaginary Music by Robert M. Dewey, on the other hand, tries to convey the rising intensity of emotions and Wagnerian music by using CAPITAL LETTERS as in DAAAM DEEE DAAAH, an approach that reminded me of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Ford Prefect's attempt to coax compassion from the Vogon guard: "DA DA DA DUMM! Doesn't that stir anything in you?"
Overall, nine of the eighteen stories deal with sickness, loss, and mortality in one way or another. I was surprised there weren't more, since the somber atmosphere stayed with me after I finished reading, enveloping all other emotions. That said, there is certainly a lot of romance in this book (romance, after all, thrives with opposition, and what opponent could be more formidable than death?). Perhaps the quote preceding The Terror of Knowing What This World Is About, by Thomas Kearnes, could be the motto of this anthology as well: "There aren't enough words for all the kinds of wanting in the world." (Richard Lange)
As an antidote, the sweet stories do double duty depicting a world of everlasting bliss. Who could resist delicious Jean-Pierre, The Baker in Neil Plakcy's mouth-watering story? Finders Keepers by Rob Rosen opens with a problem much more manageable than the fact that we are all going to die and love can't save us: "Red-Eyes, the very bane of my existence." The Pools of Paradise by David Holly depicts a "gay heaven" of such utter perfection that I kept waiting for a nasty twist up until the very last line. There is none. Gay life after death is simply perfect. As to gay life before death - eh, who cares. This is possibly the most subversive story in this collection.
If I had to pick a favorite amongst the stories here, it would be a tie between Adult by Natty Soltesz, an hilarious and occasionally sexy excerpt of the life of a recent high school graduate working as a porno clerk in the town of Groom, Pennsylvania, and As Sweet by Any Other Name, by Mark G. Harris. That last story is about a delightfully bitter, love-stung guy called Ralph and his friend Yolanda, who tries to set him up with a blind date, to his dismay. It's a story about friendship as well as love; it's sweet and real, and it might me believe that yes, you can meet love like that. It happens every day. Even if you’re bitter and a bit slow.
The writing didn't blow me away overall. It was good in places, but if the best thing to be said about a guy's cock is its length (seven inches), I sense a severe drought of the imagination...
Publisher: Cleis Press
Publication Date: 2008
First anthology?: No
Editor bio: Richard Labonté helped found and then managed A Different Light Bookstores in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. He has edited the Best Gay Erotica series since 1996; reviews 100 books a year for Q Syndicate, which distributes his fortnightly column “Book Marks”; writes the newsletter Books to Watch Out For/Gay Men's Edition; and writes book reviews for Publishers Weekly. Husband Asa and canines Percy and Zak are his constant companions.
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