Book review: Best gay stories 2016, edited by Steve Berman

Best gay stories 2016, edited by Steve Berman. Maple Shade, New Jersey: Lethe Press, c2016. ix, 209 p. Hardback. ISBN 978-1-59021-414-5

This venerable series has been going strong for many years.  Steve Berman of Lethe Press has edited most of them, although he brought in guest editors for a couple of previous years.  The stories are all written by experienced, talented writers.  All of them were previously published elsewhere, listed in an extended copyright page at the end of the volume.  Each author gets a short bio, also at the end of the volume.  All are by men except one by a woman.  About half are told in the 1st person, the others in the 3rd person.

I have reviewed several of these volumes.  I usually suggest that whether these are the best of 2016 (actual 2015 when they were first published) is a matter of taste.  This year, I think perhaps a better title would be the most unusual gay stories.  None of the usual themes of gay stories are here — no coming out, no setting out on a brand new relationship and ironing out the kinks, no strife with parent, etc.

The first story by a young gay man from India tells of his experience living with a flamboyant queen in San Francisco. Next a gay man who hasn’t made it yet is thrown out of his brother’s house by his brother’s new girlfriend and moves in with his co-worker, a driver on a tow truck repossessing cars.  A gay Israeli sits on an El-Al flight next to an older orthodox Jew who wraps himself in plastic. In the only transgender story, macho Billy goes camping with Evan; after avoiding Evan the first night they get together and enjoy each other.

A gay man remembers the apartment where he lived growing up; later he visits and has sex with the maintenance man who lives in his old apartment. An older gay couple visits a nude beach near Toronto and wonder if they should open up their relationship.  A sad story of a small town Kansas library clerk who falls into the clutches of a failed New York artist.  A nearly stream of consciousness story of two gay men who live together and try to create an internet project; it and their relationship fails. Two gay high school boys have a sleep-over with an unfortunate encounter with an estranged father.  A naive gay young man from New Hampshire tries a writing program at NYU, gives up and returns to New Hampshire.

A group of guys work on a TV show that airs in the middle of the night; one guy is crazy and his family comes to get him.  A young art school grad uses tarot cards, meets an interesting man, but nothing happens.  Two gay guys encounter the Queen on a walk in Scotland; they help her, but later get no response.  The last story, by a woman, is perhaps the best story, about two gay men expecting a child who arrives prematurely while they are at a distant wedding; the boy survives and all turns out well despite all their worrying.

These are serious stories.  Sex is rare, usually only hinted at.  If you are looking for gay fantasy stories, look elsewhere.  If you want to experience genuine but unusual gay life, this is the book for you.  Recommended for all libraries and individuals who collect serious gay fiction.

James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University

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