The title WITH highlights the book’s theme of stories that “portray relationships WITH men: gay men with our friends, lovers, partners, husbands, dates, tricks, boyfriends, hustlers, idols, teachers, mentors, fathers, brothers, family, teams, co-workers, relatives and strangers” (preface). Most, if not all, of these relationships are in these wonderful stories edited by the founder of Chelsea Station Editions.
Experts in the craft of writing, the 16 authors are all previously published, some relatively recently while others are long established. There is no indication when these stories were written/copyrighted or if they have been published previously.
A strength in the collection is its diversity. The two stories with black characters are Vincent Meis’ “We Are the Revolution” and Ronald M. Gauthier’s “Second Life.’ Meis’ story follows a black reporter in Cuba who falls in love with a white apolitical Cuban and accidentally meets Fidel. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina provides the backdrop for Gauthier’s story in which the protagonist falls in love and marries after having seen several friends drown in the rising water.
The sweetest story is Matthew A. Merendo’s “Sunflower,” about a timid gay boy forced to learn to swim. His handsome, but straight, swimming tutor finally teaches the boy how to be proud and gay; sunflower seeds, a symbol of standing tall and confident, are the tutor’s final gift to the boy. One of the longest stories, Joel A. Nichols’ “Angels on Water,” is about a German man who finally explores his nature after having been steered away from homosexuality by his family and church.
My favorite narrative is Jeff Mann’s “Eagle Rock,” a charming story of a Rebel soldier who falls in love with a Yankee prisoner of war. They desert to pursue their love and go through hard times, until rescued by an outcast woman in the small Virginia town of Eagle Rock. She puts them up against an evil conniving pastor and his massive deacon sidekick, who coerces the townspeople to hand over what little food and goods they have.
Tom Schabarum’s “Follow Me Through” may be the strangest story in the collection because of its lack of resolution. A man grieving the loss of his long-term lover to AIDS kidnaps a baby boy from a stroller in a mall department store. In Michael Carroll’s “Werewolf” Two ne’er-do-well men, friends from high school, survive a life-time friendship until one dies of AIDS. Early on they finally have sex with lots of hickies which may provide the title’s inspiration.
The collection ends with Jack Fritscher’s “Blown With the Wind,” a moving memoir about a gay Catholic boy from Chicago who falls in love with a Jewish refugee from World War II. Both born in 1939, they meet in New York’s Everhard Baths in 1966 and celebrate gay life into their 70s. I related to their experiences because I was born in 1940.
This a great collection of varied stories, complete with brief author bios, that is highly recommended for all libraries that collect gay short fiction and for individuals who enjoy it.
James Doig Anderson, Professor Emeritus
Library and Information Science, Rutgers University