Carroll, Michael. Little Reef and other stories. Terrace Books, a trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press. 2014. $26.95. 271p. HC. 978-0-299-29740-4.
This is a rich volume of short stories by a very talented debut writer. The volume is divided into two parts, “After Dallas” and “After Memphis.” Most of the main characters are not gay, but there are always gay characters on the sidelines or in the background.
The stories in the first part are quite varied. “From the desk of hunter b. gwathmey” introduces a high school boy who wins a short story contest. In “Referred pain,” the isolated wife of an ambitious writer and academic in North Carolina hangs out with one of his students. She kicks her out when she learns she’s leaving to marry a rich gay man. It is a story of unfulfillment. In “Barracuda,” a woman finally makes it in the rough world of New York City public relations and hangs out with gay friends. “Her biographers” refers to a young couple who come to Kay West to interview the widower of a famous writer about their relationship. His former wife left him just before cancer struck to be with a gay man. “Little reef,” the title story, takes place mostly in the lesbian bar, Little Reef, at a Jacksonville, Florida beach. Jeannette hangs out there with a soon to be female-to-male transsexual, waiting for her gay grandson, who is killed after having a sexual rendezvous. “Pascagoula” is the first story in the collection with a gay main character. A young gay man picks him up, they go home and have sex, then both move on. He moves to Pascagoula at the end of the story and sees his former trick again. The last story in part 1, “werewolf” is about a gay middle-aged would-be writer in New York City who never makes it. He returns to Jacksonville, Florida to be with his best friend from High School, who is straight but got involved in drugs and is now dying from complications with AIDS.
The second part of the novel is almost a novella about the lives of two lovers in New York City, Scott and Perry. Scott is a young gay aspiring writer. Perry, 30 years older and a successful writer, has had several strokes. Scott calls himself a “hausfrau” and takes care of him. They have an open relationship. The stories follow them through hospital visits, vacations, other lovers, and death. It is clear from these stories that Scott and Perry love each other deeply and have a good life together. Not everything in their lives together is sad; there is joy as well.
Michael Carroll is an accomplished young writer. All libraries that collect modern gay fiction will want this volume.
James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University