Is romance over in this age of online cruising and anonymous hook-ups? For anyone who believes that love has left the building, here is an exhilarating collection of new gay fiction designed to reignite your belief in the power of romance. Follow the travails of a dog walker enchanted with his new client; check out the restaurant owner who catches the eye of his most loyal customer; don’t miss the blind date fix-up, as they stumble upon romance and a chance at real love. Featuring new work from well-known gay writers, these stories will make you remember what joy romance can bring to your life.
Every once in a while a book comes along that completely bowls me over. It shakes me out of any reading ennui I may be experiencing and reminds me once again of the reasons for my love of the written word. The anthology Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction falls into this category. Sit still long enough in my presence and you’ll hear about this book.
I usually have several books simultaneously on the go, but I took my time in my initial read of this anthology because I wanted to savor each and every story. Since then I’ve read it cover-to-cover several times. I’m on copy number two (copy number one fell apart from usage) and I have gifted it to dear friends who share a love of books and who I know will appreciate the quality writing and wonderful stories contained within. For many reasons, this anthology has become a very personal read.
Fool for Love is an outstanding collection of sixteen short stories that comes together at the hands of Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane. Both respected authors in their own right, they also collaborate in quartet with authors Jim Carter and Timothy Forry under the nom du plume Timothy James Beck. Their choices of stories for inclusion in this anthology are exquisite. And while the stories themselves offer up an eclectic mix, there is consonance in their coming together and in their sequencing.
If the esteemed Richard Labonté has taught this reader any one lesson it is to never skip the editor’s foreword or afterword and this applies to Fool for Love. Timothy J. Lambert opens the door to this anthology with honesty and thoughtfulness as he tells us of the reasons for his cynicism and derisiveness in regards to romance and shares with us the instances of romance he has experienced in his life. He is eloquent in his Introduction, setting a perfect mood, rhythm and tone for the stories to come. I consider the Introduction to this anthology its honorary (seventeenth) short story.
“Because of the writers in this collection I am less skeptical about fix ups. I’ll always look fondly at this anthology whenever my faith in romance gets shaky and see it as a reminder that love and romance continue to be shaped by our imaginations, our hearts, and our faith in each other. I want to be a fool for love.”
A perfect bookend to the Introduction, R.D. Cochrane writes the Afterword telling us of the anthology’s conception, its period of “languishing in limbo” and of the colleagues that stepped in to help. Her epilogue gives the impression of a sense of family in the publication of this anthology. Equally eloquent, Cochrane summarizes that when it comes to love, in the end, we all desire the same things.
“The answer, of course, is that we all hunger for the same things. Love. Kindness. Forgiveness. Passion. Validation. Companionship. Understanding. Trust. Romance. Connection.”
Sixteen authors, both highly respected veterans and promising new writers of gay fiction, contributed their stories to this anthology each providing his unique perspective, voice and words on gay romance, love and life. Whether in respect of prose, narration, characterization or dialogue each story is exceptionally well written and stands on its own – I cannot emphasize this enough. However, it is the housing of these stories under one roof that makes this anthology an outstanding work. It is uncommon that such a diversity of stories and writing styles can come together so harmoniously. I honestly cannot say that I loved one story more than another or one author’s writing most without detracting from the overall strength and quality of this collection as a whole.
Thematically, the stories cover a spectrum of issues relating to gay love and romance with some truly unforgettable characters. They touch upon such themes as: the quest for love; the fear of both finding and losing love; the lengths we go to keep love; the thrill of first love; the devastation caused when love leaves our lives; the different shapes and sizes of love; and when all is said and done, that love must first be found within before it can be nurtured and shared without.
Many of the stories find expression through whimsy and humor; some are delightfully off-the-wall; while others are more serious, poignant and sad in their essence. And even though the stories are written against the backdrop of a real world that, for the most part, is hostile to men loving men, they all in their own way celebrate gay love.
I realize that this is a relatively lengthy review but ask for indulgence all the same because each author and story deserve their due:
Thai Angel by David Puterbaugh:
In Thai Angel David Puterbaugh offers us a humorous account of Kama’s quest for love against the setting of a family-owned restaurant, cultures colliding and family members that are meddlesome, albeit well intentioned. When his sister’s plan of matchmaking with regular customer “Body Too Hottie” goes awry, Kama is pleasantly surprised to find that there’s another customer ready and willing to place his take-out order.
Love Taps by Mark G. Harris:
Sully and Chuck’s new work schedule of ships passing in the night hasn’t allowed much time for mutual “strumming” lately and it’s taking its toll. Sully, who works in a nursery, has resorted to conversing with the African violets and impatiens for company and Chuck has resorted to not so subtle middle-of-the-night reminders that he’s still around. Mark G. Harris’ Love Taps offers us an incredibly quirky and funny story with zany characters that are an absolute reading delight. The coat-hanger forget-me-nots are priceless!
Matchmaker by Shawn Anniston:
A high school experience of unrequited love has left a lasting effect on our protagonist in this story. He protests just a little too much against love and romance and laments his fate of guys who want to torment him with moonlight and roses. It takes a roommate in labor and an on-call Dr. Fannin to turn him into a man possessed. He’s met his match in the good doctor who is wise in giving him a dose of his own medicine. I thoroughly enjoyed the main character’s sardonic commentary on the pitfalls of love and romance and his verbal cat-and-mouse exchanges with the good doctor had me laughing out loud.
A View by Brandon M. Long:
Christian is a scientist for a cosmetics company that William’s firm is about to buy-out. William meets Christian on an office tour and asks him out. While there is mutual attraction Christian is hesitant. He second-guesses himself and William making excuses as to why they shouldn’t date. It is difficult to not have compassion for Christian as his fears of opening himself up make him quite an accessible character to the reader. What I enjoyed most was the quietness and honesty of this story. There’s no melodrama. Just two men admitting to themselves and to each other of their excitement and fear at the prospects of dating and a relationship.
Gratitude by Felice Picano:
Niels is a middle-aged author who may have finally written his breakthrough book. Danny is a twenty-nine year old construction worker who’s the embodiment of Adonis. When Niels and Danny literally collide, their lives become entwined and are irreversibly changed. Love has many faces, and even though it may not necessarily show up at our doorstep in the form that we had fantasized about or wished for, it nonetheless does surround us. “Gratitude” is a wonderful story that is both sad and life affirming and shows us that there are many forms in which love can enter our lives if we are willing to accept it.
Happy Hour at Café Jones by Rob Byrnes:
Happy Hour at Café Jones provides the setting for author Rob Byrnes to explore the realities of online dating. It’s happy hour at Café Jones and Brian is waiting for David, who he met online. He’s not even sure why he’s waiting for a man he’s never met in the flesh because he hates blind dates. Instead, his ex Stuart walks in. When David appears to be a no-show he and Stuart take a walk down memory lane and Brian finds himself enjoying their reminiscing about, among others, Pasta Night. This story got me thinking about our staying power in relationships and whether in this modern age of disposable everything, perhaps we tend to give up and let go of relationships a little too quickly. I didn’t come to any one conclusion per se, just some thoughts after having read this story.
Trunk by Trebor Healy:
Sex. Poppers. Empty beer cans. Bobby wakes up the proverbial morning after the night before and decides that he needs a change. He travels to New Orleans to help with the post-Katrina rebuilding but he’s really there to get himself cleaned-up. Hold on to your seats for the controlled mayhem in this frenetic story as we follow Bobby’s sometimes surreal experiences with tricksters posing as doomsday bible thumpers and creepy mojo medicine men that give chase and run Bobby headlong into the trunk of a car where he finds love and perhaps even himself. Trebor Healy’s Trunk is politically charged, brilliant and eloquence at its best. At its core this story is all about love, the first and most important one – love of self.
De Anima by Joel Derfner:
In his hysterically funny, laugh out loud short, Joel Derfner charms us with beyond clever and witty writing by asking the all important question: So what’s a man to do when his boyfriend informs him that he wants to seek “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ?” Well, at first Noah tells his boyfriend Bill exactly how he feels about the whole sordid mess and when that doesn’t work he decides to bide his time until his boyfriend comes to his senses by doing something constructive like knitting a brain.
Like No One’s Watching by Josh Helmin:
Mark is spending Saturday night the way he always does, in his room sketching. When his sister interrupts his usual Saturday night activity by dragging him to her high school musical production to help out, the last thing Mark expects is that he would enjoy the show let alone that Seth Stratton, the male lead, would cause him to hold his breath and his palms to sweat. This is a heart warming story of first crush and coming out. Mark and Seth are really sweet together and while Mr. Helmin well captures their teenage angst and insecurities, it was refreshing to read an alternate scenario whereby family is knowing and supportive and the experience of coming out in high school is not a nightmare.
At the End of The Leash by Jeffrey Ricker:
Brian walks dogs for a living. Although he once aspired to acting, he came to the conclusion that being a struggling actor wasn’t worth the struggle and now prefers walking dogs because “Dogs are the most real people there are.” An unfortunate sequence of events get Brian fired from one of his dog-walking jobs. On the bright side, Brian finds himself on a date with Carl, who is everything that Brian could ask for. But, there’s only one problem. Carl has no idea that Brian is the one he got fired. As a dog lover I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story and can think of no better way for two people to get together. Brian is truly a delightful character to read and although certainly not Pinocchio, his little white lie of omission just kept digging a deeper and deeper hole.
Two Tales by Paul Lisicky:
Ugly men taking liberties on park benches, buff men coming to the rescue, boyfriends on cell phones. Men with lopsided ears, plastic surgery and hermits in the woods. Two Tales is only five pages and the shortest story in the anthology and yet through his succinctness the author offers us two extremely well written and well-developed stories (“Bear Tales” and “Friend”) in one. Mr. Lisicky employs a stream of consciousness style in his writing of this story. What I loved most is that individual readers will take away different meanings and themes after having read Two Tales.
Heart by ‘Nathan Burgoine:
Heart is one of the more poignant stories in this anthology and captures the essence of what we wouldn’t do in our power to keep the one we love in our arms and by our side. This story is most beautiful in its sadness and I found its characters to be utterly sublime. There is an ethereal quality to this story as the author deftly captures the fragility of love and how easily it can slip through our hands in his writing of ‘Miah and Aiden’s tale. Heart is Mr. Burgoine’s first published work and after having read this story he is an author that I very much look forward to reading in the future.
Party Planning by Rob Williams:
Our protagonist in Rob Williams’ story has been his mother’s right-hand man in party planning since he was old enough to hold a glue gun or know the difference between sequins and spangles. But, now a sophomore in high school his constant creative collaborations are seriously hindering his social life. He wants to go to parties, not plan them. Cutting the apron strings and spreading your wings are the themes in this story. The mother-son bond is strong and his silent revelation is essentially a non-issue because mom knows her son and is supportive. I loved the final passage in this story which captures both the fear and thrill of taking those first steps into the unknown: “I wonder if Kurt would keep walking or would he wait for me at the end of the block. Or would there be someone, someone else. Soon. Waiting for me.”
Two Kinds of Rapture by Andrew Holleran:
Andrew Holleran’s Two Kinds of Rapture deals with the quest for love during the middle years of life. Four friends, all single and in their 50s, attend a dinner party hosted by their younger friends Paul and Tim who are a couple. Their dinner conversation is centered on, among others, the different types of rapture. The narrative voice of the main character in this story is quite powerful and his account left me with a perpetual lump in my throat throughout the story. His loneliness and longing for love are palpable. The last sentence in this story is heartrending.
Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time by Greg Herren:
It’s been more than two years since Terry’s lover and partner of fifteen years passed away. And even though he got through it all, he survived, the bed still seems empty, the house quieter, the world different – the sun is a little less bright, the sky less blue, the grass less green. But everyone says that he’ll forget in time. Author Greg Herren gifts us with an emotionally honest account of loss and grieving, so much so that you can actually feel Terry’s pain and emptiness. And then Mr. Herren offers up some hope in the form of caring friends and old acquaintances. Terry will likely never forget, but in time, I think he’s going to be all right.
Angels, What You Must Hear on High by John H. Roush:
Alex has died and gone to heaven. Well, at least he thinks it’s heaven. He was always told that he’d go to hell for being gay but this doesn’t appear to be the case because for starters, it doesn’t look anything like Ms. Murphy’s high school math class, and more important he’s talking to an angel. I loved the whole concept and premise of this refreshingly imaginative and well-written story that had me grinning ear-to-ear. Alex is quite a colorful character and he recounts what was a very rich and well-lived life to an attentive, albeit quiet angel. This is Mr. Roush’s first published story and he is definitely an author I will look for in the future.
I consider Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction one of two of my reading gems of 2009. Hands down the best anthology of 2009 and one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a very long while. Fool for Love both excited and inspired me. It made me laugh, cry, and feel a range of emotions in between. And even after several rereads it continues to touch my heart in all sorts of places and always, always leaves me with a smile. To say that I highly recommend this book would be a gross understatement. It is a 5 star to the exponent of book and one that I believe every lover of gay fiction, whether a romantic or not, should read.
I sincerely hope that Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane decide to do this again.
NOTE: This review was originally published at Three Dollar Bill Reviews.