When I began writing this post I had the intention of listing ten of my favourite books in gay fiction for 2010. But it quickly became apparent that it would be impossible to restrict the list to only ten. Despite the fact that my reading time was more limited over 2010 due to the demands of real life and work and I read much less than in previous years, there were too many reading gems that I did read and could not omit from the year’s best.
Over the course of the year I made several wonderful discoveries in new-to-me authors, finally got around to reading books that had been sitting on my shelves for years, I received some great recommendations from online friends, some of my favourite authors released incredible stories and I gave myself permission to re-read some past favourites without guilt.
In the end, twenty books (novels, novellas, anthologies and short stories) made the final cut of my best in gay fiction for 2010 across several genres – contemporary, erotica, horror, historical, mystery, romance and young adult. Some were weighty stories, others lighter fare with happy endings, and several had unforgettable characters that continued to haunt me long after I was done reading their stories. But all the books listed as my best of 2010 in their own way dealt with the stuff of life and fed my mind, heart and soul.
The Best in Gay Fiction for 2010
Ironically, I began 2010 by re-reading and finally reviewing one of my favourite books of 2009, Fool For Love: New Gay Fiction by editors Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane (Cleis Press). Fool For Love is an outstanding collection of sixteen short stories about gay romance, love and life by both veteran and relatively new authors of gay fiction. It remains one of my favourite compilations of short stories and each time I re-read this anthology is like the first time. I will more than likely be re-reading it in 2011 and would not be surprised in the least if it made my best books list for the third consecutive year. Review
The book that had the most profound impact on me in 2010 is Safe As Houses by Alex Jeffers (Lethe Press) the story of Allen Pasztory who is ill and likely dying and who sets out to write the stories of his family as a testament of love to his lover and partner Jeremy, their sons Toby and Kit and his parents. The sheer beauty of Mr. Jeffers’ writing and the emotional integrity with which the story is written made the reading of this novel an intimate and deeply moving experience for me so much so that I’ve had a difficult time in letting go of both the story and its characters. I have re-read this novel, in whole or in part, too many times to count over the course of 2010. Review
If I were to choose the most memorable reading moment of 2010 it would be the day I discovered the writing of George Seaton. Big Diehl: The Road Home (MLR Press) a story about a man’s unwavering quest for life’s possibilities was my introduction to this incredibly talented author and the book was an unforgettable reading experience for me as was his short story Continuum (Untreed Reeds). It isn’t often that as readers we discover one author whose writing intimately touches us. Mr. Seaton has become such an author for me. The beauty, fluidity and power of his writing simply amaze me and as cliché as it may sound (or be) his writing simply speaks to me on a very personal level. In an upcoming review of Mr. Seaton’s short story The Loss of Innocence Store found in Honorable Silence: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (MLR Press) I have referred to Mr. Seaton as a word alchemist because through his writing he weaves word magic. Reviews of Big Deihl: The Road Home and Continuum
For years I avoided reading Patricia Nell Warren’s trilogy The Front Runner, Harlan’s Race and Billy’s Boy (Wildcat Press) even though all three books had been sitting on my bookshelf for a number of years. On hindsight I believe my hesitation was based on fear of disappointment should I, for whatever reason, not have liked the books given the international acclaim they have received over several decades. I needn’t have worried. There is no other way to describe my feelings after finally having read this trilogy other than I was emotionally overwhelmed by all three novels and walked around in a complete fog for weeks afterward unable to stop thinking about the characters and their plight. Reading this trilogy was truly a humbling experience and had I been of age and able to read The Front Runner when it was originally published in 1974 it would have likely politicized me. As an adult having finally read all three books decades after their collective publication I fully understand the reverence with which readers speak of these novels and why they, in particular The Front Runner, literally changed the lives of probably thousands of LGBT people around the world and continue to do so with each successive generation of new readers. I have debated with myself as to whether I should, or even can, pen a review of these books, after all what could I possibly write in review that hasn’t already been written by countless others? Although I am still undecided, the need to write down my thoughts remains strong.
As a Canadian I often crave stories that are set in my own back yard and that capture the history, cultures and multitude of voices that make-up the Canadian mosaic and the sometimes more elusive Canadian experience. The Summer Between by Andrew Binks (Nightwood Editions/Harbour Publishing) is a beautifully written and introspective novel that is set in an eastern Ontario rural community on the shores of the Ottawa River during the late 1960s. It is the moving story of a twelve year old Dougaldo Montmigny who is of Anglo and French descent and lives with his family year-round in the cottage community of Baird’s Landing. Dougaldo inhabits a narrow world that is conservative and insular with a disdain of differences. He struggles with the realisation that he is in love with his friend Tomahawk, a Métis boy, a difficult family life and a community that is racist and homophobic. The story is told through the eyes of Dougaldo and his narrative voice is most precious as it is both innocent and untouched and hauntingly perceptive and wise in reaction to the world around him. In The Summer Between Mr. Binks offers the reader an incredibly thoughtful, thought-provoking and bittersweet story of a boy coming of age and at the same time a distinct slice of period Canadiana. The Summer Between is my sentimental favourite of 2010. Review
In March 2010 Rick R. Reed released Tales From The Sexual Underground: Fact, Fiction and Stranger Than Fiction (MLR Press) a daring and provocative collection of forty-three non-fiction essays and fictional short stories that explore the fringe of gay male sex and sexual culture. Although characterized by the publisher as erotica, the variety of stories contained in this anthology represent several genres, from erotica, to horror, to contemporary fiction and non-fiction. The collection as a whole truly showcases Mr. Reed’s talent in not only writing across genres but also in leaving his personal imprint within each genre. As a reader I tend to seek out authors who aren’t afraid to push boundaries and Mr. Reed is one such author. Many of the stories in this anthology took me out of my comfort zone, made me think and left me wide-eyed and breathless and I reveled in every minute of provocation. In my humble opinion, the stories contained in Tales From The Sexual Underground represent some of Mr. Reed’s best writing to date. Review
Continuing on the theme of anthologies, in 2010 Lethe Press published a compilation of Gavin Atlas’ erotic stories of bottoms and tops in The Boy Can’t Help It: Sensual Stories of Young Bottoms. As a fan of this author’s particular brand of erotica I devoured this anthology even though I had previously read several of the stories contained within. I have yet to read an author in the realm of gay erotica that has such an innate understanding of the dynamics between bottoms and tops as does Mr. Atlas. In addition to being scorching hot, many of the stories are also quite humourous owing to the authors intuitive comedic sense and timing. The Boy Can’t Help was my favourite compilation of gay erotica for 2010 and it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that it was a 2010 top seller for Lethe Press. Review
Normal Miguel by Erik Orrantia (Bristlecone Pine Press/Cheyenne Publishing) is a beautiful story of a young man’s journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. It is an extremely well written novel that transports the reader to the rural hills of Puebla and the impoverished rural Mexican village of Comaltican and into the lives of not only Miguel and his lover Ruben, but also the many colourful secondary characters that make up this community. Mr. Orrantia’s writing is simply gorgeous – I cannot stress this enough – and what I loved most about this story are the author’s rich descriptions that evoked a kaleidoscope of images of the people, community life, and the land. Review
The Decade of Blind Dates by Richard Alther (Lethe Press) is the story of Peter Bauman an artist and father who comes out in his 40s to live openly as a gay man for the first time in his life. While Peter’s coming out affords him a new found freedom to openly date other men and explore his sexuality he subscribes to a number of personal ads in the hopes of finding not only sexual fulfillment but also a partner and soul mate. The Decade of Blind Dates is not only a story of man in search of the perfect love, but also very much a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. What I most enjoyed about this novel is the refined elegance and sophistication with which this story is written. The richness of Peter’s narrative voice and the author’s textured descriptions of the people, places and feelings in this novel completely enveloped me into the varied layers of the story. Review
After reading the multitude of online posts praising the writing of Josh Lanyon and in particular the Adrien English Mysteries Series (Loose Id) my curiosity finally got the better of me and I took the plunge and read all five books in the series. I can proudly say that I have joined the throngs of readers that have fallen in love with the writing of Josh Lanyon, this series, but most of all with its two main characters – Adrien English the erudite and unconventional hero and Jake Riordin the enigmatic and complex anti-hero and the twists and turns of their relationship throughout the series. I now understand the discussion and debate these two characters have engendered among readers that came before me, and that, no doubt, will continue with readers to come. Although I loved the entire series as a whole, the two books that stood out most for me were The Hell You Say (Book 3) and The Dark Tide (Book 5). Review of The Hell You Say and The Dark Tide
All who are familiar with my reading tastes know that I am a big fan of the writing duo of Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine. Their short story Purple Hearts (M&V Tailz) is a thoughtful and moving contemporary gay romance that explores two very different men who are brought together by their grief over the death of the same man – Howard Chavel, Erik’s brother and Greg’s brother in arms. While Erik and Greg deal with their individual sorrow and struggle with their own personal demons, Howard is the common tie that binds. Their initial conversation about Howard brings them together and in each other they find not only succor but also hope and the possibilities of love. Purple Hearts is very much a conversation between two men. The story is quiet and elemental in its nature and stripped of any pretense making the characters and their respective situations quite real. It also showcases MacLeod and Valentine’s talent in writing compelling and well-nuanced two-character scenes. I loved this pearl of a short story, have read it several times and will likely re-read it again for the simple reason that it makes me feel good. Review
When I think of Aleksandr Voinov and Raev Gray’s Test of Faith (eXcessica Publishing) the only word that comes to mind is pathos. In this historical tale of Crusading Knight Thierry de la Tour Rouge and Saracen Abdul Basir, enemies who become brothers, the authors have written an historically accurate and emotionally intense story that brims with pathos and leaves the reader breathless. I am very much a character-driven reader and one of the reasons why I loved Test of Faith is that Voinov and Gray have crafted such multidimensional and sublime characters it is as if they have respectively crawled into practically every crevice of Thierry and Abdul’s being to write their story. Test of Faith is a powerful and passionate story with an exquisite ending, and Thierry and Abdul are at once both heroic and tragic characters that remained with me long after the story was finished. Review
Match Maker (Dreamspinner Press) is Alan Chin’s third novel and a beautifully written, poignant and uplifting multi-layered love story that is set in the world of professional tennis. It is the story of Daniel Bottega and his lover and partner Jared Stoderling who attempt a come back in professional tennis after having been forced to leave the sport four year prior because they are gay. There are two elements in this story that made it a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience for me. The first is the author’s rich descriptions of the sport itself that are woven into the fabric of the overall story and that convey such realism in respect of the sights and sounds of the actual playing of tennis that I was transported court side and found myself holding my breath much as I do when watching a tennis match live or on television. The second is Mr. Chin’s characterization and the depth of his development of both primary and secondary characters and the intricacies and nuances of their intersecting relationships. Review
Painting by Numbers by David Thyssen (Smashwords) is a visceral account of the journeyed descent into hell of Seth Mason an adolescent boy who has endured years of bullying and humiliation in school and coupled with his mental illness is pushed into the darkest of emotional places and as a result his life ends in a murder-suicide tragedy. Although a fictional account, the story is based on the author’s own experiences of being bullied and humiliated in school and as such the writing displays an acute understanding of the character’s mind, feelings and plight. I felt as if I had been sucker-punched after reading this story because it is written in such a starkly realistic manner that it is a case of fiction being truer than reality. While this type of story will likely not appeal to every reader because it is emotionally horrifying and draining, at least it was for me, I do commend the author for his courageous undertaking of this subject-matter and for the fragile balance he achieves in the writing of this character by ensuring that his portrayal of Seth is not gratuitous, sensational, nor is it romanticised. In the end, this story broke my heart and the character of Seth continues to haunt me. Review
In 2010, I took the opportunity to re-read two of my favourite books by Sean Michael The Center of Earth and Sky and its sequel Painting the Desert now available only in a compilation entitled, Center (Torquere). Center is the story of twins and lovers Grey and Raine Holstein and Bartholomew “Whit” Whittaker the man who enters their lives to become the center of their joined universe. In The Center of Earth and Sky (Part I), the author takes the reader on a journey into fantasy, the sensual and the erotic exploring a year in the life of Grey, Raine and Whit. The story is dream-like in its quality and written as a magical tale of love, passion and sex full of beautiful images that assault all of the senses. In Painting The Dessert (Part II) the charmed and magical life that Grey, Raine and Whit have been living is threatened when Grey is diagnosed with cancer and everything starts to fall apart. I consider The Center of Earth and Sky and Painting The Desert as representing some of Sean Michael’s best and most beautifully written stories with the erotic and sensual images and emotional intensity drawing the reader into the lives and experiences of these characters from the very beginning. Review of The Center of Earth and Sky and Painting The Desert