As a lover of short fiction, I’ve read my share of short story compilations over the years, some more memorable than others. But there is one anthology that always stands out and remains one of my favourites – Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction by editors Timothy J. Lambert and R.D. Cochrane, released by Cleis Press in 2009.
In January 2014, Lambert and Cochrane released their second anthology Foolish Hearts: New Gay Fiction, the follow-up to Fool for Love. Once again, they have brought together an exceptional collection of seventeen short stories featuring contributions from well-established authors and newer writers of gay fiction, including from several alumni of their first anthology.
Foolish Hearts offers a diverse mix of stories and themes, including: the thrill of young love; the bitter sweetness of unfulfilled love; second chances at love; and how through love we often find ourselves. Much has happened in the United States in the advance of LGBTQ rights over the last five years. And as art often reflects real life another prominent theme for a number of the stories is same-sex marriage. But, there is also a distinct international flavour to the anthology as the stories and their characters come from all parts of the globe in celebration of gay romance, love and life.
In his introduction, Mr. Lambert, eloquently captures the essence of what the anthology as a whole conveys, that when it comes to matters of the heart, folly is an essential ingredient of both love and life:
“There have been many wonderfully foolish moments in my life. Waltzing on rooftops, making out on beaches at midnight, sneaking into movie theaters, following scavenger-hunt maps to secret warehouse rave parties, one-night stands that lasted for three days and many more too personal to write about here. There are probably just as many unfortunately foolish moments. Good or bad, I wouldn’t want to miss out on any of the foolishness life has offered, and I certainly hope there will be more to come.
A foolish life is a life well lived, and a foolish heart is a heart well loved.”
The stories are all well written and offer slices of gay life when it comes to love and romance, evoking a range of emotions, from laughter to tears. Some stories are humorous and whimsical; some are more reflective in nature; and others more poignant and sad.
“Hello Aloha” by Tony Calvert is a light-hearted story and an excellent beginning to the anthology. Set against the backdrop of the Magic Kingdom and the Disney-themed wedding of his friends, our protagonist Jordan allows for some goofiness in his own love life. Borrowing from the adage “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” David Puterbaugh offers a poignant and thoughtful story of Peter, who longs for a love of his own and remains endlessly hopeful that he’ll find his own best man someday in “How To Be Single At A Wedding.” Continuing on the theme of marriage, in “Victoria,” Lambda award-winning author Erik Orrantia transports the reader to the eastern foothills of the Sierra Madre, Jalisco, Mexico. “Victoria” is a beautifully written tale of two rancheros, Daniel and Osvaldo, who have been together for twenty years and after some discussion and debate decide to take advantage of Mexico’s new marriage law.
Under the theme of second chances at love, “A Royal Mess” by Taylor McGrath offers a up a humorous and at the same time sweet account of the reunion of old lovers Graham and Farrin, the promise of their renewed love and some dancing birds. On the flip side of the same coin, Timothy Forry’s “Foundations” is an extremely powerful and moving account of a relationship in trouble. I love how the author uses the devastation wrought by a hurricane as an analogy for the near destruction of a relationship and the hope that comes with the opportunity for rebuilding after the storm.
Prepare for plenty of smiles and laughter while reading the stories devoted to young love, beginning with ‘Nathane Burgoine’s heart-warming and funny “Struck,” in which a lightning-struck would be crazed customer literally changes the fate of Chris, a book seller, and Liam, a mall security guard, for the better. If there’s one image that immediately comes to mind when I think of Fool for Love it is Mark G. Harris’ coat hanger forget-me-nots in “Love Taps,” and in Foolish Hearts Mr. Harris once again plants a mind worm in the form of a well-worn green sweater. In the appropriately titled “The Green Sweater,” Mr. Harris offers up a witty story as a case of mistaken sweater identity brings together Jay and Doug. “Bothered, Bewildered” by Rob Williams is down-right, laugh-out-loud hilarious as our mischievous and often clever eleven-year-old protagonist attempts to bedazzle his crush Jimmy with his warlock powers only to render poor Jimmy both bothered and bewildered.
It is difficult to hold back the tears while reading “Tea” by Jeffrey Ricker, a heart-rending story of promising but unfulfilled new love because of the randomness of life and a tragic turn of events. In “Rochester Summers” by Craig Cotter unfulfilled love is somewhat less incidental as our young protagonist makes the mistake of investing his heart in someone who is unable to accept himself.
Against all odds, the hope of love springs eternal in Greg Herren’s “Touch Me In The Morning,” a moving story in which roommates decide to admit their feelings for one another and take that frightening step to becoming lovers, and in Felice Picano’s “New Kid in Town: 1977,” a hopeless romantic finds love amid the temptations and excesses of Hollywood.
It is always a pleasure to read award-winning author Trebor Healey and in “Three Things I Pray” Mr. Healey offers a beautifully written and lyrical story of the fool we sometimes play for love. Set in Buenos Aires, there is an “other worldliness” to this story of archangels and Ganymede that inspire stunning imagery to depict the tale of a former circus clown who has fled his life in an attempt to overcome the pain of a cheating lover. In Paul Lisicky’s both humorous and moving “Nude Beach,” our main protagonist Mathias searches for new love in the wake of a break-up that left him a shell of a man, and is undeterred in his quest even with the misplacement of a love prospect’s phone number.
Although two very different stories, I found a level symmetry in Steven Reigns’ “On These Sheets” and in Timothy J. Lambert’s “Meditation.” Both stories are introspective and both ponder questions of what we seek from love. While “On These Sheets” is the shortest story in the anthology it is also one of the most reflective as the protagonist questions his current relationship admitting that the loves and lovers he’s experienced in his life have helped shape him and that the man lying next to him is the one. For anyone who has ever tried to meditate but can’t get “in the zone” Mr. Lambert’s “Meditation” will resonate. I love the premise of this witty story as the protagonist tries to meditate but finds only distraction, including an itchy nose, the attractive man meditating next to him and his own thoughts on what he is seeking from love and romance.
Andrew Holleran’s “Symposium” is well placed as the final story of the anthology. Mr. Holleran offers a thought-provoking tale in which love, youth and age bump up against each other as a group of men at a gay guesthouse discuss the state of gay fiction and gay love within the context of a shifting paradigm of a pre- and post-gay world.
Foolish Hearts ends on a perfect note with R.D. Cochrane’s thoughtful final words on the stories in this anthology:
“I’ve heard it always: Home is where the heart is. But sometimes I believe we have it backward. Heart is where the home is. I felt that each of these stories invited me into a heart. Sometimes what I found there made me laugh. Sometimes I cried. I continue to marvel that the heart is a place at once so strong and so fragile.
I hope you are as honored and moved as I have been to have seventeen voices say, ‘Welcome to my home’.”
I eagerly awaited the release of this anthology and can say that my reading expectations were met. As with Fool for Love, it is difficult for me to choose favourite stories in Foolish Hearts as I read each story on its own merit and as each of the stories evokes discrete feelings and thoughts. The reasons for this lie not only in the selection of seventeen beautifully written stories for inclusion in the anthology, but also in the inherent talent of the co-editors to sequence the stories in such a way that one gracefully flows into next, and they all come together perfectly to be read as a whole. I remain a big fan of the Lambert-Cochrane collaboration and highly recommend Foolish Hearts.
Music: My Foolish Heart – Carmen McRae (The Best of Carmen McRae: 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection, 2004).