In Animal Attraction, editor Vincent Diamond offers stories about men brought together by animals. This is a great theme that the writers freely interpreted as best fit their talents. House pets aren’t the only animals to be found on those pages. From an elephant refuge in Thailand to a jaguar who might be a goddess to raptors, livestock, bears, and elk, there’s plenty of wildlife too.
Torquere is known for its authentic southwestern roots, and these show in many of the stories. The cowboys of BA Tortuga’s "Brahamas and Pitbulls," the Thoreau Scholor and Game and Fish warden in Elazarus Wills’ "A Hound, a Bay Horse, and a Turtledove," and the photographer and ecologist in Sarah Black’s very good "White Mountain" are all part of the modern world while still holding on to the admirable code of the historic West.
Kiernan Kelly’s "Chasing Sampson" uses the mercurial nature of house cats to great effect. Anyone who has ever had a cat knows the frustration of searching the neighborhood for a wayward cat who would never deign to come to the call of, “Here, kitty, kitty.” Luckily for Keene Gray, someone else answers the summons, and he looks so damn good in that uniform.
"Horseplay," by Sean Micheal isn’t exactly what you’d think. This isn’t randy college boys playing around. Micah owns a riding stable and Byron brings patients there for therapy. They’ve been eyeing each other for a year, neither making a move. Once they make the move though, things get hot and serious fast.
In several of these stories, dogs help owners connect. A therapy dog in J. Rocci’s "Puppy Tax" attracts a cute doctor to the owner of a doggy day care center. In Neil Plakcy’s "Canine Connection," the dogs mirror their owner’s personalities. A rather uptight Yorkie takes a while to warm up to a fun loving Golden Retriever. The dog’s pet parents get along a lot better until the dogs, and their differing styles, almost tear them apart. After a little break, they all decide that a little give and take is worth it.
I’ll admit that part of my bias for "Gerbil Falls in Love" by Dianne Fox is the title, but I also loved that the hamster’s life and the narrator’s mirrored each others. Both had been solitary for too long; both took some time to adjust to a new companion. While I’m all for a rush of passion, it was a nice change of pace to read about guys who dated a bit before getting into bed. Once they did though, things heated right up.
While several stories in this anthology touch on the emotional healing pets can bring, "What We Leave Behind" by Shanna Germain is absolutely stunning. Not only does she show the healing power of pets, but also sex. It is beautiful and sad and hopeful – a difficult combination to deliver, but Ms. Germain deftly crafted a winner.
This anthology was a pleasure to read. Vincent Diamond did a great job picking stories with a range of styles and emotions that will appeal to many readers, and overall the stories are well written. Recommended read.
The central characters in Vincent Diamond’s stories are all men who are often attracted to each other despite cultural differences and emotional baggage. These are men with intense jobs as undercover cops, animal handlers, jockeys or firefighters. Some are honest employees of unethical bosses. Sexual attraction is an unexpected spark that complicates their lives, but it also gives them joy and hope.
In a clear, unadorned style, Diamond describes a world in which men are often pitted against other men, but the desire that can lead to understanding and even love is a saving grace. Several of these stories show lonely, wounded men responding almost against their wills to other men who are equally complicated.
In “A Cold Night’s Sleep,” Sandy is an ex-cop who lives alone as a Florida park ranger and draws pictures of wild birds. A stranger arrives at his door during a storm that has knocked out the electricity. Sandy offers him shelter for the night and a hot shower. The stranger accepts:
“Thanks, man, I am fuckin’ freezing.” Tanner tugged off his wet clothing with the casual aplomb of a man used to locker rooms and barracks.
The sight of Tanner grasped Sandy by the throat, as if it were a beast. He stepped back into the shadows for a moment, his gaze moving over Tanner’s body, fine as a sculpture in a museum.
The two men have every reason to distrust each other, but they both need sexual relief and they are both attracted to each other. They enjoy what they each believe to be a one-night stand, but in the morning, they find that they can’t go their separate ways and simply forget each other.
The author, like the characters themselves, seems reluctant to walk away after one hot scene. Several of these stories are in groups that follow the same characters through several phases of their relationships, creating the effect of novellas. “A Cold Night’s Sleep” is followed by “Fire,” in which Sandy and Tanner join a group of Fire Academy trainees to cope with a practice fire which gets out of control in the wilderness park where Sandy lives. The fire is a clear metaphor for the excitement of a new relationship.
In an even more dramatic set of stories, police officer Steven goes undercover to investigate a man who organizes legal raves. This Canadian reviewer didn’t understand the scale or the intensity of the fictional investigation until I learned that the U.S. government “war on drugs” allows for everyone connected with the sale of illegal dope to be prosecuted—not only the dealer and the customers.
Steven knows before entering the rave scene that his sexual or emotional involvement with anyone there could become messy if he discovers dope, which seems likely. Without criticizing the law, the author shows Steven’s dilemma when he indulges in sex with a man who disapproves of illegal drug use but who could be arrested with guiltier parties as part of a sting.
These stories include most of the conventions of the romance genre: the occasional presence of rivals and other saboteurs, injury and illness as catalysts that draw lovers together as one nurtures the other back to health, Romeo-and-Juliet lovers from different sides of the tracks or the law who are both in danger, attraction between innocent newbies and older men with secret sorrows. The conventions are handled so smoothly that they don’t conflict with the apparent realism of the plots.
The dialogue in these stories seems just right. It comes from men of action whose expressions of desire usually make up in sincerity what they lack in poetry. Here Steven the undercover cop must tell Conrad the raver what he wants in order to get it:
Conrad turned me in the chair so he could straddle my legs. He kissed my forehead, my cheeks, my nose.”Say it.”
“Your mouth on me. On my cock.”
“Mmm,” the moan eased into a throaty growl from him. He held my face with both hands, the way he’d just held Jason. His eyes were dark, his pupils huge. He thumbed my eyebrows and nose, gentle. “What else?”
My cock burned, ached. A wet splotch of my pre-seed oozed out of me. I grabbed him hard, my fingers digging into his ribs, pulling him down onto my lap, grinding against him. He was heavy—over two hundred pounds. There was something unsettling about the size of him, how he could hold me down, how he could control me through sheer weight and force.
Unsettling and arousing.
“What else?” he repeated.
“I want you to fuck me.” I said it too fast, afraid that I’d swallow the words if I didn’t ratchet them out before my brain reeled them back in.
The stories about cops, criminals, bystanders in the middle, and convicted prisoners show a side of life that is rarely covered this well outside of crime and mystery writing. One of the most moving stories in this collection is named “Shepherd” for the central character, a man who was convicted of killing the gang member who murdered his father and who is confronted in the joint with the question: “Wolf or sheep?” He decides that becoming a sexual predator is as unacceptable as becoming a victim, so he decides to be a “shepherd,” a protector of the “sheep.” This story originally appeared in a prison anthology, Love in a Lock-Up (Starbooks 2007).
Another set of stories in this book deals with racehorses, the farm where they are bred and trained, and the men who train, ride and tend them as veterinary students. Here the author is still on firm footing, so to speak, in creating a particular atmosphere. An actual mating scene between a stallion and a mare reminds the human handlers (as well as the reader) of the sexual potential in every encounter between humans, as well as other members of the same species.
The last story in the book, “Irish Cream,” is a poignant tribute to a time before the Stonewall Riots, when sex between men had to be as furtive as other illegal activities. The narrator introduces himself: “I’m an old man now, one of the hard-core race crowd that hangs around at Tampa Bay Downs most mornings.” The narrator, whose surviving cronies all seem to be small-time crooks and ex-convicts, remembers meeting a handsome jockey named Liam, whose “voice was warm, with a lilt of Irish brogue in it.”
The chemistry between Liam and the narrator as a young man in the 1950s is so strong that a knowing look between them speaks louder than words. They check into a motel room under false names where they “did things that night I’d only seen on the pages of smut books.” They repeat the fun as often as they can, but make no promises.
The narrator has never forgotten Liam, although he has not seen him in years. The strength of his feelings after half a century shows that perhaps there is no such thing as casual sex between two men who understand each other.
Vincent Diamond has a knack for telling the stories of men who would probably laugh at the notion of writing about their sexual relationships. Whether or not you are into “rough trade,” this world is well worth a visit.