I’ve been reviewing erotica for more than six years. During that period, I’ve probably read and passed judgment on at least fifty titles. (I’ll know exactly one of these days, when I finally find the time to update the publishing history page on my web site!) I wouldn’t be surprised if a quarter of these titles began with “Best”. Sometimes I wonder whether anthology editors or publishers just lack originality. Wouldn’t “Worst Bisexual Alien Leather Erotica” attract more attention?
Seriously, though, when I open another “Best” collection, I tend to do so with a barely suppressed sigh. Rarely, in my experience, do erotica anthologies deserve the superlative. Most commonly, erotica collections will have a few stories that are stellar, a few that are appalling, with the remainder being predictable and workman-like but unmemorable.
Richard Labonté’s collection more or less fits this pattern.
On the positive side, the stories in this anthology are surprisingly diverse given the narrow theme. Bondage includes rope, leather, silk, latex, hand-cuffs and even live snakes (more on this below). The essence of bondage is constraint, whether self-imposed or inflicted by another. The authors in this collection explore the broad limits of this definition. There are several tales – Larry Townsend’s giddy “My Eighteenth Birthday” and Simon Sheppard’s uncharacteristically light “The Man Who Tied Himself Up”– in which the main characters accomplish some amazing feats of self-restraint. Then there’s Doug Harrison’s sweet and satisfying tale, “The Harness”, which demonstrates that bondage isn’t just for bottoms.
My favorite tale in this collection is Shanna Germain’s “And Serpent Becomes Rod”. (I notice that Ms. Germain has received top kudos in several of my recent reviews.) The protagonist in this story, a wealthy submissive so jaded that he has become impotent, treks through the jungle to the summit of a volcano in order to meet the shaman-master whom he hopes will cure him. The shaman lives in a shack lit by hundreds of candles and inhabited by dozens of snakes. The snakes bind the man while the master takes him and makes him new.
When he stepped back, I tried to follow. The snakes held me there with a raised head, the slip of a tail along the curve of my balls. Everything drew up tight. Still. I bowed my head as much as I could without losing my breath. I waited for the man that I knew would save me.
...Something flickered at the crack of my ass. Snake tongue? Man tongue? I moaned, low in my throat.
The story is vivid, intensely physical, and unrelentingly arousing. What impressed me, though (other than the creative notion of using snakes as bonds) was the clear connection between sex and spirit. This acknowledgment that bondage might mean something, might be something beyond a mechanism of arousal, is missing in most of the tales in this collection.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Hot, anonymous sex is great, and gay fiction especially seems to like to celebrate it, as illustrated by Bill Brent’s enjoyable contribution, “Keeping It Under Wraps”:
We catch our breath, staring at each other and grinning like idiots. Soon we will leave this couch and become separated by ever-growing number of men, miles, days, years — but right now we’re just two blissed out guys, happy to be together in this room, no longer horny.
Bondage can be dangerous, though. It’s not the sort of thing one wants to undertake at the hands of a stranger. Bondage can also be a route to enlightenment, but few of the authors in this collection seem to view it this way.
A disturbing number of tales in the collection feature non-consensual sex and bondage. Perhaps the most extreme is “Marking Territory” by Sean Meriwether, about a petty criminal being pissed on, beat up and sodomized as punishment for double-crossing the boss. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would find this arousing — not because of the acts themselves (hey, I’ve fantasized about golden showers) but because of the absolute cruelty with which these acts are inflicted. Then there’s “The Taking of Brian Krowell”, which details a carefully planned rape. I have to admit that even though this story by Shane Allison left me queasy and uncomfortable, I was also aware that its remarkable portrait of a man driven to violence by frustrated lust made it one of the better stories in the collection.
His dick tensed in my mouth, beyond my tenacious lips, cum surging through his black body, willing or not... I left him stained with his cum, my cum, my spit, his jelly. Done. His never was my now.
TruDeviant’s “Number Twenty-Four” offers a similar scenario, a neglected and abused fag obsessed with a baseball player. In this tale the rape, though vivid and visceral, full of sweat-soaked uniforms and locker room odors, is nevertheless only fantasy. Does that change things?
At some level, all fiction is fantasy, though in some cases this is more obvious than others. Certainly the sex slave in the temple of the Owl Goddess in David Holly’s slightly ridiculous “A Gift to the Rising Dog Star” is pretty transparent, as is the world-weary dirty old man in “Norceuil’s Garden” (Andrew Warburton). In many cases, the fantasy aspect of these tales subordinates the story. There’s no real plot. The characters exist only to act out the author’s fetish. I might find a story arousing, but afterwards, when the tale releases me, I’m empty.
Some of the stories in this collection are well-written. A few show noteworthy originality. All in all, though, this anthology does not, in my opinion, completely merit its title. “Gay Bondage”? Certainly. “Erotica”? In some cases. But “Best” would be better reserved for a collection that more consistently challenges the mind and stirs the heart, as well as exciting the senses.
I suppose it was bound to happen. I review Best Gay Erotica nearly every year, and I've always enjoyed it. This year, meh. It feels a little flat to me. It also seems a bit short at twelve stories and a graphic.. hmm. Can't call it a graphic novel. A graphic short story, perhaps?
Anyway, let's hit the highlights.
Simon Sheppard is a reliable writer, which sounds like an insult but isn't meant that way. His stories always grab me with wit, great writing, and deliciously raunchy scenes. His “Your Jock” is - deep inhale - evocative. You can almost smell it. And yeah, I'm a girl, but this is raw nerve erotica that makes my writer's eyes green with envy.
I'm waffling on “Sunday in the Park” by Jamie Freeman. On one hand, it's well written and interesting, but on the other hand, it seemed to lack that male energy I anticipate. But maybe you don't want your sex hyped up and in your face. Maybe you like it a bit more laid back. In that case, you might want to dive into Shaun Levin's “Foreigner's in Stiges” too, which is all kinds of lovely, lyrical, and melancholy.
“Translations” by Roscoe Hudson hits hard on the brutish German in uniform fantasy, but it hits that mark well. Intellectual, but rough too. If I ever meet Roscoe though, I'll have to ask him if you'd really use the more formal Sie instead of the more familiar du when a guy is ramming your ass. Yes, that's the kind of strange thing I muse over while reading erotica.
The rest of the anthology isn't bad, not by a long shot, but I've been spoiled by years of incredible stories all jostling for my attention. Maybe I just read too much erotica. However, while on a personal level I might give this a sideways rating, Best Gay Erotica remains one of the most anticipated anthologies of the year for a good reason. Just because all the stories didn't hit the right note for me doesn't mean they won't work for you. So I'm going to give it thumbs up, even if those thumbs aren't fully erect.
Cleis Press’ annual Best Gay Erotica anthology has a unique approach. Editor Richard Labonté culls the submissions and sends the first cut on to a guest judge, insuring that there will always be a fresh perspective on the selection. This year poet and novelist Emanuel Xavier puts his stamp on this consistently outstanding anthology series.
When Emanuel first contacted Erotica Revealed about a review, the request came to my email rather than our usual submissions address. Thinking swiftly, I shouted DIBS! and snatched it out of the queue before anyone else even knew it was available. I suppose I should feel a twinge of guilt for that. Let me check. Nope.
Arden Hill’s “My Boy Tuesday” was a good choice for the first story. Yes, it’s a hot BDSM tale guaranteed to get your attention in all the right ways, but what I enjoyed the most about it was how fresh the character was. This was no stereotypical leather daddy. He wears his fingernails long and painted and has a closet full of drag clothes. Make no mistake though; this genderqueer top is in charge. This story puts you on notice that what follows won’t be predictable or part of the same old erotic routine. It also shows that despite the reputation of this genre, writers of erotica produce quality stories that can make you think as well as get you off. Be prepared for both.
Tickle torture is one of the BDSM variations I rarely see in lesbian or heterosexual erotica, but it crops up in gay erotica occasionally, so there must be an audience. My cousin once sat on me and tickled me until I got sick. (All over him. Hah! Served the bastard right.) so I know how sadistic ticklers can be and how quickly a victim can be rendered helpless. Obviously that killed any erotic potential for me, but Wayne Courtois’ “Capturing the King” will probably fascinate anyone into extreme tickling.
Horehound Stillpoint captures the essence of online cruising - the frustration with flakes and picture collectors- in “Donuts to Demons” with breathtaking precision. Yeah, I’ve heard the litany of complaints about CraigsList personals from friends, but never distilled into prose like poetry. Although I’ve seen Horehound’s name many times before, I had to flip back to his bio to verify that hunch. Ah yes, he’s a poet too – it shows in his writing- although he quotes dear friend Trebor Healey’s work instead of his own. But after this sharp, funny intro, the story takes a meditative, bittersweet turn into memories of the real man who got away, or who was too elusive to be caught. This may be the story that had Emanuel Xavier “...curling into bed with my cats.” Deftly delivered, this was one I went back to after I finished my initial reading.
One of the frustrations of reviewing an anthology is picking just a few stories to highlight even though there’s a lot to talk about in this offering. Charlie Vazquez’s “Rushing Tide of Sanity” is an incredibly hot BDSM scene. Tim Miller’s “Sex Head” has me vowing to catch one of his performances. (He’s listed a guest at the Saints and Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans this May. Maybe I’ll get lucky and see him there.) I first read Jeff Mann’s “Snowed In With Sam” in his collection A History of Barbed Wire. If you haven’t read Jeff’s work, this is a good introduction. If you have, you’re probably a fan too. Shane Allison’s “Confession Angel” is a series of short scenes that flow together beautifully to create a larger picture in a mosaic of memory. Jason Shults’ “Minimum Damage, Minimum Pain” is about the guy who, thank god, got away, but oh, how his boy energy lingers in the mind late at night when you reach for the lube. In “Funeral Clothes” by Tom Cardamone, it’s a sad race to see who can abandon the relationship first. And if you like a story dripping with summer sweat and the heat of public sex, Andrew McCarthy’s “Underground Operator” is sure to get your pulse racing.
One of the strengths of this year’s Best Gay Erotica is the depth and breadth of characters that reflect gay lives not often featured in stories. I’m sure this is due in part to Emanuel Xavier’s guidance. These are not token tales, though. Each one had to make Richard Labonté’s first cut. As Emanuel points out in his preface, it’s difficult to prove any anthology truly contains the ‘best’ work out there, but in my opinion, this edition is pretty damn close.
James Lear, author of Palace of Varieties, The Back Passage, and The Secret Tunnel serves as the guest editor for this year’s edition of Best Gay Erotica. The guest editors are perhaps the strength of this series. While a reader can expect well-written erotica every year, the selection of stories reflects the guest editor’s interests, making each year unique.
So what do you have to look forward to this year? Desire, cross-dressing, poetry, and hot fantasies, but mostly, a lot of longing for what was or what will never be.
The anthology opens with “The Changing Room“ by Bradley Harris. Kyle is seventeen, gay, and lonely. He goes to the mall in search of a pair of sexy red underwear and finds an admirer in Joe, a store clerk. Kyle returns to the store to try on clothes and underwear in the changing room while Joe watches him. They play out a long seduction, discussing in detail what they’ll do when Kyle turns eighteen. The sex talk is just an excuse though. They both need to feel wanted, and inside the changing room, they are. It’s probably the best sex that never was.
When I read Tulsa Brown’s “Temporary,”it reminded me of a line from the movie The Sting. “I'm the same as you. It's two in the morning and I don't know nobody.” An ex-con dishwasher and a pre-op MTF chanteuse are two lonely people thrown together in a moment of danger late at night in a closed restaurant. Afterward, out of relief, or maybe just because they both want company, they treat each other with tender sympathy. Beautifully done.
Jamie Freeman’s “Don’t Touch” is a wonderfully told story. The narrator sees his crush everywhere, but it’s never really the man he wants. When he hooks up with another man, it seems he’s trying to relive that one perfect, painful moment where his crush let him almost have what he wanted.
In“The Opera House” by Natty Soltesz, Britt and Cody either don’t want to admit it, or can’t come to terms with their attraction to each other. As they inch toward a sexual relationship, they reassure each other that they aren’t like the fags who live a couple blocks away. But when Britt starts to hang out with another guy, Cody is jealous, and baffled. A bit of push and shove a few nights later evolves into wrestling, and the boys finally cross the last boundary. The aftermath is more confusion and anger. This story will ring true to anyone who’s struggled with their identity.
There are other excellent stories in this anthology. Jeff Man always delivers a great tale. Xan West, Gerard Wozek, and Simon Sheppard also contribute wonderful pieces. Year after year, the Best Gay Erotica series delivers on its promise of quality erotic fiction without ever being the same as the years before.
In his forward, Richard Labonte comments that this is his fifteenth year editing The Best Gay Erotica. It’s my third year reviewing it for Erotica Revealed. He states that his goal is to present stories blending sexual intensity and literary craftsmanship. Our goal at Erotica Revealed is to review erotica as literary fiction. Every year, this makes for some of my favorite reading.
Hank Fenwick’s “Holiday from Love” is a bittersweet look back at what might have been but never could be. Beautifully executed story with so much truth to it that you’ll inevitably think back to something like it in your own life. Regret was never so sexy.
The title of “I Wish” by Richard Hennebert makes it seem like fantasy fulfillment, although it’s reality for some. The narrator breaks free of mind-numbing domesticity for a night out with the lads that ends at a sex club where his wish is fulfilled.
Simon Sheppard switches between the points of view of an older couple and the hustler they pick up in “The Suburban Boy.” People get off on all kinds of weird stuff, but resentment is a new one for me. And yet it was so skillfully done that this was one of the stories I thought about well after I’d finished the book, and re-read several times.
Sometimes, sex is all in the mind. In Jimmy Hamada’s “fifteen minutes naked,” a man poses naked for a photographer. The photographer reflects nothing back – no desire, not even hints on how to pose. He lets his mirror do that. The model tries to get a response but only manages to turn himself on.
Every reviewer has writers they look forward to reading. Jeff Mann and Trebor Healey are friendly acquaintances as well as favorite writers. “Smoke and Semen” (Mann) and “Frazzled” (Healey) made my writer’s heart pang with envy, but as a reader I was, as always, in awe.
Contributions by Natty Soltesz, David May, Robert Patrick, Shane Allison, Tommy Lee “Doc” Boggs, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Thom Wolf, David Holly, Jamie Freeman, Jonathan Kemp, Rob Wolfsham, and Jan Vander Laenen, fill out this anthology. Each is worthy of a read, or two, as you find something that speaks to you.
In the preface and the introduction to Best Gay Erotica 2011, the two editors explain how much the publishing market for male/male "porn" has changed since this annual anthology debuted in the 1990s. Consulting editor Kevin Killian claims:
I came of age in a different world. How different was it? It was so long ago that I wrote a pornographic book without having previously read one, and I acted in a porn film without having ever seen one. I didn't know what I was doing in either case, but thinking about it now, I suppose early on I conflated sex with representation or vice versa.
Killian goes on to quote theorist Jean Baudrillard that in the current age of the internet, “there is no longer any pornography, since it is virtually everywhere.”
Series editor Richard Labonte comments on the demise of raunchy print magazines for gay men, some dating back to the 1970s, where at least one generation of gay-male erotic writers (or writers of gay-male erotica) first aired their fantasies in print.
Both editors ask whether there is still a need for anthologies such as this one in a world where (in Killian's words) "gay sex is fashionable and mainstream." Killian also points out that "sex sells," and it is used to sell every product on the market while distracting the public from social issues such as war and poverty. Both editors come to the conclusion that there is still a place for a book of sex stories that can be privately enjoyed by individual readers.
Amidst the loving descriptions of men's bodies (ripped, powerful or boyish) and cocks (long and slim, short and thick, monstrous, curved, veiny, with and without foreskin), there is actually a lot of discomforting contemporary reality. Although Kevin Killian claims that the U.S. war against Iraq haunts these stories as AIDS haunted gay-male erotica of the 1980s and '90s, the persistent homophobia of mainstream American culture is a clear theme in the stories by American authors, and it heightens the contrast between American culture and that of the stories set elsewhere.
Most of these stories reveal a society in which male-on-male lust is both widespread and denied, where real and virtual male bodies are easy to access (especially on-line or in porn videos), yet where a conservative establishment seeks to force all non-heterosexuals back into the closet, or (preferably) out of existence. While the technology in these stories is different from that of the 1970s, the fear, secrecy and distrust seem unchanged.
"Attackman" by Rob Wolfsham and "Bodies in Motion" by Johnny Murdoc both deal with the sweaty, homoerotic world of school sports. In "Attackman," a skinny skater-boy named Alex likes the crude attention of Max, the star attackman of the school lacrosse team. (Alex is supposedly a nineteen-year-old, but the dynamics between the two boys, the interest of their male English teacher and the constant presence of a Greek chorus of other jocks all reek of mid-adolescence.) Eventually the attackman attacks the school Gay-Straight Alliance in a semi-literate letter to the school paper before attacking Alex, once more, for being a "faggot" and for getting him in trouble with the school administration, which penalizes hate speech. Max can't leave Alex alone, and his motives become clear even to him.
"Bodies in Motion" looks at the love-hate relationship between a school jock and a school geek when both of them return to the same school as a science teacher and an assistant coach. This time, the geek is cautious and distrustful, and the jock feels rebuffed until the two men have an honest talk.
The most gripping depiction of this type of relationship is in "Saving Tobias" by Jeff Mann, a kind of modern-day Walt Whitman who sings the praises of the untamed men of the Virginia mountains. The Tobias of the title is both charismatic and repulsively self-satisfied:
His name befits him. Tobias. It's Hebrew for 'God is good.' God has been good to him indeed. So far. Handsome blond giant, wealthy, talented, powerful, he's as magnificent as Oedipus must have been a few hours before the truth, before the kingly fool thrust the pin of his mother's brooch, his wife's brooch, into his eyes. The truth can do that, certainly. Put out the eyes, splinter the soul, castrate, eviscerate, shatter. The truth is what I bring tonight.
So who is the "I" who stalks Tobias, a homophobic Republican senator? A vampire from the Scottish highlands whose lover was killed before his eyes in 1730. Derek the vampire is a kind of avenging angel who wants to save Tobias from his own ignorance and hatred while showing him the suffering for which Tobias is responsible. And while he's at it, Derek wants Tobias' blood and his ass.
Tobias is horrified when he realizes that his gun can't save him from bondage and worse. The violation of his flesh appears to dramatize Tobias' worst fear, but he eventually reaches the peace he has been unconsciously seeking. Of course, he expresses his surrender in Christian terms.
The theme of an encounter with a beloved enemy continues in several other stories.
"I Sucked Off an Iraqi Sniper" by Natty Soltesz (the title says it all) and "Hump Day" by Dominic Santi show the universal vulnerability of working-class men (however butch they may be) to political and economic forces beyond their control. In both these stories, lust and empathy transcend cultural differences.
In "Shel's Game," the young narrator was originally lured into a Dominant-submissive relationship by the balding, stocky, middle-aged Shel who used a sexy young man as bait. The narrator's first scene with Shel leads to many others which are both humiliating and thrilling. The narrator comes to realize that Shel, whom he ignored at first meeting, knows a few things about how to get him off.
In "Closet Case" by Martin Delacroix, the narrator explains his aversion to hypocrites:
Call me a jerk, but I have a problem with closeted guys, these so-called 'bi-curious' men. Deep inside most are gay, I believe, but they're scared to admit it. So they lead the straight life, looking down on us poor faggots. When the urge strikes they'll sneak off and slum with the queers, but an hour later they're back with the wife and the kids, safe and happy.
When the narrator, who has a fully-equipped "sex room" in his house, picks up a man who claims to be both married and inexperienced with men, the outcome seems predictable. However, there are several twists in this story. Both characters prove themselves to be untrustworthy but more compatible than they first appear.
Limited space does not allow me to describe every story, but each one is memorable in its own way. There are stories by Shaun Levin, Simon Sheppard and Shane Allison here, as well as a disturbing tale by Boris Pintar, translated into English from Slovenian. Remember "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner, a classic of southern-gothic fiction often taught in college lit. classes? This story is a gay-male European version.
The anthology begins and ends with two strong stories. It opens with "Beauty #2" by Eric Karl Anderson, about a bug-chasing fan and an AIDS-infected Dom who remains dignified and resolute in decline. The concluding story, "The Last Picture. Show" by James Earl Hardy is a fascinating look at the career of an African-American porn star, seduced away from his original dream of writing the Great American Novel. Instead, he becomes a tragic hero who finds love only to lose it too soon.The sex is this book is fully-described, but it is not a distraction from bigotry, injustice, generation gaps, power-struggles, or misunderstandings. These stories (including Jeff Mann’s vampire story and Shane Allison's dream-montage) tackle reality in all its complexity.
Opening up an anthology from Richard Labonte is like snuggling into a comfortable blanket you’ve had for years. I know exactly what I’m going to get – a quality anthology with solid narratives (and spicy moments, if it’s the yearly Erotica anthology). I was a little surprised to find the introduction – by Paul Russell – talking about editing the anthology. Then I remembered to put my trust in Richard, and read through Paul’s introduction, and was left with the impression I was in for a treat.
Paul Russell’s introduction was wonderful – a reminder of how furtive and lost we gentlemen of a certain age were before the grand invention of the internet. Finding anything gay used to be so impossible. Physical books, magazines, and actual films projected on actual screens were miles away from where many of us were, and even if we were in the grand metropolitan areas we still had to be so careful.
Now the digital gay offerings are huge. Easy. So, Russell asks, why would we still bother with print?
The answer – and the story, and the memories from that story – was a minor delight that was unexpected from an introduction (and I won’t ruin it). Unintentionally or not, the bittersweet tone of the introduction set up a vibe for me that carried throughout the anthology. Not in a bad way – I’m of the opinion that a bittersweet romance (or a bittersweet erotic romance) is one of the harder things to pull off well, but all the hotter for the admixture of potential loss. There’s also a great sense of triumph in the stories – often coming first from a more forlorn place.
I’m not saying that Best Gay Erotica 2013 was sad. There were definitely some fun and flirty stories (“The Farmer’s Son,” by Karl Taggart, made me giggle at its own self-efficacy), but it was in the tales that had that bittersweet yearning that I really found the collection gained cohesion. It’s not often you can say an erotica anthology was moving, but this one was.
No surprise that Jeff Mann’s “Daddy Draden” was so erotically charged with a BDSM flare that walks the line between poetic and visceral – but the aching tone of probable dissolution in the story was stunning. I had to pause and reflect after the story, and felt – as always – a little in awe of Mann’s ability to take his tales to so many different emotional places.
The first story, “The Pasta Closet” by Davem Verne, had a kind of sad victory to it. Again, this didn’t cheapen the story at all – quite the contrary – instead infusing it with a powerful image of those grown men who live in the closet, and those who find ways to give them release.
Not bittersweet, but still on the theme of the passage of time and how things change was Larry Duplechan’s “Big Chest: Confessions of a Tit Man.” I adored this short biopic, and the glimpse into the life of an (to be quite frank) incredibly hot fellow that had more of that sense of triumph to it.
Tom Mendicino’s “A Little Night Music,” and FA Pollard’s “Game Boyz” and Erastes’ “Drug Colors” move through different times and places and – again – these aren’t exactly joyful tales, but they’re erotic, and well put together.
I’ve often said that one of the things about living my gay life openly, of which I am most proud, is being one of the walking wounded. None of us are unscathed, and though I’ll quibble with the oft-spoken “that which does not kill you” platitude, I will say that there’s a real sense of coming through as well as coming out to all of these tales, and I’m glad to have read them. I may need to go find something fluffy and light now, but I certainly don’t regret the time with this anthology in the least.Thank you, Richard and Paul – that was a great collection.
I always enjoy reading collections assembled by Richard Labonte. He has a finely honed literary sensibility, and tends to choose stories for their emotional intensity as opposed to their physical extremity. He views the gay world with compassion and wisdom, revealing its complexities to outsiders like me. Boy Crazy is sweet, hot, occasionally silly, and on one occasion, brutal, but always respectful of the challenges faced by gay men in a het world.
This anthology is subtitled “Coming Out Erotica” but I think “Initiation Erotica” would have been more appropriate. Most of the stories feature young men—in their teens or twenties—finally experiencing the homoerotic intimacies they have imagined for so long. While a few of these boys—the bookish cello player in Dale Chase's “Army Brat,” the “lumpish, clumsy” hero in “Larry and His Father” --go through the painful experience of admitting their sexual orientation to their family and friends, most of these tales are concerned with more private revelations.
Being a teenager—constantly horny, eternally insecure, perpetually misunderstood, at odds with family and the world—is hell for most of us. Being a gay teenager must be far worse. On top of everything else, there is the isolation, the inability to share one's fantasies with anyone for fear of being rejected, ostracized or even beaten up. These stories make that isolation real for non-gay readers. In both Michael Rowe's evocative “August” and Martin Delacroix's lusciously detailed “A Beautiful Motorcycle,” the boy is forced to endure the torture of seeing the object of his affections in the arms of his self-involved older sister. In “Paperboys,” by Natty Soltesz, two boys in lust pretend that they are just kidding around as they share their bodies. The heroes of these stories insist that they are not interested in men, even when they are dying to touch and be touched by one.
In some sense, there's only one story here: boy meets boy, or boy meets man, and is recognized, accepted, usually fucked and changed forever. As with a fairy tale, the reader knows how the story will end, but that doesn't diminish the pleasure of reading. The emotions make it all worthwhile, the unendurable longing and the incredible intensity of that first touch, when the longing is finally satisfied. These stories are a celebration of requited lust, and sometimes love.
One of my favorite tales in the collection is Alana Noël Voth's “Sundelin”, in which a college kid is obsessed with the barista at the local coffee shop. One reason I loved this story was that, paradoxically, it included no sex other than the narrator's outrageous fantasies. (It's also the kinkiest story in the book, since those fantasies are submissive in the extreme.) Ms. Voth leaves the reader to imagine what will happen next.
Another standout is “Game Boyz” by F.A. Pollard. In this incendiary tale, the narrator is swept off his feet and into the back alley by a gorgeous tough guy named Zen, only to be discovered in flagrante by his straight roommate.
Nearly all the stories in the collection are told from the perspective of the “boy” being initiated. The one exception is the amazing “The Pasta Closet”, by Davem Verne. Verne's narrator lusts for years for the hairy, meaty body of Gino, his childhood friend in Boston’s Little Italy. But it's Gino, the local Italian Stallion, who is ultimately forced to realize that he craves men as much as or even more than women.
A review of Boy Crazy would not be complete without a mention of the peculiar, outrageous, silly and entertaining tale “The Dolphin Temple”, by David Holly. This story, set in Crete under the Minoans, postulates a religious cult in which the primary ritual is mutual masturbation. The young hero Androgeous (!) is literally initiated into the mysteries of the Dolphin God by Phaeax, his boon companion and the object of his nocturnal fantasies.
The “brutal” story is William T. Hathaway's “Coming of Age”, which includes a gut-wrenching description of two hippie guys on their way from Kansas City to San Francisco being raped by a bunch of red-neck military men. Overall, I found this story a bit distancing, especially when it skipped over two decades of gay history in a few paragraphs, but the earlier scenes hammered home the pain faced by boys who love boys, but who can't or won't admit it.Overall, this intelligent and moving collection offers a sympathetic and exciting perspective on first times. Its unabashed sentimentality balances the anonymous physicality that I see in some gay erotica. Readers, gay or not, will identify with the boys in this book.
Daddy is an evocative word. Father has a cold, formal connotation, but a daddy sounds warmer. Some might even say hotter. It's a thoroughly masculine identity - a role model, a task master, a lover, a giver, a teacher, and a guide who cares. It's also recognition that there's something very sexy about a mature man. Not necessarily old, as many of the stories in this anthology show us, but comfortable in his skin and in control of his life.
In Jamie Freeman's “In His Time,” a married man who gave up cruising to keep his vows is accused of cheating one too many times. He heads to the bookstore where he used to go to hook up. Each glance in a mirror reminds him that time has passed and maybe he's too old now. He doesn't want to be the old creep, and he doesn't want to be a daddy either, but when the right guy makes him feel all right in that role, he realizes that it's time to embrace who he is.
Sometimes a boy just wants a Daddy, or several of them. In Landon Dixon's wonderful “Men of the Open Road,” a hitchhiker doesn't want to go anywhere in particular. He's just along for the ride. He knows exactly what he wants and how to get it.
If you like your BDSM on the brutal side, you can always count on Xan West to deliver. In “It's My Job,” the boy says "Right now my job is to take him into me, to be a good quiet hole for Daddy's cock. And there's grace in that." Jeff Mann's “Daddy Draden” is BDSM laced with bittersweet memories of a cub who can only visit his master a few times a year. They're aware that their paths may spin them apart, so they make the most of their times together in scenes that are as emotionally charged as they are physically intense.
Some of the stories in this anthology are rescue tales. Gavin Atlas's “Daddies in Damian” is about a porn performer looking for a way out and the fan who wants to help him. In “Pop Tingle” by David Holly, a sugar daddy picks a street kid to be his new sex slave, and the kid is all right with that. To me, the sissy trope and women's clothes forced on the kid smacked of creepy straight guy playing sex tourist in Thailand fantasy, but maybe there are gay men into forced feminization, so if you enjoy that, here's the story for you.
Or maybe you're in the mood for a good round of horseplay with a father and son (and cousin) team. If so, Jack Fritscher's “Father and Son Tag Team (That Summer! That Camp! That Cousin)” is going to be the perfect, almost over the top, but so fun you won't care choice in this anthology.
Obviously, it helps to be into the daddy/boy dynamic to appreciate these stories, but they aren't all about age play. Some of the daddies are younger men. Contributors Kyle Lukoff, Mark Wildyr, Dominic Santi, Dale Chase, Doug Harrison, and Randy Turk each have a different take. More than a few are bound to appeal to you. Thumbs up.
I’d like to posit that there’s a glorious case of pride involved in exhibitionism, and a deep well of desire – often unfulfilled – in voyeurism. I was recently at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans, and one evening after a shockingly good dinner and a memory deadening cocktail known as Sazerac I found myself with some excellent company at a club where mostly naked fellows danced on the bar counter for the enjoyment of all.
Show-offs was actually quite fresh in my mind. When I review for Erotica Revealed, I will usually make sure I’ve read the book at least twice. While visiting New Orleans I was on my third perusal through the collection and the reality of the strippers in front of me was certainly helping cement my thoughts on the collection.
So, a confession. It turns out I don’t actually enjoy strippers that much. Something about their buffed and perfect bodies (seriously, is chest hair an offence?) and the crowd around them (who are so often seemingly made of the sad and lonely, though I could be projecting) doesn’t combine to titillation. The real world, as is so often the case, doesn’t deliver as well as fiction.
Which is to say, Show-offs delivers in full.
When Richard Labonte collects stories for an anthology, I know that he’ll put together a collection that has a mix of tales that bring the expected – to settle the theme solidly before the reader – and the unexpected to just as quickly unsettle the reader and bring a fresh take on the idea. The idea of watchers and those who are watched has what at first appears to be a pretty narrow window that is soon cracked wide by the authors in the collection.
“Vacancy,” by Jamie Freeman, doesn’t so much open the window as shatter it. Taking a vaguely guilty pleasure – watching a neighbour masturbate while he watches porn – and tying in something darker gives this story a real edge. Realizing that while he is watching his neighbour, he is himself being watched by someone who might be dangerous, the final few moments of the story leave a delightful shiver in the base of the spine.
“My Best Friend’s Dad,” by J. M. Snyder, ends the collection with a take on voyeurism that I wouldn’t have considered: hope. This is a cleverly designed tale of a young man who stumbles into a fantasy scenario that gives him a picture of what can happen in his future. Sort of an X-rated It Gets Better, only with more sweat and a decidedly happy ending. Kudos to Snyder for coming up with this angle, and for Labonte to place it so perfectly at the close of the collection.
Between those two brackets, the stories bob and weave between the usual scenarios (a hot man who knows he’s a hot man and likes others to watch him, in “Golden Shadows,” by David Holly) to some humorous beginnings that turn to something sexier in Rob Rosen’s “You’ve Been Spunked.” Of course, I’d be remiss to miss mentioning Dale Chase’s fasntastic “Chisholm Trail Boys” – every time I speak of Chase, I feel like all I can do is babble that no one does western erotica like Dale Chase, but it bears repeating, and spinning a voyeur/exhibitionist angle without breaking her trademarked earthiness is no mean feat. Similarly, Jeff Mann is once again in fine form, bringing a man with a real sense of verisimilitude to the topic – a man feeling the desires of other slip somewhat from his grasp, but who fills his fantasies with those who he has watched from a distance through his days. This tale, “Harem,” best captured the widest range of takes on the theme in one place, and of course didn’t skimp on the usual BDSM lens through which so much of Jeff Mann’s work is seen. And finally, “What Pleases Him Most,” by Thomas Kearnes, shone a harsh light on how love can be hard work, and how the predilections of one partner can leave the other pushing their limits for their love. That the result is successful was all the more stirring, given the young man in the tale who doesn’t really enjoy being on display, and his partner who likes to watch others be with him.
Show-offs surprised me in the sense of completeness I felt once I was done. The writing is sexy, and varied, and everything I knew to expect from Labonte’s work, but somehow this collection had more weight to it. The reality is that I can’t help but be wowed when I open a collection of erotica and discover pieces that are thoughtful and inspire revisiting notions I’d allowed myself to cement in my own mind. Voyeurism and exhibitionism as hopeful, as love-notes to a partner, as a rich fantasy that fulfills a place we cannot usually go were all things I hadn’t really considered.
Now I can watch differently.
Where the Boys Are promises stories of newcomers to the queer-friendly neighborhoods of the Castro, West Hollywood, and Chelsea who have fled presumably hostile smaller towns. With that premise on the cover, I was disappointed that the cities weren’t more prominent in the stories. It’s difficult to make a city a character in a story, especially in a short story, but with the exception of Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Live From New York,” there was nothing about the settings that seemed to influence the characters. Simon Sheppard’s “Wild Night” is a historical tour through the Castro that used to be – which is sort of interesting, but it’s a memoir, not a story.
There are some fine stories in this anthology. Many are bittersweet memories of love lost. “Taming the Trees” by Jeff Mann, is about a man who has not been able to let go of the love of his life. His longing for the man he lost to the city is intense. Years have passed, the man has changed and moved on, but the narrator is stuck in a mourning phase that will probably never end. Jeff is becoming one of my favorite erotica writers because of his ability to deliver a solid emotional punch along with raw sexual imagery.
Alpha Martial’s “The Birds and the Bees”, like “Taming the Trees,” is about a man choosing to return to country life after venturing into the city. It means losing a lover who won’t, or can’t, fit into a rural setting. Not everyone thrives in a city though, and after giving it a go, some people simply have to move on.
“Drug Colors” by Erastes is one of the better stories in this anthology. It cuts close to truth of some messed up relationships. I enjoyed the scene of the punk rockers performing ‘like they’re expected to,’ on the train so that the other commuters can leave adequately outraged by their behavior.
Dale Chase’s “Half-Life” is set in San Francisco, but moves between worlds. One is the suburban middle-class heterosexual married life, where the main character has been marking time. The other world is the Castro. After the main character suffers a heart attack, he begins an affair with a man at work who introduces him to a part of the city he’s never dared visit. He rethinks his life and decides not to waste the years he has left following the wrong path.
I’m torn on the rating for this anthology. Few of the stories engaged me. However, different stories appeal to different readers, and you might find more that you like. Most of these stories are well written but not many were erotic except in a peripheral sense. While I don’t like to judge a book by what it’s not rather than what it is, I have to give this one a sideways rating.
Richard Labonté opens up Wild Boys with an admission: he’s not a wild boy. In fact, he’s pretty much the anti-wild boy. Besides giving me a good chuckle – I could certainly relate to Labonté’s position here – it framed the collection nicely. I went in to the collection expecting these wild boys to be intermingling with the nice guys who just can’t help but find the bad boys alluring.
With a few exceptions, that’s the general theme of the anthology – men finding themselves with young studs who are definitely not the “bring them home to the parents” types. Back alleys maybe, and definitely to a knife fight, but not home to the parents.
You can always count on Labonté to collect a good range of story types, even within a theme. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him twice, and so when I glanced through the table of contents, I found a nice mix of masters of the erotic genre, a few new names, and a few names I’m starting to see pop up quite a bit in various anthologies. This is – as usual – a strong collection that holds to the theme but mixes it up in the specifics quite a bit.
The type of story I was expecting most from the collection was Michael Bracken’s “The Hitter and the Stall.” Here we’ve got a cute young blond who picks the pocket of the wrong guy – someone better at that job than he is. Here there’s a kind of mentoring involved, but the younger punk’s attitude and nonchalance was exactly what was conjured for me with the title, cover, and description of Wild Boys . That the two men end up sharing more than pickpocketing skills is a given, and the narrator’s awareness that this boy could be trouble, even as he’s tumbling the fellow into bed, rang true.
Dale Chase turns back the clock in “The Outlaw Paulie Creed.” This is one of Chase’s trademark westerns, involving a sheriff, who should – and does – know better than to mess with the young man locked up in his cell, but gives into temptation and has to live through the fallout. The sex scorches, but taking a wanted man is sure to leave the sheriff burned. Chase always manages to give an amazing flavour to historically set pieces, and “The Outlaw Paulie Creed” is no exception. I always know I’m in for a treat, and including this piece in the collection gave it real variety. Like I said, Richard Labonté knows what he’s doing.
Jeff Mann’s “Satyr” also twists the theme just a notch sideways with a young man that the narrator has admired from afar for a while now finally making his way into his car via hitchhiking. Mann’s story had the main character with the most awareness, I’d say – he knows this kid is trouble, and this kid is availing his body to the man for cash, but there’s more going on than appears at the surface, and the untangling of the sweaty mess – and of course the knotting up of the sweaty boy – is all a part of Mann’s usual skillful narrative.
These three stories give you an idea of the variance going on in the tales, but there’s more to explore in Wild Boys still. Dominic Santi’s “Red Right” gives the reader a fisting story, with a top who wants to see his new boy explore his dom side. Joe Marohl’s “Mr. Lee’s Men” has a pair of boys fighting at its core while the eponymous Mr. Lee watches. “The Devil Tattoo” by Jonathan Asche deftly explores the uncle-and-his-niece’s-boyfriend scene it creates with a sly dark wink or two. And in the rest of the tales, there’s some boot worship, some punishment, and of course a wild boy for every tale.
There’s likely something here for everyone who has even that brief reaction of attraction to the bad boy. The collection’s varied tales are exactly that – varied – without losing the theme, and the end result is what I’d expected in the first place from Richard Labonté: a solid anthology.