Best Gay Stories 2009

Author Tom Cardamone gave a terrific review of Sea, Swallow Me on Amazon.com. In his words:

Anyone who caught Kara Walker’s retrospective at the Whitney was immediately challenged to think about race and art. Her surreal silhouettes carved meaning out of every room. Regardless if the viewer came away with a positive or negative impression, it was obvious that existing concepts had been broken, challenged, expanded and, as someone who was blown away by the show, I would add rightfully so. I discovered the same powerful intonations within Craig Gidney’s collection, Sea, Swallow Me and Other Stories.
In the opening tale, The Safety of Thorns, the trappings of the plantation meld into the realm of myth and discovery with strong poetic imagery, yet the characters rise from up off the page with a stark realism. A slave boy is given a powerful elixir by a devil, but still has to find the strength he needs to grapple with reality from within. Equally impressive stories follow. It would be easy for the casual reader/reviewer to exclaim delight at discovering a gay black writer introducing gay black characters into the otherwise lamely heterosexual elf-white worlds of fantasy, but I found the author’s pallet much more assured than that; like Walker, his art is not only arresting, subversive and naturally erotic, it stretches boundaries and genuinely puts the speculative back in speculative fiction. Importantly, the stories are as engaging as challenging; no one will close the book thinking they’ve been slipped a thesis a’ la latter-day Delany.
The three best stories, the aforementioned The Safety of Thorns, the titular Sea, Swallow Me, and A Bird of Ice, respectively open, support the middle, and (nearly) close the book. Sea, Swallow Me allows the reader to swim within some spectacular writing and nearly drown in a feeling of otherness. A Bird of Ice takes place within the snowy confines of an ancient Japanese monastery. A young monk is courted by a member of the fairy folk and ends up confronting much more than the homoerotic awakenings of adolescence. Not that the remaining stories are by any means filler. The few pieces I suspected of being early work still possessed all of the strengths exhibited in the best work. All offered a diversity of setting and theme, making the book one of constant exploration. In fact, when not paying close enough attention while reading the story Strange Alphabets, I thought I’d caught the author making that obnoxious freshman blunder of naming a character after a beloved writer: Rimbaud. I was genuinely thrilled to realize my mistake as the story concerns the train-bound sexual (and quite sticky at that) adventures of the actual poet, a nice historical twist, which, like the exceptionally short Magpie Sisters, keeps the book off-balance. Meaning it surprises. This is not your comfortable Renaissance Fair of modern fantasy and that’s a good thing. Hell, it’s startlingly refreshing.
Fantasy is seriously lacking in gay fiction written by gay men. Funny, that in writing this review I was initially hesitant to bring up race, for fear that by implication I would give potential readers the impression that in some way the polemic (as if that’s somehow inherent to discussions of equality) shapes or invades these stories. Not so. The artist Kara Walker deftly works in black and white with obvious, evocative success. Craig Gidney wields a vivid rainbow of promise.

A quick note: Cardamone’s forthcoming book of speculative fiction, Pumpkin Teeth, is simply brilliant. I highly recommend it!

Finally, one of my pieces, Strange Alphabets, will be featured in the forthcoming Best Gay Stories 2009, ed. Steve Berman.

Best Gay Stories 2009

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