This fourth edition of Lethe Press’ Best Gay Stories is an excellent addition to the series. Edited by Peter Dubé, taking over for previous series editor Steve Berman (Dube’s work appeared in the first collection in 2008), the anthology includes a true diversity of voices. The mix of male and female authors and writing in various genres is an expression of Dubé’s stated intent to complicate our notions of gay life with “proliferating images and accounts and possibilities.” As the title of the excerpt of Michael Alenyikov’s award-winning novel Ivan and Misha included here says, “It takes all kinds.”
The diversity of the stories ranges across various genres and styles from “experimental” writing to erotica. Sandra McDonald provides what can be considered a speculative western (much better than the film Cowboys vs. Aliens) in her “Diana Comet and the Lovesick Cowboy.” Wayne Lee Gay provides a lesbian and gay twist to a traditional folktale with “Ondine.” Both Kevin Killian and Aaron Hamburger delve beneath the fleshy surface of gay porn, but with very different results in “Repetition Island” and “Finders Keepers.” And Simon Sheppard and Daniel Allen Cox complicate our notions of the erotic in their works (“Barebacking” and “A Nose Commits Suicide,” respectively). Dube also includes noted gay authors Paul Lisicky, David Gerrold, and Robert Gluck, alongside up and coming writers and those relatively new to fiction, such as essayist and critic Ernest Hardy. The range and quality of the stories kept me engaged and I hope the pleasure reading Best Gay Stories will lead readers to seek out the authors’ other works as well.
Collections such as this also invariably bring up the question, “What is a ‘gay story,’ anyway?” Is it simply a story that a gay person has written? Something that features gay characters prominently? How much focus needs to be on the uniqueness of gay life, or can the protagonist be someone who “just happens to be gay?” Does the author have to be gay—or male—to do it justice? With this anthology, Peter Dubé makes the case for stories that show gay men as people, not a stereotyped “sassy gay friend” appendage to someone straight without an interior life of their own. In these stories characters get up, walk around, and speak to the reader as flesh and blood people would. The men portrayed in Best Gay Stories 2011 are wounded, real and above all very human. It is a valuable family portrait, a snapshot of our many different stories and many different lives.