Groan-worthy double-entendres (big, thick, meaty, rising to the occasion, capable of delivering what it promises) are hard to resist when describing this anthology of 32 stories by popular writers of gay male erotica, several of whom are award-winning novelists. Some of the stories are sweetly domestic, some are edgy tribal tales of initiation into Daddy/boy (or consumer and sex-toy) sex, some are haunting tragedies of lonely men who can’t find what they want and need, or who find it and lose it too soon. All the stories are written by seasoned writers who could (and in some cases, do) write critically-acclaimed mainstream fiction. All the stories are realistic, as though speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, fictionalized history) had no place in a book meant to be read as Literary Erotica.
The lack of fantasy material (except as dreams and stories-within-stories) is both disappointing and surprising, especially considering that the editor, Lawrence Schimel, acquired a cult following with his own collection of witty fairy tales, The Drag Queen of Elfland: Short Stories (1997) and an anthology he edited, Things Invisible To See: Gay and Lesbian Tales of Magic Realism (1998), both from Circlet Press, the brainchild of erotic writer Cecilia Tan, who since 1992 has published ground-breaking erotic fantasies (largely queer, or gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender) which would have been rejected by traditional publishers. The belief that queer authors/characters and “spec-fic” have a logical affinity is now widely accepted, and is largely due to the influence of Circlet Press.
So the absence of a single supernatural being in an anthology of gay-male erotica edited by Lawrence Schimel is a letdown, although the "realism" (loosely speaking) in this anthology is imaginative. The stories are diverse, coming from a good mix of male writers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, Israel and elsewhere. (Lawrence Schimel has lived in Spain for years, and Spanish culture flavors his stories.) Local gay-male culture is never the focus of these stories, but it provides a fascinating context.
In "Gut Reaction," Australian Barry Lowe describes the brick toilet house in an urban park as a “beat” which is dominated after dark by “beat queens:”
“the people who live on scraps of sexual experience away from bright lights, scuttling from contact to contact, disappearing at the slightest hint of trouble, and so widespread and adaptable are their earth-wide foraging fields that they, too, like their insectoid counterparts, would probably survive a nuclear holocaust.”
The metaphor of cruising gay men as insects is a violently homophobic trope which makes the reader almost as queasy as the narrator, who needs to use the toilet for its original purpose after eating exotic food. The resentment of the “beat queens” is amusingly described, and the narrator’s uncontrollable physical processes are a grimly funny parallel to sexual release. The narrator’s effect on the star of the “beat queens” seems less convincing but consistent with the farcical tone of the story.
The gay-male tradition of the fast, anonymous pickup emerges in many of these stories, and it always has more emotional resonance here than it does in conventional porn. In "13 Crimes Against Love, or, The Crow’s Confession," Alexander Chee describes the casual seduction of men who are already in committed relationships as the theft of love by envious scavengers who want to spoil what they can’t have. In “A History of Noah, or How I Met My Boyfriend,” Shaun Levin describes a charming trick who seems incapable of settling down with one lover; ironically, he is useful as the connecting link between two men who are both looking for love. “PATH” by G. Winston James is an account of a daring seduction on the subway which does not lead to anything more profound than a missed business meeting.
Several of the tricks in these stories are whores, or professional sex-providers.
The exchange of sex for money is shown to be heartbreaking, since it sets up an illusion of intimacy which is likely to fool even those who think of themselves as realists. In "Eighty Bucks Plus Tip," an erotic “masseur” arouses the sympathy of a john who knows that the hustler is unlikely to achieve success in any other field, including “legitimate” massage. In "Little Stevie," an apparently hardened manager of a “cinema” in San Francisco which specializes in live shows reveals his weakness for pretty young men who have migrated there from small towns in the American heartland. Inevitably, his protégés develop addictions, find more impressive sugar daddies, or die.
"Dear Drew Peters" is a hilarious love letter to a porn star and escort from a devoted young fan. The innocent narrator’s lust, curiosity and admiration lead him to the slow-growing awareness that he does not really know his idol at all, and probably never will. In "A Ho’s Hieroglyphic," a hustler lives an eerily invisible life as the secret plaything of a rich man who keeps a trick apartment in San Francisco (gay-male Mecca), but while “John” is away, his boy finds another Daddy. In "Daddy Lover God," a male escort movingly describes his encounters with johns (especially regulars) as spiritual experiences outside of ordinary time. In this story, the prostitute-client relationship looks like a degraded version of one of the legendary ancient paths to enlightenment.
The grandfather of all such stories is City of Night (1963), the autobiographical road-trip novel by John Rechy, a gay male hustler of the Beat generation who survived against the odds in a conservative era. That book was enormously influential simply because there was nothing else like it at the time. The stories in The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica about male courtesans and their patrons at various social levels show that the genre, like the ambitious fictional hustler Drew Peters, has risen from its backstreet origins to acquire iconic appeal.
Another narrative tradition which appears in this anthology is the “coming-out” story.
The young men who go forth to seek their fortune in these stories (as in traditional folktales), usually right after high school graduation, have a variety of epiphanies about themselves, other men and life in general.
In "Unsent," Greg Herren's story of old New Orleans (pre-Katrina), a virginal young man who has joined the U.S. Air Force to "become a man" goes to a gay bar the evening before he is to be shipped out and persuades the bartender to take him home for the night. Having discovered the joy of sex with another man, he wonders whether it was necessary for him to join the military. Eventually, the bartender learns that the Air Force man consoled himself during the Gulf War with memories of their night together
In "Daniel is Leaving Tonight on a Plane," the confident, athletic narrator is counting the days before he can leave for college while he passes the summer working in a record store. His nerdy co-worker convinces the narrator to give him a ride on his motorcycle, and they end up in the woods where:
"A cacophony of tree frogs pulsed and ebbed and pulsed again with ever-renewed fervor. Led Zeppelin was never so noisy nor mad."
With the frog chorus as a background (shades of Aristophanes), the narrator accepts the sexual service which he feels is his due. Eventually, however, the narrator is more affected by the nerd than he ever thought possible.
"Eden" by “Aaron Travis” (Steven Saylor), published in 1981 as a serial named "Blinded by the Light" in the now-defunct gay-male BDSM magazine Drummer, recounts the post-high school road trip of the narrator, who hitchhikes from Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles to reconnect with a friend he does not want to lose. En route, he catches a ride with a macho truck driver who seems dangerous and homophobic, and on whom he is completely dependent after he finds that his money has been stolen. The narrator comes of age in an unexpected turn of events.
A few of these stories describe desires which are never realized. In "The Bureaucrat," Andrew Holleran’s narrator disapprovingly watches an older man who regularly displays an impressive erection in the gym. The narrator goes out of his way to learn as much as possible about the older man, and refuses to admit to himself that he is bitter because he believes that the object of his attention is out of his league.
"The Dream People" by Rick R. Reed is probably the closest thing to a paranormal story in the book. The narrator has a series of uncannily realistic dreams about a charismatic man who wants him intensely, and whom he wants. When the narrator meets his dream-man in the real world, he sees why the dream-man is unlikely to approach him in reality.
The stories in which no sex occurs show that male-to-male eroticism does not require fountains of jizz erupting from poetically-described cocks, although most of the stories in this anthology include such descriptions. Sexually explicit or not, these stories show that the human search for personal love (which can be temporarily diverted into a search for immediate gratification) is no less important for men than for women, or for anyone in between.
This book would appeal to fans of gay-male erotica in general, and especially to fans of the particular writers represented in it (Jameson Currier, Trebor Healey, William J. Mann, David May, Kirk Read, D. Travers Scott, et al). This book is clearly meant to impress, and the professional team assembled by the editor does its job.