I always look forward to reading this yearly collection edited by Richard Labonté. Sometimes the collections are simply amazing while others can be hit or miss. As with any anthology, reader tastes can vary wildly and it’s hard to obtain a perfect combination. Unfortunately the judge for this year’s collection has very different tastes from mine as I didn’t particularly like many of the stories. Several I’d read before and the others have similar themes – it’s easy to see what gets Kevin Killian off – but the writing and themes didn’t work for me personally. Depending on your tastes this collection will either score big or not be for you.
Both Labonté and Killian begin the collection with their thoughts on whether these collections have their place. I’m certainly glad they decided to continue these anthologies because despite this particular offering not to my liking, the series as a whole definitely has a place among readers. In a world of short attention spans and increasingly visual porn, these collections still serve to titillate and entice readers. Those that enjoy their fantasies written have long enjoyed these collections and I hope they continue for some time.
Killian’s tastes are evident in the selection of stories. The themes tend to center on fantasy and deal with very real homophobia while the sex is kinky and sometimes BDSM edged. There is a dominance to the stories and a feeling of revenge sometimes when acting out their desires. Some of the stories deal with typical patterns – jocks and nerds, schoolyard bullying to cover repressed desire, closeted men not wanting to exposure their needs – while others seem to be more narrative. Each of the stories is memorable in its own way and those I’d read before immediately came to mind with stark clarity such as the bug chasing angry star of “Beauty #2” by Eric Karl Anderson.
The sex is all explicit and in your face as one would expect and indeed revel in from such a collection. The focus is on sex whether desire, revenge, need, or confirmation, sex is the important fulcrum in each story. Whether from an angry gay man dealing with closeted “bi-curious” men in “Closet Case” by Martin Delacroix to a vampire with a grudge in “Saving Tobias” by Jeff Mann. Mann’s typical bear like main character is on full display but with a twist when a homophobic politician is forced to pay for his crimes. If you like your men complex, hard, and ready to go, this collection is for you.
Of the 16 stories included in the collection, I only enjoyed a scant few. Each reader has different tastes and judging by how enthusiastic Killian is about his choices, I’m sure these stories will resonate in other readers. Those that I personally like include two stories about working class men that discover something about a co-worker. First is the raunchy and deliciously fun “Hump Day” by Dominic Santi as two horny men move beyond their defined roles to find middle ground that suits them both. Additionally there is “I Sucked Off an Iraqi Sniper” by Natty Soltesz about a waiter that sees a new side of an antagonistic co-worker after hours.
Additionally “Attackman” by Rob Wolfsham is eye-opening and provocative about two teenage boys that twist their defined roles into something that suits their needs. The bullying and kink keeps the story edgy and hot while the characters shine with their complexity. Even the teacher is anything but innocent. Likewise the ending story “The Last Picture. Show” by James Earl Hardy is an interesting look into the career of a gay porn star that finds and loses the love of his life. This story is littered with names of current and past porn stars while trying to connect that with the role black men, and this particular black man, has had in the industry. The narrator is articulate, intelligent, and well spoken as he offers a litany of actions, desires, and choices. This story, like many, is told to the reader but it is the longest and definitely keeps your attention. It’s a very fitting way to end the collection with bits of the previous stories and their sexual appetites all incorporated into BuTay’s prodigious career.
The writing tends to be bald, aggressive, and takes no prisoners. The sex depicted is raw, sometimes obscure and occasionally philosophical. The stories all revolve around sex but the motivations of the characters are equally important. This is where some of the stories lost me as I didn’t particularly like many of the men depicted. They’re fascinating, no doubt realistic portrayals of needs, desires, wants, and actions but when combined the stories failed to do their main objective – titillate, entice, seduce. However the continuity of stories and themes blend harmoniously with each other. This is perhaps one of more cohesive collections to read so for the right reader it could really sing. Unfortunately if you’ve read one or two of the stories elsewhere and didn’t particularly care for the collection, it may not be for you. As always decide for yourself.