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by Christopher Verleger
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Dec 24, 2013

The eclectic story collection, "With: New Gay Fiction," edited by Jameson Currier, author of "The Forever Marathon" and "Where the Rainbow Ends," examines the variety and complexity of gay men's relationships -- with their friends, partners, lovers and family members, as well as other random acquaintances, including teammates, colleagues, dates, tricks and strangers.

Much like relationships in real life, the temperament of these sixteen tales ranges from inspiring and uplifting, to puzzling and disconcerting. Some of the lengthier, more intricate examples are worthy of novella status, while others read like essays or diary entries. Style and substance aside, this comprehensive anthology represents a multitude of ages, races and historical time periods.

Perhaps saving the best for last, Jack Fritscher's "Blown with the Wind" provides a compelling and brutally honest seven-decade retrospective of gay history and identity, as told by Jack, born in Chicago during the Depression, and his life partner, Zus, a Holocaust survivor. Jack's painstakingly detailed account of their life together spans the globe and includes everything from Judy Garland and the baths, to Gloria Gaynor, AIDS and iPods.

Gay marriage is at the forefront of "Pride," Lewis DeSimone's profound portrait of a day in the life of Keith and Craig, a content couple together for only a little over the year, who join the Castro Street celebration of DOMA's dismissal. As the two take in the festivities and encounter friends with mixed feelings about this legislative victory, both silently ask themselves whether matrimony is the right thing for them.

An actual same-sex wedding is about to take place, in post-Katrina New Orleans between Timmy Paul and Quenton, in "Second Life," Ronald M. Gauthier's revealing story about the effect tragedy and a near-death experience has on how one man chooses to live his life and decides his future.

The most lighthearted entry, "Sunflower," from Matthew A. Merendo, is narrated by Mark, a youngster with an incorrigible crush on his swimming instructor, Logan. Despite his efforts to suppress his lustful fantasies that seemingly appear everywhere, including his video games, Mark learns to try to take it all in stride, courtesy of Logan's encouragement.

Michael Graves' "Gold Mines" is also about a young teen, Nelson, from small town Massachusetts, who (unlike Mark from "Sunflower") is so proud of his fondness for Travis, a soldier in Iraq, that he moves in with his Gram to avoid his religious zealot mother. Although Nelson fears Travis has been killed, the young man works fastidiously to hang a sign over a highway to welcome him home. Equally moving and enraging, "Gold Mines" will surely bring a tear to the reader's eye.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention "What Is Real" by David Pratt, an intriguing, cathartic retelling of events from a man's encounter with a hitchhiker, as though the events never actually took place. Similarly albeit less inviting, "The Beautiful Boy" by Shaun Levin is an essay-style diatribe from a self-professed old, fat and ugly gentleman about our stereotypical preoccupation with age and vanity.

While some of the stories are either odd, bleak or arguably too lengthy, each is noteworthy in some fashion and the indisputably readable collection, as a whole, is impressive and thought-provoking, because we all have something in common with at least one, but more likely several of the men represented here.

With: New Gay Fiction
Edited by Jameson Currier
Chelsea Station Editions

A native New Yorker who called New England home for almost three decades, Chris is an aspiring author who now lives in sunny Florida. Email him at cwverleger1971@yahoo.com


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