Desire - Tales Of New Orleans
I opened this book with the expectation that all the stories would involve crazy party boys collecting their copious amounts of beads on Mardi Gras. There may have been some party boys, but New Orleans is about more than Fat Tuesday's celebrations; many of these stories had a far more depressing spin on them. Book-ended by two stories set in New York City about men who had come from New Orleans, the bulk of William Sterling Walker's "Desire" compilation contains stories actually set in New Orleans. Many of them feature characters dealing with loss from, or suffering with HIV/AIDS, and all of them include some art form, bringing to life the lively New Orleans art scene. Each story looks at how New Orleans has played into the characters' identities, how the city has shaped them, how it has sucked them in. This style leads to much contemplation of the past by every character, a sort of "how did I get here" concept.
One such story that spends much of its time in flashbacks is "Menuetto," in which main character Bernard is hospitalized with what we can only assume is HIV/AIDS. When a friend comes to visit, Bernard spends the entire time telling Stan the stupid things he has done for sex. He tells a slightly horrifying story about the time he had sex with a young army boy who started hemorrhaging mid-coitus. In the end, Stan leaves Bernard asleep in his hospital room, with his closing contemplation of his regret at never being with Bernard.
In "Aubade" the main character and his cousin Jack note how much the past weighs down on them in New Orleans, almost as oppressive as the humidity. We then learn that Jack and the main character have had more than one sexual encounter together (despite the main character's live-in partner), and we leave these two characters in the same position, so to speak.
This compilation of short stories stands to prove that gay men are not always the exuberant, fun-loving queens portrayed on TV. As Ernest from the story "Risk Factors" says, " why is it you never see gay men portrayed on the television as anything but the witty Cloris Leachman-like neighbor or the glamorous, frivolous life of the party? . . . That doesn't represent my experience." I may not have been entirely entertained by all of the subject matter, but these stories provide a pretty good, if not slightly depressing view into the gay man who isn't a stereotypical bitch.
William Sterling Walker
Chelsea Station Editions