Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2000-2001

The Gay Times Book of Short Stories: New Century, New Writing, edited by P-P Hartnett

reviewed by Jim Herrick

The editor of this new collection of short stories, P-P Hartnett, blows the trumpet in his introduction: he wants to get away from the established, homo heavyweights with their “crap melodrama” and “plot driven bollocks”.

He instances Alan Hollinghurst and “Neil bleedin’ Bartlett”: since these are writers I admire, I wondered how I would react to the collection. I responded much more favourably to his dislike of the word “gay” before “writer”. “Gay writer” means many different things to different people and has a limiting effect, “like being in a room where the ceiling is too low”. We are human writers more than we are gay writers.

This new anthology has freshness and variety and youthfulness. It covers many genres: love story, crime, science fiction, political tale, tragedy. The inclusion of humour is very welcome in an anthology that might have veered towards earnestness. The writers are mainly young – and the characters are predominantly under thirty. There are many erotic moments: hard-ons here, there and everywhere. While reading it on the train, I wondered whether one of those nosy over-the-shoulder readers might get a shock or a nice surprise!

Although cruising and romance and sex fill some of the stories, there is a welcome inclusion of other aspects of gay life. The fact that gay men have sisters, mothers, wives, children and nephews demonstrates that gays do have families that are important to them.

Stories from Asian and Afro-Caribbean writers are welcome. The Double Life of Sandeep Singh by Amardeep Gill is a strong tale of a student who discovers gay sex but remains in the closet as far as his Indian student friends are concerned. The lively story by Chris Ferguson – Millennium Bug Cairry-Oot – is in broad Scottish dialect. AIDS and HIV infection are bound to have their place in a modern collection of gay tales. The only hint of religion comes with a priest who finds that the beautiful pin-up he adores is a rough rent boy in real life.

Transvestism and politics become themes. Uncle Deborah is a memorable character. A social climber hopes to become the lover of a cabinet minister (who? one wonders), and the scorned ex-lover of an MP attempts blackmail. There is a relationship begun through the Internet, the powerful love of adolescents, attempted suicide (bordering on “crap melodrama”?), the twists in the tail of stories such as Necks Please (“plot driven”?).

Two stories of many that I enjoyed linger in my mind. New Death in the Afternoon (put aside the Hemingwayesque title) is a powerful juxtaposition of watching a bullfight with first realisation of HIV infection. The Photograph of Rosa examines how a photo from the past can impact on present life – and incidentally depicts one of the few satisfactory long-term relationships (too dull for twenty-first-century fiction?).

The story Immigrant gives us a Nigerian in bed with an Afro-Caribbean. He has never been satisfied with words to describe himself – “queer”, “battyman”, “fag”, “gay”. They are “All other people’s words. White words, black words, Christian words, Islamic words. Impoverishing. He does not want to live his life on other people’s terms.”

In The Double Life of Sandeep Singh the protagonist wonders whether he has done right or wrong in his regular cruising: “And he realised now that through it, albeit by chance, he had liberated himself, met himself on one of those lonely, condom-littered roads late at night. As alone as he was he felt an immense freedom.”

This anthology is about the liberation of words and the liberation of lives and deserves to be read.

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Created : Sunday, 2001-04-15 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :