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Best Gay Romance 2010, edited by Richard Labonte

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Continuing their now-classic series, Cleis Press releases this year’s Best Gay Romance just in time for Valentines’ Day. I read it that week and the timing was perfect. Every story focuses on love, schmoopy or solid, hard-edged and bunny-soft. There are those who say love between men is different than other kinds, but these stories show that caring, nurturing, sex appeal, and lifelong love fits male couples of all types. And despite the youth of the cover models, many of the characters here aren’t fresh-faced neophytes to love but scraggly, scruffy, middle-aged or older men who dare to take a chance with their hearts.

Labonte has gathered several well-known gay fiction writers: Trebor Healey, David May, Rob Rosen, Natty Soltesz, and Simon Sheppard round out pieces from relative newcomers such as G.A. Li, L.A. Fields, and Doug Harrison. The mix of voices creates a charming book.

Among the strongest pieces:

“World’s Greatest Dads” by David Puterbaugh captures the day-to-day, minor irritations of a life together, especially one faced with the huge undertaking of adopting a child. Mark and Scott are shopping at an Ikea-esque megastore and arguing—gently—over the as-yet-to-be-determined name for their son. With deft characterizations and spot-on dialogue, this is a gentle read that evokes the joys and trials of pending parenthood.

“Templeton’s in Love” from Jerry Wheeler is another romantic piece, and one with a much more somber tone. Tom and Stan have broken up, with angry words and some bitterness. The story has dual love lives to share: the singer, Templeton, and his lover, plus the main characters. When Tom and Stan run into each other at Templeton’s “comeback” concert for one of their favorite singers, the story takes a hopeful turn. Yet underscoring this renewed romance is the sadness of Templeton’s revelation. A lovely piece.

“Guy Sydney” is a take on the Cinderella story except this tale has a rare-book dealer as the Prince and a hotel desk clerk as Cinderella. The nuances of book collecting are a nice touch, and though this may date the story as publishing moves to digital files, a reader can almost feel the worn pages and smell the pleasant book-musk rising from the pages as this couple wend their way towards love. Author David Holly also gives his Cinderella a modern twist so that they evil-doers get an appropriate come-uppance. This is a terrific spin of the fairy tale that works on all levels.

Rob Rosen contributes the snappy and energetic “Make a Wish.” When birthday boy Glenn meets the world’s most gorgeous waiter at a sushi restaurant, Jeff gives him a birthday cakelet and the hope for a romance-dipped wish. But then Jeff disappears, presumably to wait tables at another restaurant. Glenn works his way through the phone book, dialing restaurants night after night in a fruitless effort to find the man of his dreams. This story has an ending with a perfect touch, just enough sexy double entendres to make it fun but not veering into crude porn territory. Worth nibbling on again, this story was probably the sweetest of the bunch.

Another solid story is “Squeamish” by Simon Sheppard. When his lover leaves for him a Master, the narrator Brett, struggles to make sense of dominant/sub relationships that he’s had little experience with. Brett’s heart aches for Jeff, uncomprehending though he may be. Sheppard does an able job of showing Brett working through the end of their relationship: “It’s such an old story, if you strip it of its whips and chains.” And later, when Brett finds incriminating letters and photos: “How could I compete with the fascist of your dreams?” The story veers nearly into an uncomfortable vibe, at odds with the more traditionally romantic of the other stories. Yet it works.

It all works. Read it with a lover, read it with a friend, read it on the beach or in a bed. Whether alone or to share, this book has gay romance of all kinds to entice you.

Best Gay Romance 2010
(Cleis Press, January 2010; ISBN-10: 1573443778)
Available at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble


© 2010 Vincent Diamond. All rights reserved.

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