Book Review: Best Gay Erotica 2011

Best Gay Erotica 2011
Edited by Richard Labonte
Introduced & Selected by Kevin Killian

Every year, erotica writers gear up for the O Henry Awards of erotic writing: mainlyBest Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bondage Erotica, and Best Woman's Erotica (as well as the Susie Bright's Best American Erotica, but that ended in 2008--this must be brought back!). For me, Best Gay Erotica (aka BGE) is always something to look forward to. The collected stories always show that erotica writing is like any other form of writing, where craft is king and emotional resonance is as important as sexual turn-ons. These are not quickie Nifty (NSFW) stories, these are writers with two hands on their keyboards, working the lines between porn and literary intellect.

While last year's BGE was at best uneven, the 2011 edition is strong and I'd say more mature.

Like previous editions, the judges (this year, Kevin Killian) and editor (as always the legendary Richard Labonte...and this guy still doesn't have a Wikipedia page yet), point to the dangerous fact that erotica is a dying art. "In recent years, I culled fewer stories from the gay glossies," writes Labonte. Likewise, Killian questions the thin line between porn and mainstream culture in his introductory essay "When Porn is Everywhere and Everything Is Porn, What Is The Place for A Book Like This?" Killian writes: "Sex mutates into front pages of newspaper, all over the Internet, used to sell everything from cars to shoes to kitchen appliances. Gay sex is fashionable and mainstream."

The question here is can erotica be erotic when we are living in a "trans-sexual" (that is, the movement of sexuality into the public sphere) age?

Some of the stories here attempt to answer or at least explore that question. If there was a theme for BGE2011, it could easily be these blurred lines.

In "Counterrevolution" for example, Thomas Ree deals directly with the question of sexuality and pornography as a narrator masturbates and watches the same loop of internet porn. The narrator muses about how technology has infiltrated not only our sex lives, but our experiences of public space: "A former lover of mine tweeted a while back that Grindr at the airport makes U look at EVERY1 diffrrntly."

The story seems to assert that sexual technologies (A) have erased our sense of the real (on the amateur porn star, the narrator says, "Georgies is posting videos of his svelteness to the Internet because he's teasted at school for holding his Diet Coke with his pinky up, or because he does Irish dancing on weekend, or because everyone knows what he tried to do to Keenan last summer during the camping trip;" in this reality is masked: one can be anybody on the internet) yet at the same time, (B) make us know our own desires better (the narrator concludes, "I wish I had an iPhone.")

Traditionally or perhaps falsely assumed, erotica is about fantasy. BGE2011 showcases literary erotica in which reality is clearly present within the fantasy and this perhaps makes the set of stories here so strong: we can relate to it. From talking politics in Jeff Mann's "Saving Tobias" (here, he uses the speculative genre to explore a very real issue) to racism inJames Earl Hardy's "The Last Picture. Show." One of the best stories here is Natty Soltesz's very short "I Sucked Off An Iraqi Sniper," originally published on the BUTT blog. The sex is hot and awkward but still hot, yet at the same time (when you get to the end) he breaks your heart. Sex is ambivalent and dangerous in this book. From the necrophilia inBoris Pintar's "Blossom in Autumn" to Rob Wolfsham's rape fantasy in "Attackman" (after following the career of this particular writer for while, I would say his writing has matured since last year's BGE [not saying that "The Bed From Craigslist" was bad, I'm just saying...]) and the slave/master relationship in Jonathan Asche's "Shel Game."

Another thing that BGE2011 debunks is the myth of poorly crafted writing in erotica. In this volume, we see works that are close to prose poetry (as in Shane Allison's "I Dreamt") to short stories that are spot on in wording. Johnny Murdoc's "Bodies in Emotion" displays such adept craftsmanship. Murdoc's style is simplistic that while uses beautiful metaphors ("I try not to, but I'm like a meteor that can't avoid Earth's gravity. I'm like the moon."), also uses deadpan and spot-on sentences that express perfectly sex as not just fucking, but complicated matters of heart, mind, and cocks:

"I want to suck your dick," I say. I want to suck his dick, I want to eat his ass, I want to fuck him. I want to cuddle with him. I want to punch him.

While some stories come off as outlandish (Hardy's "The Last Picture Show" and Cox's "The Nose Commit Suicide” and Pike's "And His Brother Came Too") these stories' absurd tone add variety to a solid collection that year after year explores gay sexuality that is smart, complicated, and fully human as well as erotically stimulating.

This year, it is even more impressive.

1 comment:

  1. While Gay erotic books are less mainstream than hetero ones it is nice to see that they are appreciated and honored in such a way.