As Bergman (The Violet Quill Reader, 1994) admits in his introduction, Men on Men has become an institution, a bellwether of gay taste. Venerability doesn't have to mean boring, however, as the 22 stories in this latest edition prove. Bergman's editorial preferences lean toward flawless execution and masterful style, but his appetite for the aesthetically formidable is tempered by a willingness to take chances. Here, he steers away from AIDS and toward the illumination of meaningful experiences, a move that elevates the overall quality of his selections. Dangerous tales, such as Bruce Benderson's drag-queen meets the-damaged-bloom-of-youth ``Blades'' and Kevin Martin's drugs-, race-, and sex-addled ``Crack,'' share space with accounts of emerging sexuality; David Ebershoff's ``Trespass'' depicts a boy witnessing a very normal gay life through the lens of an absent homeowner, and Paul Lisicky's ``Lawnboy'' pits a teenager's sexual education against his parents' intolerance. In a rare nod to the difficulty of transacting a young-adult gay life, Jim Grimsley, in ``Comfort and Joy,'' finds a twentysomething intern dueling with the contrast between his parents' conventional expectations and his own brittle desires. Two long contributions, Thomas Glave's ``Their Story'' and James Purdy's ``The White Blackbird,'' employ retrospect and slightly spooky motifs to tremendous effect. Achim Nowak, in the long ``Graham Greene Is Dead,'' explores the correspondences between disease and expatriation, using Trinidad and Tobago settings to reconsider his title's celebrated globetrotter. In ``Tricks of the Trade,'' William J. Mann obsesses in summertime Provincetown; and Philip Gefter, in ``Elizabeth New Jersey,'' gets busy, in Paris, with clothing. Paul Gervais's ``Love in the Eyes of God'' devises some lusty mileage, and similar elements of barely requited desire are presented in Jason K. Friedman's ``Massage.'' As a gay literary institution, this one ranks with the best over the past two decades.
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