Installment number two in a proposed annual series of paired collections featuring gay and lesbian writers (see Hers, p. 811). The 18 pieces compiled here run an unpredictable gamut, from quietly desperate gay coming-of-age tales (``Tar Pit Heart,'' by Tim Miller) to oddly subversive science-fiction yarns ( Frank DiPalmero's ``The Option of the Coat''). According to the editors, the primary criterion for inclusion was literary quality, and while that's a hopelessly ambiguous way of evaluating the offerings, the best stories are indeed very good. Mark Shaw's ``Queerbait,'' for instance, finds a couple of midwestern gays lose in a punk-rock, tough-talking demimonde that's part Christopher Isherwood, part Dennis Cooper. In Bernard Cooper's ``Arson,'' a morally troubled young teenager decides to expunge his guilt by torching his porn in his parents' garage, only to have the burnt fragments of his illicit desire drift into hidden corners. ``To Nam and Bac,'' by Henri Tran, conflates queer issues with colonial anxieties by locating its narrative in preFall of Saigon Vietnam. ``The Road to Mary's Place,'' from David Kelly, finds a cosmopolitan gay man on a visit to his hometown; he's forced to save a hustler he has recently tricked with from the kid's redneck homophobe brothers. But Jason Friedman's ``The Wedding Dress'' is the anthology's standout: a carefully delivered contemporary southern story, reminiscent of Madison Smartt Bell, in which a teenager finds a wedding dress, briefly becomes a local celebrity, and gets spirited off by the dress's male owner, who gives him his first awkward taste of sex. Not all of the pieces strive to explore explicitly queer themes, and some of the less successful ones struggle to get going: Rick Sandford's ``Levi,'' for all its good intentions, reads like creepy pedantry, and Patrick Gale's ``Wig'' suffers from a damagingly self-conscious diction. Not uniformly brilliant, but in places luminous.
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