A fine collection that explores and celebrates the ebb and flow of gay life.

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THE DAHLIA FIELD

STORIES

Gay men struggle to find love in straitened circumstances in this volume of short stories.

Alley (Precincts of Light, 2010, etc.), a University of Oregon literature professor, sets his tales mostly in the Pacific Northwest, especially the fictional burg of Carleton Park, Oregon. He populates them with gay men, many of them in their downwardly mobile but still studly 50s—running-and-gym culture is a prominent milieu—engaged in June-November romances with hot dudes in their 20s and 30s. A retired judge helps a young cop ease into gay culture; a minor league umpire navigates boyfriend trouble while fielding homophobic catcalls from the stands; a depressed, jobless psychologist starring in a local production of The Full Monty faces the departure of his house painter lover; and a boy weathers his dad’s attempts to beat manhood into him and finds a haven in his stepfather’s tender solicitude. Other tales feature a laid-off electrician edging toward a rapprochement with his estranged son, a playwright who has written a terrible but very popular King Lear spoof; a bankrupted shopkeeper wallowing in drink, drugs, and rough trade until a near-death panic reinvigorates him; a disgraced ex-mayor reduced to being a bellhop providing emotional sustenance to a distraught track star; a teenager in the early 1960s, inspired by Beat culture, opening the closet door; and a homophobic Christian conservative in denial about his attraction to men going ballistic when a running pal comes out. In the title story, a man revisits his estranged lover, now dying of AIDS, and regales him with beautiful imagery. With sensitivity and deadpan humor, Alley’s luminous stories explore a wealth of characters and social types thrown into fertile combinations. His prose is limpid and straightforward, laced with droll psychology—“Garret found himself in the midst of a very familiar position where everything that was happening was his business, but even so he had nothing to say”—and sometimes opening into an evocative, elegiac poetry: “Times when in high school, looking out on a late afternoon, I would enter that bricklit life of deserted curbs in the city, newspapers blowing under cinderblocks at newsstands with no one seeing, and would wonder what it was like to be lonely.” The results are funny, poignant, and engrossing.

A fine collection that explores and celebrates the ebb and flow of gay life.

Pub Date: March 16, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-937627-32-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: Chelsea Station Editions

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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