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.