The latest edition of the yearly anthology series offers a vivid cross section of contemporary gay life.
Though its title is something of a misnomer—The Best Gay Small Press Stories might be more fitting—this collection, edited by Berman, doesn’t suffer for its conspicuous absence of today’s most famous gay writers. Its 20 stories (most of them fiction, with a few autobiographical pieces included) examine multiple generations of gay experience. Ameen’s “Irrespective of the Storm,” for instance, chronicles his arrival in New York City in 1978, nodding to a subterranean sexual culture almost unrecognizable today, while several of the stories grapple with the meaning of commitment in the modern age of Internet sex. Though the complexity of desire might not be the most surprising thematic throughline for an anthology of gay writing, the collection succeeds precisely due to the fact that the stories are complicated, populated with believable, imperfect characters and plenty of ethical gray areas. If desire is one of the collection’s primary concerns, another dominating interest is capturing varied moments in gay men’s lives. Jones’ searing “Boy, A History” follows a character known only as Boy throughout his sexual awakening in a hostile environment. Other contributors tell stories of young love and long-term relationships turned tepid, middle-aged anxiety and elderly isolation. Though the book’s no less enjoyable for it, the anthology’s scope can feel narrow at times, with the majority of its stories taking place in familiar urban gay settings and most of its characters of an educated, well-cultured set. But the book does succeed in representing a wide range of voices—though there’s nothing approaching experimental here—and the result is a compellingly diverse reading experience: strong writing throughout, with each story distinct from the next. While this collection’s nuanced depictions of gay men today will surely attract gay readers, the quality of its stories transcends niche interest.
A fine showcase of emerging and small-press authors.