Harrington Park Press, $14.95, ISBN 1-56023-381-8
Contemporary Fiction, 2002 (Reissue)
The New York Times once ran an article called A Sex Stop on the Way Home. This article described in detail various local parks and rest stops being used by men for sex with other men. It seemed to have shocked many people causing allot of gay men and women to proclaim some type of negative biased anti-gay trash reporting and others, much like myself, to shrug and wonder at what point did any of that age old behavior become important ground breaking news for the brain damage sufferers posing as readers of The New York Times? Notice however, I did not use the term “gay men” to describe the type of men in search of anonymous sex in such public spaces. That is exactly why I can’t see this supposed revelation in print about arbitrary and well known male sexual fucking around going on at the local city park in most anyplace in America a wholly gay issue, be it negative or simply another uncontrollable aspect of human nature. You might close one place but the action will simply move someplace else.
The simple facts of life folks are that allot of the guys there cruising other guys using that facility in that particular way would most certainly not identify themselves as gay, nor are they anywhere close to having the balls to live their lives as your typical gay man. Though I am quite sure there are gay men that attend such places of interest, some of who would have issues if the sex were not anonymous and some for the cheap thrills due to the chance of getting caught that’s involved but for the most part the guys that go there are either, as described in one of the titles of in the book This Thing Called Courage; Jimmy Callahan, Married, Three Kids or George Michael before he finally came out.
Here is yet another example of that great gray area, that border place, not gay and obviously not straight. I have visited in memory and talked about this place many times while writing these reviews and considering many situations in my life. It is a place I sometimes can see as an embarkation point in the path of transition or at other times a destination of the disenfranchised. It is something that can be viewed from my perspective as dishonest and yet truthful at the same time and with the potential for revelation or obfuscation. It is there in that same place that the characters JG Hayes writes about live.
This Thing Called Courage was recommended in the article written in the back of Everything I Have Is Blue by the editor Wendell Ricketts and I must say the recommendation was right on. This was a breath of fresh air from the typical gay literature out there with it’s blue collar backgrounds, the characters dealing with their sexuality while struggling to survive the intolerance and violence around them and yet they want to stay, they want to and sometimes have to remain in the slum they grew up in. This is so different from the normally described gay fantasy, the decision to move away to a big city like San Francisco or New York, maybe to hide or maybe to reinvent oneself after that realization of being gay.
After reading several scathing Amazon reviews questioning Mr Hayes’s authenticity in his fictional version of South Boston and the fictional slang used, the fictional locations, or whether the characters choice of haircuts and other minutia used was exactly realistic. Well I can’t vouch for the success of that, anymore than I would vouch for West Side Story’s accuracy in the portrayal of Puerto Rican gang violence while performing pirouettes. Personally I cannot see where that matters or what the hell is so important when describing the rough Irish Catholic blue collar area of South Boston. As long as the story is good and the characters reasonable, right?
JG Hayes gives us some damn good stories starting with Regular Flattop, a story of Timmy on the day of his father’s funeral thinking about his two childhood friends from D-Street (as in gang), his love and loss ,and what he’s going to do to keep his promise to his dad and go someplace he has never been before, someplace beautiful. The following story This Thing Called Courage is about a man revisiting the grounds of his old high school and dealing with his thoughts on the terrible outcome of what some people would see as his molestation by a ex-marine school coach and what he now sees later in life as the destruction of the one great love, the loss of the one person who truly cared for him.
One of my favorite stories in this book is Jimmy Callahan, Married, Three Kids about a firefighter coming to the realization he is in love with one the guys at work even though he has already had his life planned for him as a husband with three kids and a wife, who makes sure to remind him constantly of his failures. The end of the story is soul crushing, as is the life the main character will be left with.
The book plays out with stories that to me had less of an effect, which is not surprising in any short story collection frankly, though I liked various things about them, the sexually charged and violent story of Sister Bennett’s Crystal Ball and the fevered surrealism of the talking squirrels and the homeless man in The Rain. The last two Peter Pillsbury’s Pride Parade and When Jesus Came to Town will most likely be enjoyed more by others. I myself think JG Hayes is such a strong writer that even if I do not like everything, I realize with time I may come to appreciate them also, I am willing to let the rest grow on me.
Despite the picture of the beefcake muscle dude with the tats on the cover, there is nothing forcibly erotic about the stories or the subjects. JG.Hayes writes about his characters’ thoughts and feelings, and does not focus on the particular positions being performed or how they express their love. These characters are to be experienced on the inside; their various plights are touching if not also heart breaking. I’ll tell you right now only a few of the characters actually have a positive outcome in this book. Much like the people I described going to those public restrooms at the beginning of this review, these characters might also inhabit those same spaces either in transition or desperation.
No, JG Hayes seems to be attempting to reach for the real not the idealized or the sugar coated. He might take a quick trip down paths of fevered illusions and dreams but he always returns and grinds everything into harsh reality with jagged edges. That is what I like about him and about his characters. People who live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle with their lives and for whatever reason cannot escape their lot but must deal with it and whom they have or will become. That my friend is the making of some good stories.