Libido: Reviews: Bar Stories
Bar Stories

By Charles-Gene McDaniel

At first glance, Bar Stories would appear to be just another collection of get-down-and-dirty confessional or don’t-I-wish tales relating in hyperbolic clichés experiences of men in gay bars, a -- or maybe even the -- major venue for picking up tricks and occasional lovers, sometimes also the venue for backroom or barroom action. The editor, however, has put together a delightful surprise, an anthology of literary putatively non-fiction that is only sometimes erotic. Unlike too much gay writing of the genre, it is touchingly about human relationships in which bars are involved, sometimes only peripherally.

Gay bars the world over vary little in ambiance. Fogs of cigarette smoke, dim lights, deafeningly loud music, frequently grime and tattered furniture are universal, mixed with the odors of stale beer, sweat and cologne. Not a pretty picture. But the youthful patrons — rarely any even approaching Medicare eligibility — provide a vitality that masks pathos, loneliness and desperation. Here’s where gay men go to meet, mix, mingle, relax and sometimes find a bed partner for the night, if not longer, or just to find a welcoming environment where they can be with other gay men without fear of being bashed by a macho self-loathing homophobe reacting against his own desires.

Bar Stories originally was conceived as an erotic anthology. The editor, Scott Brassart, said, however, that the collection of 28 pieces was transformed into a literary exploration because "I received a large number of extremely interesting, well-written, non-sexual stories. And so, much to my delight, the direction of the collection changed from 'erotic' to 'literary.'"

The stories range from a two-page vignette about a displayed collection of young patrons’ underwear set in a New Orleans bar to longer, fully developed stories that take place in big city and rural areas from across the country as well as Europe and Japan, where Dean Durber has sex in the Turkey Bar in Fukuoka with "the most gorgeous Japanese boy alive, more beautiful than I could ever possibly imagine" on an air mattress placed on a platform beneath spotlights to the delight of the other patrons and his own extraordinary pleasure.

One of the most satisfying, while disturbing stories is Gregg Shapiro’s perfectly developed Chicago leather bar story in which an erstwhile high school nerdy honors student picks up years later the jock who was a high school bully and delivers him a comeuppance, not only tantalizingly depriving him of the masochistic sex he expected but leaving him handcuffed and tethered alone in his own apartment.

Jack Fritscher, Robert Mapplethorpe’s lover and himself a photographer, relates his first experience with a handsome sex-for-sale trick. Christopher Lucas’ writes a funny story about dressing in Jesus drag for a Halloween party and going home with a hairychested blond dressed as a Roman centurion. In "Once on Christmas Eve" J. G. Hayes captures the sadness of a gay bar -- any bar -- on that holiday eve, the saddest of all nights for those who are alone and futilely seeking comfort from booze and others who are seeking comfort.

The stories pretty much run the gamut of types of bars and bar type men. On the whole, the stories are of highest literary quality with none of the repetitious sweating and grunting and volcanic orgasms found in too many gay erotic stories, although these stories do include the details of sexual coupling when appropriate. The difference is, the authors develop real stories with real people who engage in real relationships. While all of the stories are uniformly well written, a few might have been omitted, like one focusing jarringly on scatology in a Phoenix bar and a pretentious, unsuccessful piece titled "Rocky I, II, III, IV, V."

The book may not be one you’ll want to share with your mother, unless your mother is kinkier than mine was, but it is one that readers who appreciate good writing and subversive eroticism will enjoy immensely. I did.

Bar Stories edited by Scott Brassart (Alyson Books, Los Angeles, 1999. ISBN: 1-55583-536-8. 224 pages, paper $12.95).

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