Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall edited by Richard Labonté

Richard Labonté is one of my favorite editors of gay erotica for good reasons, he has "the touch" when it comes to gathering the best gay erotica writers out there. I consider myself fortunate in that my early introduction to gay erotica was through some of Labonté's excellent anthologies. To date some of my favorite writers in this category are those I found through his collections. 

With History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall, Richard Labonté approached the anthology differently. Instead of quick erotic short stories with 10 to 15 writers, he chose four writers who were then given the opportunity of expanding their stories into erotic novellas. The novellas are all set before Stonewall, giving the writers certain freedoms and restrictions not found in contemporary erotica.

Jeff Mann's novella is an erotic romance focused on one of his favorite subjects, the Civil War. In "Camp Allegheny" Rebel soldiers Shep Sumter and Brendan Botkin conduct a passionate love affair as they survive the Battle of Allegheny in 1861, the Battle of McDowell in 1862, illnesses, and a soldier's terrible existence during war. It's obvious that Mann researched these battles and a soldier's life during that time, however the historical information is integrated seamlessly with Mann's signature erotic scenes and the romance. There's the passion, warmth, love and connection between the characters (older Shep and his boy Brendan) that I've come to expect from Mann. The end is quite appropriate for a war story, and it leaves the reader with a feeling that he/she has just read an epic-romantic war tale.

Simon Sheppard's "Heaven and Earth" is a Depression-era tale reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde or as his main character claims in the story, Leopold and Loeb. The setting is Wichita and the main characters are the bored rich kid Eli and the poor, often filthy, gas attendant Jake. Eli goes on a crime spree and eventually Jake goes along with him. It all turns bloody, lusty, and ends with a gorgeous twist! Sheppard captures those dark times in America quite well in this short novella. There's a desperation and an atmosphere of hopelessness in this story that is carried throughout. His erotic scenes are graphic with an edge of violence. He's in his element in his description of lust with tastes and smells making the scenes come alive.

In "Tender Mercies," Dale Chase focuses her story on Luke Farrow, a failed prospector whose role in an 1800's mining camp becomes that of a 'camp boy.' His fortunes flourish unexpectedly when he sells his body to lonely miners for nuggets and bags of gold dust, while longing for a real touch and true intimacy. He finds both, plus passion, with a stranger who brings trouble to the camp. Luke is the main character and his adventures as 'camp boy' are erotic in some cases and detached in others, but with Luke as the recipient of pleasure or pain these scenes further the character's development. Cullen serves almost as Luke's much deserved reward. Chase is a favorite writer in this category, and in my opinion this is an excellent example of a Chase erotic tale.

David Holly is a new-to-me author, and in "The Valley of Salt" he goes back 3,000 years to the city of Gomorrah to relate a story that takes a young man from a virginal life to lusty desires after he is summoned by the Priests to serve as a sexual sacrifice to the city's male warriors. The story goes on to feature some Biblical characters, although Holly changes names and the chronology of events. Erotic scenes range from a one-on-one with voyeurism included, to multiple partners and even includes an orgy. The erotic scenes are well done and the story is engaging. Unfortunately due to contemporary use of language or terminology, which begins early on and does not mesh well with the setting or characters, there were many distracting instances for me while reading this story. Having said that, Holly's manipulation of historical events and characters are quite creative.

In conclusion, three of the four novellas in this anthology really worked for me. The fact that all four stories, as chosen by the editor, fit the title and the purpose for this collection is a big plus. If you enjoy gay erotica, there is no question that History's Passion: Stories of Sex Before Stonewall is worth reading. Of course now this book is a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award under the Gay Erotica category, so there you go, another good reason to read it. :)

Category: LGBT - Gay Erotica
Publisher/Release Date: Bold Strokes Books/November 2011
Grade: B+

My Reviews of Other Labonté Anthologies:
Country Boys: Wild Gay Erotica edited by Richard Labonté
Best Gay Erotica 2010 edited by Richard Labonté and Blair Mastbaum

2 comments:

  1. Great review Hils! Hmmm. Am I correct in assuming these stories don't have HEAs? Regardless, still very tempted :)

    Oh, and... *blushes* what does 'before Stonewall' mean please?

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  2. Orannia, this book falls under the "erotica" category, so the stories don't necessarily have to have an HEA (not romance). But one of them does have an HEA, and one has a very romantic ending -- although I should categorize it as a love story. The other two do not have an HEA.

    "Stonewall" refers to the June 27, 1969 riots that took place at the Stonewall Inn in Christopher Street (The Village) in New York City. The police raided the Inn which was a hangout for gays and instead of passively going along, the gay community fought back. This was right around the time the whole Civil Rights movement here in the States took place (a bit after/during). It changed the LGBT community. There were protests all over the States -- gays, lesbians, transexuals, etc... everywhere. The Gay Pride parade celebrates this milestone every year!

    If you Google 1969 Stonewall Riots, you'll get lots of information! :D

    Anyway, so when I say in my review that there are "certain freedoms and certain restrictions," I of course mean that before Stonewall (and a while after that), there were no worries about HIV/Aids, so the writers didn't have to worry about safe sex when creating their stories. But when it comes to restrictions, the writers had to take into account society. Sheppard and Mann in particular do a great job taking those restrictions into account.

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