My favourite pieces in the collection are probably those that work at the interface of gay-straight lives, such as the opening story by C. Bard Cole or Marcel Devons' tale about Scotty taking his boyfriend home to meet his parents. More than any other, I loved My Special Friend by Christopher Lord, and not only because the reading of it coincided with a dispute about Christmas trees chez moi. I found the final story in the collection, a long piece by James Barr, interesting as a story and even more interesting in a socio-historical sense; for me, at least, it illuminated the background to Brokeback Mountain, which must be the most famous story ever written about working-class gay men, while offering a sort of alternative to that story's historical hopelessness. It's the nearest story in the book to what I've termed consolatory, but even here the hero's forced, through one of those timely accidents fiction depends on, to think about, and come to terms with, his sexual and emotional needs.
What's refreshing about the book as a whole, though, is that it offers not only scenes of deprivation and desperation, but also possibilities of happiness that aren't shallow, self-defeating or unattainable, and it does this with warmth, intelligence and skill. I'm least happy with the stories in which a sort of poetic take on lives of hardship and squalor seems to glamourise rather than portray those lives, a stance that comes across, to me anyway, as inverted consolation. I'd also say that the sub-culture depicted in, for example, Skins, powerfully evoked though it is, isn't working-class at all, but sub-proletariat and as ghetto-ized in its way as the flashier world of 'beach reading'. But what the book does, to its enormous credit, is foreground these issues, and it does so by bringing together some fine and exciting writing. You can click on the link above to order the book, read more work by other great writers and contribute to Wendell's ongoing project. You won't regret it.