This review first appeared on the WROTE Podcast website, where Robert Hyers will be interviewed in September!
Don't let the rather lofty blurb put you off. Robert Hyers' anthology of short stories is a pleasure to read. Amidst the pin-sharp observations and savage wit, there are also gripping, staggeringly-detailed and well-written tales, all set amidst the gay club scene.
And a what a scene it is; dripping with drag queens, twinks, muscle-boys, and ordinary, newly-out men stumbling around as they try to find their feet in a vivid, complicated new world. The fashion, the music, the threat of homophobic violence at every turn. And the drugs...
There are a LOT of drugs, with some graphic details of their use and aftermath, enough to make a middle-aged lady clutch her pearls. Nothing is really glamorised. Instead, it is searingly honest, telling of the dark side of all the seemingly carefree, hedonistic fun. There's nothing in the way of balls-to-the-wall sex, but it is implied, and that makes it all the more potent. It's a heady, painful mix that will ring true for many men, whatever their age, race and financial circumstances.
It is all here, an oozing, sticky melting-pot that you will want to stick your finger into again and again, even though sometimes, the ingredients are hard to digest. I read this all in one gulp, as once I had read the first story, I couldn't actually put the book down. This is a world I'm unfamiliar with; a frightening, colourful, dangerous world. It is hard to choose a standout, but the stories that stick in my mind the most are Bosom Buddies and Bacchae.
The first is the stage performance of two drag queens, one reaching for the stars, the other falling from them. Any story that features RuPaul's Drag Race will immediately have my attention, and the result is savage but hilarious. It is one of the shortest stories, but packs a powerful punch.
The second, Bacchae, concerns two men out with their "fag hag" female friend, ostensibly to pull her out of postpartum depression. I hate, hate, hate the term "fag hag" but it fits in this book, and anyway, the story isn't about her. It's about a kiss, a misunderstanding, dreams dashed and a spark of hope. Bittersweet and beautiful.