This first book of short stories portrays the childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood of gay and bisexual men. The stories, though not literally connected, add up to a collective portrait of the heartbreaks and struggles of that group of men who neither hide their sexual orientation nor flaunt it. Written in what is now a standard form of the literary short story, the stories have little plot or structure, revealing their meaning instead by anecdote and episode. This technique leaves the reader to make what he or she will of these glimpses of reality.
The acts of hatred brought against the protagonists are often brutally predictable: the shock and disdain of family members; the betrayals of supposed friends; the hostility of heterosexual men. It’s difficult at times to even distinguish the protagonists of the individual stories from one another. In the story “Acting Innocent,” which culminates in a strained family reunion, the reader becomes confused about the identity of many of the characters because they have no distinct personalities.
The collection is described as “raw” by its publisher, and these stories are occasionally just that. In “The Big Red Picture,” a woman commits suicide after discovering her husband is having an affair with a man. The husband seems to take this as more of a personal rebuke than a real tragedy, bemoaning the loss of the red Mustang she ruined with her blood.
The collection is ultimately redeemed by Ilsley’s fearless and acute eye and the authority of his narrative voice. Much of the writing is both strong and poignant, and promises even better work to come.