What makes a good short story? Felice Picano, in his forward to Filthy offers some of the more traditional takes: a deft handling of voice, of place, of character. But really, what makes a good short story - what makes a great short story - is a truly good idea.
Luckily for Christian – and luckily for us – truly good ideas are not in short supply in this collection.
A perfect example comes in "Sunset Boulevard," one of many tales that puts a queer twist on an old story. Christian, riffing brilliantly on the campness of the original movie, recasts the central fading screen siren as an aging gay porn star. And it might seem risible to allow the gloriously queeny Norman Desmond to intone, "I am big. It's porno that got small," but Christian pulls it off.
Christian isn't shy of a little shameless genre straddling with his startlingly imaginative ideas either. In "The Hope of Cinnamon" we enter a future world in which gay men have mastered the art of time travel in order to save their queer brothers from oppressive regimens of the past. But this tale is also a good example of how the short story format can be frustrating for the reader when presented with such a dazzling concept as this one. The idea is simply too big for the form. The problem presented – that the rescued men cannot cope with a life in nirvana – isn’t so much explored as thrown at us before we are hustled away for the next story.
This is where the book wears thin. The stories in this book are short, averaging ten pages of in-out wham-bam. After a while it starts to feel like Christian is torturing his readers, deserting his unsatisfied readers for fresh thrills before they have quite achieved emotional climax. Too much is left undone and unsaid. This collection could have featured just the five best ideas – including the wonderfully disturbing quasi-religious "Friday Night at The Calvary Hotel" – and served up five wonderful novellas.
In the final story – the most enjoyable of the whole collection – Christian once again attempts a daring feat and pulls it off neatly as he spins us a tale of a young gay reader so besotted with an author of outrageous gay erotica he takes a pilgrimage to his grave. Angered by his discovery en route that his hero was in fact in a relationship with a woman, he means to urinate over the author's last resting place, but ends up recalling too many of the author's purplest passages and doing something entirely different. It is no surprise when Christian reveals the name on the headstone of this soiled grave.
While Filthy is a wonderful book, and just the thing if you are in the mood for an enjoyable quickie (or twenty), it's not the place to turn if you are more in the mood for a story that can go all night.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Reflection's Edge Likes Filthy
Mathilde Madden over at Reflection's Edge has a very nice review of Filthy: