The Don Juan myth, that has appeared in many guises throughout literary and musical history, originates in 17th century Spain where the Castilian Don Juan de Tenorio exploited women after luring them by his physical attractiveness, daring defiance of conventional morality, and his idiosyncratic notion of honour. A man of social and physical power, who has a single-minded drive to seduce, conquer, and abandon those who fall under his spell, Don Juan is a roguish cynic. Though sexual rapacity is a staple of his myth, Don Juan is the unrepentant, resolute libertine who overturns society’s moral rules because they are opposed to the fullness of life. It is a myth of violation most becoming a freethinker, for it dares to praise uncontrolled sexuality. But what if Don Juan was gay? Would his sexual preference alter the myth in a fundamental way? Would it advance the very notion of liberation? These questions are at the heart of Caro Soles’ anthology of eleven short stories by gay and lesbian writers of varying backgrounds and talents.
As editor, Soles aims to give the reader a wide sample of stories based on the Don Juan theme, producing, as a result, fiction with a wide repertoire of gay sexual practices and literary colours, though I am not sure that her collection offers profound implications beyond the fact that the homoerotic characters produce more of a balance of forces between seducer and seduced. Certainly, all the stories have an edginess and abundant male erotica. Most are of high literary quality, and some are worthy of repeated readings for heightened pleasure in various senses, though one or two have a very tenuous link to the central theme. Todd Gregory’s “Tell Me A Lie,” for instance, has a very credible ambience as a cruising tale (“the mating dance of the modern gay man”) but though it makes a nice point about the loneliness that accrues to some gay men, I do not see a real Don Juan figure in it. Likewise, Kyle Stone’s “The Sixth Position,” though competently done, moves any discussion of Don Juan into the kingdom of vampirism—which is not where Don Juan needs to be in terms of any meaningful discourse.
The range of settings and perspectives is remarkable. Jeffrey Round’s “Don Juan and the Queen of the Gypsies” offers an exotic Hungarian Canadian Don Juan, whose brute sex appeal is offset by emotional inadequacies. As usual with Round, wit and point of view are stellar attractions in the fiction that wonders whether it is better to look for sex through love or love through sex. Neil Plakcy’s “The Seductive Gaze of Don Juan Miguel” is set in Cuba and often has a Harlequin Romance quality, oozing sex at every pore as its narrator enjoys being seduced by a man who is admired by straight men as he much as he is lusted after by women. Caro Soles’ contribution, “ A Weekend in the Country,” has a Russian Don Juan in the form of Count Andrei Alexandrovitch Rubikov, a man who can (and does) seduce either sex with perverse ease and lack of conscience. Its Boyar cruelty with an S/M ending worthy of any good pornography is more than matched by an exquisite literary style that is well calibrated to the crackling passion in the fiction. Then there’s the Inquisitorial Spain of Paul G. Leroux’s “To Damn A Saint,” a tale singed by its outwardly ascetic Catholic padre-narrator’s secret, suppressed passion for a man condemned to the stake for sodomy.
Some of the fiction is almost otherworldly. T.C. Calligari’s “The Boy Who Bled Rubies” is a surrealist fantasy that varnishes a quest story about love and freedom, while Nancy Kilpatrick’s “Windows to the Soul” offers a ghostly “fantasy of sheer sensation” in which a “pale angel” morphs into a demon lover. But for those who prefer a more down to earth approach to gay fiction, there’s Storm Christopher’s “Descenso,” set in a SM bar called Faust, and whose Don Juan figure is a spectacular visiting exhibitionist who raises the rank envy and malice of the narrator, a S/M master, he easily supplants in terms of sexual power and domination, and whom he conquers psychologically as well as sexually at the end in a most literally painful way. Paul Bellini’s “Don John,” as its title hints, is an urban black comedy about an irrepressible, unrepentant, provocative “john,” a man who would ordinarily be the sad victim of police entrapment but who daringly flirts with and challenges his captor’s secret repression. It is quite the funniest, most audacious story in the book, though it is more jesting than credible.
The anthology concludes with what is possibly the most achingly credible story of adult male desire in the book—Michael Rowe’s superb “ Possession,” in which a middle-aged husband yearns for his son’s best male friend. The title is apt because Dan (the protagonist) is possessed by images of the desired youth in both waking and sleeping hours. The story has subtle psychological underpinnings that implode in some extraordinary scenes of dramatic power. And yet the prose is never overheated, never exaggerated. Everything remains life-sized. A very poignant contemporary tale of illicit obsession whose ending, however, may seem sentimental to those who do not relate to the quiet shocks that can rock a repressed man’s inner world.
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