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Quickies 3: Short Short Fiction on Gay Male Desire by James C. Johnstone

N. A. Hayes

But in the short short story, with only 1,500 words or less available, each comma must count. The story must be an assassin.

Quickies 3

Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
Length: 224
Subtitle: Short Short Fiction on Gay Male Desire
Price: $15.95 (US)
Author: James C. Johnstone
US publication date: 2003-11

Rachel Hadas, in her article "The Treasure Trove of Metaphor," describes a poetry anthology as " . . . something active and belligerent: an army, or a line of ships arrayed in battle formation." She is right, but the description is limited. All words can be weapons, and we must consider our literary arsenal. The novel is an aircraft carrier, which can sustain an attack on or a defense of culture for more than 35,000 words. But in the short short story, with only 1,500 words or less available, each comma must count. The story must be an assassin.

Quickies 3 provides 73 assassins who rarely fall short of their mission to provoke and arouse. James C. Johnstone, the editor, provides us with a continuum that ranges from personal discovery in Darrin Hagen's "Tree House" to political expression in Sean Meriwether's "The Toilet Rebellion" -- all with stories rarely much longer than this review.

Each tale is the literary equivalent of a Pop Rock, explosive in intent. In providing the space for so many voices, a cohesive collection with too narrow a theme could be impractical and conceivably tedious. Fortunately, this collection, which is broadly centered on gay male sexuality, is anything but. The book is a complex but never cacophonous assault on the inner senses. Even in Billy Cowan's "Monster Lust," which deals with an incestuous fraternal desire and the simulated expression of such, or Albert Jesus Chavarria's "Thursday, 3:00 a.m.," which explores the racial and racist implications of sex between a Puerto Rican and a skinhead, the material is never shocking simply to shock.

The short short operates at such an intense level that it can present intimate, erotic material in fresh ways without needing to overanalyze and explicate. Most of the time, the immediate action stands by itself, its reverberations through the lives of the characters going undocumented. Granted, there is the old writing cliché, "Show, don't tell," but for the short short to be effective and not seem jumpy or prematurely concluded, the importance of each detail, each word must be brought to the forefront. Sloppiness cannot be hidden in the word count. For this reason, much like the activity referenced in this collection's title, the short short can be a delightful romp or an icky disappointment.

Quickies 3 does provide some j.o. material if that is what you are looking for. The limited length won't keep you busy flipping through pages, waiting for the good part; no intense scanning for the action or the money shot is required. The prospective cover clearly indicates the intended audience, displaying a muscled young man lifting his shirt and pulling down his pants. But despite the simplicity of the jacket's image, the erotic impulse and sexuality in general are never simple -- especially since they encompass so much of our lives. How many people have no opinion on gay marriage or abortion? The erotic is a genetic material of culture, which is why, when manipulated by art, it can be beautiful or destructive.

The book's subtitle, Short Short Fiction on Gay Male Desire, certainly prepares the reader for both the erotic and pornographic material in this work. However, desire here should be understood in the broadest terms. The two most exciting stores are "Four Faggy Moments," by Colin Thomas, about the loss of love, romantic and familial, and "Tofu-Desire," by Jordan Mullens, which is both highly erotic and anti-pornographic, humanizing investing souls in objectified bodies. The book will, at the very least, delight the men in its intended audience and, better yet, may surprise them.

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