Without question, writer, poet, man about town, JEFFREY ROUND is one of the most affable men you’re likely to ever meet. And, in a culture of rapidly receding social and conversational skills, geniune warmth, amiable charm, and courteous good-naturedness can be, as is the case with Mr. Round, refreshingly welcome.
It could also be that Jeffrey and I are GWM’s of a certain age and shared history. He peruses my fiction shelves finding titles nearly identical to his own home library. Ed White. Andrew Holleran. David Plante. James Baldwin. John Rechy. Christopher and his kind.
And we both admit to being “a bit of a snob,” when it comes to our literary tastes (I cannot speak for Jeffrey, but I’m not certain mine is well-earned). Bottom line, we still hope/expect to be astonished by good writing.
At a recent writer’s festival, Jeffrey sat down with the lovely, earnest Shyam Selvadurai (Funny Boy, The Hungry Ghosts), who later said that he had heard that Jeffrey was now writing mysteries. “How can you do that?” he asked.
Or as my writer friend Marnie Woodrow says, “There’s nothing finer than a well-written mystery.”
I readily admit, I’m with Shyam. Mysteries fall under the category, “not my genre” (along with most sci-fi and all self-help). I read poetry. Literature. You know, good [serious] stuff.
And, while I’ve known Jeff and his work for some time, our first meeting on the page was indeed with his first collection of poetry, In the Museum of Leonardo DaVinci (Tightrope Books). A notable debut.
He places a copy of his latest Dan Sharp, Lambda Award winning, mysteries in my hands and says, “read this.” The cover alone is a turn off, (boots and spurs) but it’s set in Toronto and the storyline resembles the infamous murder of a gay club owner in the hood. I’m hearing soundtrack cues from Law & Order. I open the book.
After the Horses (Dundurn Press) does the unexpected, steers clear of cliches. Just when I think I know where the story is going, it shifts, goes deeper, darker. It’s characters say things that make me squirm, laugh out loud. Yes, it has the structure of a mystery, that’s its genre, but that’s the only thing I might say is close to formulaic. What carries us is some damn fine writing.
Round doesn’t simply rest with the fact that our leading man is gay, the man everybody wants and no one can ‘have.’ Private Investigator Dan Sharp actually has a life. A son. Relationships. Style. The thing I loved most about reading Round’s sharp mystery is that every single character is memorable, I could name every one of them and talk about each as though we had met. Even those introduced earlier in the series I hadn’t read yet.
And, being character driven, I found myself only wanting more.
Which brings us to Round’s title story in a more familiar territory of gay lit: the anthology.
Anthologies aren’t generally known for being money makers in publishing (for any party), and are rarely ever considered for review. But, anthologies have been a major player in gay lit, introducing and directing readership to LGBTQ authors, to those ‘on the edge,’ whom otherwise may have fallen through the cracks. Many are theme-based, new, best, erotica, coming-out, or other sub genres. Queer anthologies have also largely celebrated the rich contribution made historically by those who forged and advanced the subject heading, gay fiction.
The 592 page Speak My Language and Other Stories: An Anthology of Gay Fiction (Robinson, 2015) falls under a single category, mammoth. I would also add, essential.
But, I am very, very glad that the only available route to a proud acceptance and endorsement of my gay nature should have come throught literature. I think I would have always loved Shakespeare, Keats, Austen, Dickens, Tennyson, Browning, Forster, Joyce, Fitzgerald … but I cannot thank my sexuality enough for giving me, in my particular case, a love of all reading and an introduction to the gay identity that offered so much more than Gay Tube and x.hamster.com. – STEPHEN FRY from his forward
Clearly a labour of love, beautifully edited by Torsten Højer, taking the reins from Peter Burton (the book’s dedication) opens with a wonderfully capsulated gay lit history lesson in a forward by Stephen Fry. Here we have a vastly unique cross section of many genres (even poetry) from as many countries, gay writers established and new, all reading simultaneously fresh and familiar.
Besides Jeffrey Round’s trio of European lovers in Speak My Language, (followed by Sex Magick‘s Ian Young), there’s Patrick Gale, Lawrence Schimel, Felice Picano, Neil Bartlett, Frances King.
I say ‘essential’ because it has been some time since a volume of this magnitude depicting such a pleasurable variety of gay male experience has come along, or is likely to ever again.
Photo credits: Kirby. Gio Black Peter.