Title & Link: Honorable Silence
Authors: Lex Valentine, George Seaton, Maura Anderson, William Maltese
Publisher: MLR Press
Genre: Anthology, Contemporary M/M, Military
Length: 240 pages (+69,000 words)
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars
A guest review by Buda
Summary Review: An uneven collection of stories revolving around the US military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Our men and women in uniform sacrifice daily to serve our country. But what about the additional, voluntary sacrifice that each gay person in the military makes daily when they don their uniform? We ask these men and women to not only serve their country but serve in silence and denial, sacrificing not only their physical lives but their emotional ones too by denying them their right to love. Four talented authors weave tales that describe how living a lie pulls at the hearts and souls of good servicemen, whose only desire is to do their duty to their country…honorably. In AFTERBURNER, two fighter pilots let their hearts soar despite regulations. THE LOSS OF INNOCENCE STORE provides a glimpse into the U.S. Army prior to the institutionalization of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. A sniper and infantryman find that love eases the pain of being forsaken in FORSAKE NOT. And STRATEGIC MANEUVERS reveals the intricate steps that can lead to love while in uniform.
What a timely collection of stories, considering the weird legal situation the DADT policy has been in recently, not to mention the ridiculous statements that have been coming out of some members of the US Senate regarding the efforts to repeal the policy. This isn’t a political blog, so I won’t mention my personal thoughts on the matter; more importantly, this anthology isn’t particularly political either. Instead, each of the four books focuses on how the DADT policy affects its protagonist. Sadly, the books in this anthology didn’t receive their own blurbs, just the collective one above.
Afterburner by Lex Valentine – 3 out of 5 stars
Here we meet Sebastian Marchetti and Ryder Beckett. Both men are fighter pilots and have served with the Thunderbirds, the USAF demonstration team, and flew the #5 plane, which is always the inverted plane. Sebastian (Bas) retired from the USAF the previous year, spending his time preparing to join his brothers on the Flying Marchettis demonstration team. Ryder has just transferred to Edwards Air Force Base. He meets Bas while looking for Bas’s late father, from whom he had rented a room many years prior. Bas and Ryder’s attraction is immediate and white hot. Although Ryder still has two years before retirement from the Air Force, he is looking for a relationship, and he and Bas fall into one within the hour. Even for pilots used to traveling at super-sonic speeds, the relationship between Bas and Ryder happens way too fast–we’re talking Warp 10. Still, the two do have a nice chemistry and their relationship is believable and fun.
This book is enjoyable, but I did despair that after their initial sex scene, the phrase “his lover” appeared on nearly every page. Overall, this is a sweet story that deals only lightly with the dangers of DADT. Bas is concerned about the potential fall-out to Ryder’s career should their relationship be discovered, but it seems they have an ally in high places. While I liked this book, I was left with the lingering thought that it just tried too hard.
This book is a departure from the others in the collection in a number of ways. First, it is set in the 1970s, long before DADT came about, but when the full-fledged, all-encompassing ban was in place. Second, it is the only story told in first person, by a mostly unnamed protagonist (we learn late in the book that his middle name is Michael). As such, this is the most personal story in the anthology. It was wholly unexpected and deeply moving in ways I cannot completely articulate, even after two readings.
We listen as this soldier tells his experiences, beginning and ending the story in one Denver, Colorado, gay bar. Along the way, he tells of Basic Training and, later, his life stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. In a book packed with emotion and detached analysis, thought-provoking passages abound. One of my favorite, lengthy ones is this: “The Army was both my nemesis and my savior. The Army was a harsh and unforgiving teacher. The Army was a sorcerer of magnificent proportions, capable of conjuring the desperate reality of the world in the blink of an eye, the Grand Champion Proprietor of the Loss of Innocence Store where all feet stood squarely on the ground, and purchases were made only with displays of absolute fealty to the Beast, the Proprietor, the Army. And the Army demanded a certain truth from each of us. At one point or another, on our bellies in the dust or as we wondered at the savage, predatory grace of hawks soaring from the tops of tall pines, the Army had a way of demanding that each of us reach down and examine our souls within that secret, dark and deep recess of ourselves, and scrutinize the essential truth of what we found ourselves to be.”
This is as much a voyage of self-discovery as it is a statement against the ridiculous ban and DADT. It is a deeply personal story with no real romance involved, just a moving testament to how it was then, how it is now.
Here we meet Rob, a physically wounded Marine, and Leo, an Army soldier, both of whom are mourning the loss of their best friend, Terry. The two men have never met, having known Terry at different times in Terry’s life, but they are aware of each other’s existence through stories Terry told each of them. Rob, a sniper, was wounded by an enemy sniper as he changed hiding spots and is in the midst of a lengthy, painful rehabilitation. Leo has just returned from the tour of duty in Iraq that ended Terry’s life. While Rob is dealing with his physical injuries possibly making him medically unfit to return to duty, Leo is worried that one of his fire teammates is about to report him as gay. Leo beat up this teammate at a bar after the teammate made some hateful, disparaging remarks about how Terry deserved his death because he was gay. Through their shared memories of and mourning for Terry, Leo and Rob manage to forge a friendship neither expected. Eventually, that friendship turns into more.
There is a lot to recommend this story, including interesting men dealing with difficult situations with humor, each allowing the other to lean on him a little without making a big deal of it. Rob’s sister is great, though her part is very small. Overall, this is an exceptionally sweet story of loss and love.
Strategic Maneuvers by William Maltese – 2.5 out of 5 stars
This is the story of Robert Larkin and Pablo Manuello, two completely different men from opposite sides of the tracks, as it were. After his parents died, Robert had been under the guardianship of Senator Stanley George, his father’s best friend. Pablo was a street thug who was sentenced by a judge to join the Army or face prison time. The opening sentences of the book are: “For Robert John Larkin III, it was always a little weird having his cock sucked by Stanley George.There was always some vaguely inherent subconscious insinuation of incestuous subtext … even though Stanley wasn’t related by blood and wasn’t even any longer Robert’s guardian, although he had been for five years.“ And so follows the rest of the book, which is broken into chapters dealing with different couplings of men: Robert & George, Pablo & Gomez, Robert & Pablo, etc, etc.
Robert and Pablo meet as they’re going through the physical examination line during in-process at MEPS. The sexual attraction is immediate and overwhelming. So much so that they skip lunch and head down an alley, where Pablo goes head down. Buried deeply between the nearly all-consuming sex scenes is a plot line where Senator George and Robert have predetermined that Robert will use his military service as a stepping stone to a political career. Because of this plan and the Senator’s power, Robert is shipped to Korea (a hot zone, but not an in-danger hot zone, see?) wherein he is provided with contacts with other gay soldiers on the down low, so to speak. Meanwhile, poor Pablo is sent to the Middle East and has to do the real fighting.
There were many reasons I did not enjoy this book. First, it seemed to be one long succession of lengthy sex scenes where I would have preferred more of an emphasis on plot or characterization or relationship-building. Second, labyrinthine sentences cluttered the page. For example: “Soon, Robert wondered if he’d miscalculated in his seating assignments, in that his boner, had from just looking at Pablo, became, by its continuous stiffness (even Viagra warned about erections lasting overly long), an object of genuine disconcertion in its inability to fit, comfortably, the small amount of trouser space which it allotted by Robert’s sitting position.” (What?!?!) Third, there was an almost Deliverance-esque moment early on: “‘Show me you’re the ass-fucker we both know you are,’ Gomez ordered. ‘Get me squealing like a young virgin staked on her very first dick!'” Uh, yeah. About that.
While the subtitle of this anthology is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, only two of the books included truly address the consequences of living under the policy with any real depth. As the individual ratings show, I felt the stories were uneven in quality, but I’m glad this publisher and these authors are providing a tribute to our over-tasked and under-recognized military men (and women, though they don’t factor into these stories for obvious reasons). If you’re a fan of any of these authors or the military in general, this is a must-read collection.