Title: Tales From the Sexual Underground
Author: Rick R. Reed
Publisher: MLR Press
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Gay contemporary and horror fiction, commentary, interviews
Length: 205 pages
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A guest review by Jenre
I wanted to write about people who were not just out, but out there, people who lived their sexual lives in ways most of us could only imagine…and for whom the flavor vanilla had absolutely no appeal. I interviewed porn stars, prostitutes, self-proclaimed sex pigs, and delved into bizarre sexual practices. It was eye-opening, arousing, and a lot of fun (but never, never good clean fun). I also include here my favorite dirty stories. They all explore a side of life that exists not in the twilight zone, but in my favorite destination…the sexual underground.
Whenever I’m reviewing a book, I always have two criteria in mind, along with the usual thoughts about plot and character: Firstly whether it was what I would consider well written – did the writing transport me, was it thoughtful, articulate, intelligent; and secondly did I enjoy the experience of reading the book? In the case of Tales From the Sexual Underground the first criteria was a resounding yes, and the second one a rather large no.
Before I go on to explain why I had such a mixed reaction to this book I feel I ought to point out that this collection isn’t the typical m/m romance book that you might expect from a publisher like MLRP. It’s a mix of different styles of writing from short fiction to interviews, personal anecdotes and commentary about the life of a gay man, many of which are taken from a column that Rick R. Reed used to write for a Chicago entertainment magazine. It’s an eclectic mix, to be sure, and all are written in an engaging and entertaining style.
Let me first start by saying that this book is not about romance. There’s love in it, there are a number of relationships shown; but there’s no romance – or at least what many readers of this blog would associate with romance. There is a lot of sex, after all the book touts itself at a look at the seedier side of sex and life. My expectations from reading the blurb was that I was in for a raunchy, erotic ride, and in some senses the articles and stories were very erotic. They also, on the whole ended badly. Nearly all the fiction fit into what I would consider the horror genre, which I suppose I should have expected, given that Rick R. Reed writes many of his books in that genre. This meant that many of the stories were what I would consider ‘cautionary tales’, along the lines of ‘be careful what you wish for’, and told of men who came to various sad or horrifying or sticky ends because they allowed themselves to be ruled by their dicks, rather than their brains. One or two stories like that in the collection would have been very interesting, and quite refreshing to read, but by the time I was getting to the end of the anthology, I was starting to long for a story that ended well for the hero.
There was a lot of humour in the book, some of it as black as tar; but also some of it had me creased over. After reading one tale, Big and Sexy: A Late Night Tale, I’ll never look the same way at a bumper sized can of hairspray ever again! There was also a very tongue in cheek humour to many of the articles which poked gentle (or sometimes not so gentle!) fun at the way of life of a gay man. Conversely there were many stories which made me sad. One poignant story, It Still Happens, told of the last hours of a man dying of AIDS and another, Last Date, had a similar theme. Both stories had me in tears by the end.
My main feeling though whilst reading the anthology was a sense of anger at the stupidity of the men who populate its pages, both the real and imagined men. Mostly because many of the stories and articles dealt with men who purposely infected others with HIV or whose bad judgements put themselves at deliberate risk of catching the virus. Time and time again I felt myself getting so angry at what I was reading that, to be honest, I wanted to put the book down and not pick it up again. Now I suppose I’m reading this book from the point of view of a straight woman, and a reasonably sensible one at that, so maybe I’m wrong to feel as I did. Maybe I was over-reacting to what I saw as blatant stupidity on the part of the men featured in this collection. But, I can’t help what I feel and I have to admit that this book made me very angry and uncomfortable and sad, and I can’t say I enjoyed much of it as a result.
This brings me back to whether I can recommend this collection to the readers of this site. I suppose that it all depends on whether you read this site because you are interested in GBLT fiction or just romance. Romance only fans will not like this book and I couldn’t in all honesty recommend this book to you. Those who like to experiment with their GBLT fiction will find many things to enjoy in this collection, especially if you aren’t too concerned by a lack of HEA. The quality of the writing was superb and this collection is a real showcase of the talent of this author, but I don’t think I’ll be re-reading any of this collection.