Tales From the Sexual Underground

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

THE BLURB

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.

THE REVIEW

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.

10 comments

  • Now that is what I call a damn good review. I haven’t read this book, but I have a real sense of what I’ll find, should I choose to buy it. Fantastic work, Jenre! 😀

  • Jenre
    As you probably know, I read a lot of Rick’s books. I enjoy his writing because they are told from the perspective of a gay man and there is always a tinge (or more than a tinge) of reality and horror in his stories. I would not classify this book as a romance – more like gay fiction/horror and the target audience would be those readers who love to scare themselves.

    I like Rick Reed’s books because very few authors give us stories such as A Face Without a Heart (a new take of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray), NEG UB2 (about a man who thought his BF infected him with HIV) and another classic, Orientation (about a man whose lover died of AIDS and comes back as a lesbian 20 years later). Not exactly the kinds of books that you would want to curl up with as a comfort read. 🙂

    Thanks for reviewing the book – I have read some of the stories and none of those I read ended well but they are amusing, and as you said, be careful what you wish for.

    • Hi Wave
      I know you are a big fan of Rick’s stories. I’ve only read one other of his books Bashed, and I liked it a great deal.

  • I think this is such a brave review, Jenre. I’m amazed at how objective and professional your comments are; I can tell that reading this book would have probably sent me into a week-long depression, not because it isn’t *good*, but for the same reasons you listed. I think it’s an amazing skill to be able to differentiate between what you like personally and what is, by any just measure, good quality in terms of writing etc. So thank you.

    Just really needed to say that.

    • Hi Alexi
      Thanks :).

      It was a hard review to write because I could appreciate that the stories and articles were very well written and of good quality and yet the content provoked such a strong emotional response.

  • Thanks for the great review. I do sometimes venture outside of the romance world and I know exactly what you’re talking about with the general feeling. I’ve read books similar to this and some of them have also left me feeling bummed out. If the writing is excellent these types of books can be excitingly jarring and give you a lot to think about, but you have to be ready for it.

    I appreciate how candid your review was so that people will know what to expect.

    • Hi Sharvie
      You are right in saying that sometimes you have to be in the right frame to read a book like this. Also, I think this collection is designed to be dipped in and out of, to be read in pieces rather than from cover to cover which is how I read it. Perhaps if I’d have left time between the stories and articles then the book wouldn’t seem so downbeat and I may have had a more positive reaction overall.

      • It’s so weird you mention reading it in bites! I actually was going to say that that’s usually how I read stuff like this, and why anthologies in this genre are perfect for me. But I ended up deleting it. Reading in short bursts is perfect when I’m in the mood. It hits the angsty spot and then I move on so I don’t get so down.

        Funny how we were thinking the same thing.

        • Hi Sharvie
          Themed anthologies or collections like this one are often best read in short bursts. Before I became a reviewer that is what I would do when I bought an anthology. Unfortunately I don’t often get the luxury of doing that any more.

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