Thursday, September 30, 2021

Berman (ed.), Burly Tales (2021)

Steve Berman (ed.), Burly Tales: Finally Fairy Tales for the Hirsute and Hefty Gay Man. Lethe Press, 2021. Pp. 218. ISBN 978-1-5902-1084-0. $15.00.

Reviewed by Gwen C. Katz

It’s official: The LGBT+ community has become a marketing demographic. Every June, the floodgates open as every publisher, film studio, and content producer tries to get in on the rainbow dollar. Obviously, I’m not angry at a trend that boils down to “being queer has become socially acceptable,” but I know I’m not the only one who has a certain nostalgia for a time when queer content was made by us and not at us.

Happily, we have Lethe Press.

Founded in 2001, a time when I was still claiming that my love of the Matrix had nothing to do with Trinity’s leather outfit, Lethe was bringing us positive queer fiction before it was cool, and certainly before it was a moneymaker. They’ve retained that countercultural edge of a publisher who truly does not care what Common Publishing Wisdom states they should be doing. And their new anthology, Burly Tales: Fairy Tales for the Hirsute and Hefty Gay Man, is a perfect example.

Modern fairy tales, opines Matthew Bright in the introduction, still mostly revolve around “the glittery hopes and dreams of the thin and beautiful.” This background radiation is so ubiquitous that you almost forget about it until you read something like Burly Tales. It is an absolute pleasure to read stories where fat guys with body hair, beards, glasses, and receding hairlines are treated as self-evidently attractive. “Like a sexy mountain that had just grown legs and sauntered over,” croons the narrator in “A Giant Problem” by the always-entertaining Charles Payseur. It’s also refreshing to read something that is clearly not written for me (“me” being a thirtysomething white lady who experiences attraction to men), since my demographic has been absorbing the M/M genre like The Blob.

I’m usually allergic to overly on-the-nose fairy tale retellings, but this collection barrels in with such audacity that, when a guy named Hamlet makes an art installation out of straw bales and calls it “Tiny House,” the only possible response is “Sure. Why not?” And I’m delighted to report that the wonderful cover illustration is indeed a scene from one of the stories (the brief, charming “Lesson Learned” by Rob Rosen).

Highlights? Charles Payseur’s aforementioned story, about a giant dealing with a human infestation, is rollicking and hilarious. “The Man Who Drew Cats” by Alysha MacDonald, with its tengu love interest, will appeal to all the paranormal romance fans—plus, when’s the last time you read a story with a fat, hairy Japanese protagonist? And Evey Brett takes things in a more somber direction in the evocative “El Muerto’s godson,” one of the few completely serious contributions.

This being a romance anthology, there’s plenty of sex, so don’t let the cartoon cover trick you into giving it to your tween. But the main emotion throughout this anthology isn’t romance. It’s fun. Bubbly, exuberant kid-in-the-sandbox fun. And who couldn’t use a little of that?

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