Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Tales of titillation


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Eros & Dust: Stories by Trebor Healey; Lethe Press, $18

Two-time Ferro-Grumley Award winning novelist and poet Trebor Healey is perhaps best-known for his highly decorated debut Through It Came Bright Colors. There have been poetry collections and several novels since that distinguished entry, but a new Healey book is always cause for buzz in the LGBTQ literary community.

Inspired by time spent in Latin America, the author's new collection of stories Eros & Dust justifies all that excitement with 14 well-constructed, engaging, and highly provocative stories ruminating on the nature of desire, identity, eroticism, and the connective properties of art, the universal tie that binds us all. Healey's prose is straightforward yet thoughtful, lushly descriptive, and carefully crafted. Many tales harness the power to grab the reader right from the opening paragraph and hold on until the final sentence.

Such is the case in the epistolary story "Elmer Rosewater," wherein a letter to Elmer from his chatty friend Willie describes his awe and wonder at an art exhibit of poet Robert Duncan, but also his disenchantment that his letter will never reach the post-death "meadow on the other side" where Elmer resides.

"El Santo" describes the turbulent life of a poet who once resided in San Francisco, a "cursed" place that "often destroyed the sensitive (it seemed especially interested in sadistically toying with them) in its duplicitous garden of earthly delights, and I feared it would one day destroy me."

The situations are sexually precarious in several stories, like the vicariously perverse genius of "Los Angeles," which follows Fred, a chunky, 50-something unemployed horndog who becomes obsessed with a "sinkhole of debauchery," the "Chaturbate" world of straight web-cam boys who stroke for a buck. His need to continue his expensive relationship with these randy, desperate 20-year-old boys leads him to murdering a wealthy spinster. It's a long, dramatic, sinfully embellished tour of need, sex, and "six-packs and crooked baseball caps."

Just as fascinating is "Imp," where the supernatural creature Balthazar roams the earth playing games of temptation and torture with mere mortals. Deliciously sadomasochistic, Balthazar is one of Healey's more creative inventions.

Also amazing is "The Pancake Circus," a sweetly nasty, scrumptiously perverse treat set in an actual diner located on Broadway in Sacramento. Obsession and delusion are an intoxicating concoction for the narrator, who becomes weak with desire over the diner's "straight" busboy. Healey hilariously describes the restaurant's reaction to the sight of this tousled, veiny-armed morsel of Josh Hartnett-lookalike man-candy. "I felt my sphincter dilate, and my buttcheeks were suddenly like open-cupped palms, holding themselves out to him," the narrator gushes. "Every woman in the place blushed when he cleared their plates. I probably wasn't the only one stuck to the vinyl seat in my booth." A shared phone number leads to a tryst with the boy, then to a few "minor" details about illicit videotapes, ankle bracelets, and playgrounds, and an avalanche of downward spiraling.

Young lust is a dangerous thing, and the narrator learns this the hard way once his prison cellmate delivers some facts about life: "'The earth is a plate,' he tells me. 'Mankind sat down and is eating. When he's through, it'll be over.'"

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