As Hot as You Remember: Gay Erotica by Donovan Lee – review

Rating: 5/10 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ Title: As Hot as You Remember: Gay Erotica
Author: Donovan Lee
Genre: m/m erotica
Url: Amazon Kindle Store
Price: US$ 3.99
Other Information/warnings: m/m graphic sexual situations,
Summary (from Amazon): Gay men share tales of romance, desire, and danger. A ghost, a killer, daring lovers, the man of your dreams…you never know who or what you might find in New Orleans. And the nights there are as wild as you remember. As mysterious and dangerous as you remember. As hot as you remember. Thirteen sexy new stories, by Donovan Lee, author of the erotic gay novel Getting Past Almost. As a bonus, this collection ends with a peak inside that novel.

My Review: Hmmmm….this collection 13 gay erotica stories and two chapters from the author’s separately available book is an odd little duck and one that is a smidge difficult to review in that I had two distinct reactions to it. On the one hand, I had a lot of problems with the writing, the prose style and the lack of characterization. On the other hand, I walked away with a warm, nostalgic feeling and an intense interest in seeing how this writer develops.

With very few exceptions, the stories are told from the first-person point of view in an almost stream-of-consciousness style. The result is that the prose in most of the pieces is a bit clunky, a smidge herky-jerky, as the narrator sometimes goes off on details that seem almost to be non-sequiturs or employs phrases that are just off somehow. “One of my favorite things about being an athlete was the smell of male bodies, the flood of testosterone hitting my senses! It was amazing I’d never done anything like that in a locker room, but even I had never thought I’d suddenly act out this way in the great outdoors.” On the other hand, Lee will occasionally come up with the perfect phrase that encapsulates a lot in a very few words, that manages to capture the excitement of youth or the hopefulness of old age. “I don’t know if he slept any, but I didn’t.”

On the wider view of the collection, the stream-of-consciousness does lend an air of intimacy, as if the reader is being told these stories by a close friend. The awkwardness of the words and the dialog gives it that feel of two friends just chatting. I’m not sure how much of this was a deliberate choice by the author or how much occurs simply by happenstance. Regardless, the realism and intimacy projected make me wonder what this author could do with prose that was just more fluid. Luckily, we get hints of where this author could go in some of the later, shorter pieces.

Like much gay erotica, characterization often suffers at the desire to get to the hot and sweaty deeds that are the heart of each story. So is the case here. There isn’t much to differentiate the characters within individual stories from each other (other than brief physical descriptions), and the voice of each character sounds largely like the other. On a story level I, as a reader, never found distinct personalities in the characters. They were, by and large, completely interchangeable, and as a result, the erotic elements didn’t really work for me as character and personality are always the key to me when I’m “watching” two men get it on.

On a collection level, however, the lack of characterization gives a universal feel, as if you are seeing one man looking back on his entire life and remembering only the good bits. This gives the collection a sweet, nostalgic feel that is really appealing. I think the fact that many of the stories begin with something akin to “When I was eighteen” or “I was in college when…”really adds to this feel. Deliberate? Again, I’m not so sure, but given the title is “As Hot as You Remember,” it ends up working when the collection is said and done.

Despite the lack of full characters, what is appealing on a story level is the number of stories which end not with a HEA in the traditional sense, but with the very reveal that the characters ended up together or had been together since or had remained good friends. Sure, there are plenty of one night stands in these stories, but what lingers with you are those moments when the author throws in at the end “And we’ve been together the last 20 years,” almost as an afterthought. Yes, it’s slim and a bit old fashioned as a story-telling device, but it leaves you with an easy feeling that serves the collection well.

One aspect that I don’t think works for the stories or the collection is that there isn’t much descriptive about the locales in which the stories are set. Most seem to take place in the New Orleans area or nearby surrounds, but we never get a sense of the sights or sounds or smells of these places in Lee’s prose. Like the men in the stories, the settings are nondescript, interchangeable. With New Orleans being a place of such richness and diversity, I expected to have a strong sense of place. As it is, the locales don’t have any distinctive character themselves. A fatal flaw? Not by any stretch.

So, below I’ll give some brief thoughts on each story, but overall I feel that this collection, when all is said and done, succeeds as a collection. It somehow manages to overcome the major flaws within its component stories to work as a nice, nostalgic trip down memory lane. I don’t know that I would ever remember any of the individual stories in a few days, but I will remember the warm feeling I walked away with. And that ain’t bad. More so than anything, I’ve very curious to see where Lee goes as a writer. There is something here that I really like, that feels relatively exciting, and I think if he hooked up with an excellent editor, there could be fireworks. There’s an interesting talent here and I for one will be watching to see where Lee goes with it.

The Stories (Summaries by author):

Tied Even Closer. A college dorm room takes friendship and fantasy to unexpected levels. Some really nice resonant moments about “first times.” Well not true first times, but first times with someone who means something.

A Night Out of Time. A ghostly encounter in the Big Easy. Like the stories I grew up with, strange things happen in this ghost story, all of which are explained in the end. The story harkens back to the days when horror was more than gore or splatterpunk, giving a nice tone. A good entry, though I though the relationship between the protagonist and his somewhat eccentric aunt was potentially far more interesting than any of the erotic elements. However, this story does have some nice character background, which gives the characters more depth than in most of the stories.

When Derek Gets Back. Lonely, Jason fantasizes about his lover. A piece that I thought would have been far more interesting had we never met Derek. Regardless, a nice story about a couple of gay men who’ve been together for 20 years.

Expected Visit, With Surprises. A friend stops by for a drink and a swim, but the visit turns erotic. An OK story with particularly clunky dialog. There isn’t anything here to make it stand out from the crowd for me, but it is certainly acceptable.

Finding Sandy. Mr. Right is out there; I know, because I keep seeing him. A nice little story with a sweet ending.

In Line and Out of Hand. Three strangers cross paths during a moment that almost goes in different directions. This is one of the few stories in the collection that veers somewhat from the traditional first-person narration. In this story, a brief interaction in line at a gay bar restroom is retold from three different perspectives. An interesting piece that really shows the potential of where Lee could go. However, the final scene resorts to third person narration when some of the characters get together. I would have preferred if the eroticism was restricted to those moments in line and the final scene dropped out completely.

Out in the Open (Zing’s Campground Adventure). A runner’s encounter with a young man who is ready to come out in a big way! A cute, porny story with an ending that will make you smile, regardless of how unlikely it is..

Sorting. Work at a New Orleans gym turns into foreplay. Wants to become a statement about the evolution of the gaycommunity/gay acceptance. Unfortunately, lack of characterization keeps it from reaching its potential.

Two Kinds of Action. A man cruises for sex but also finds danger! Another cute story, albeit relatively unrealistic. But it’s a fantasy, so hey.

Waves of Heat.
Quickie about an erotic walk on the beach. The shortest piece, coming in (I’m guessing) at less than 1,000 words, and easily the most intriguing. It is told in 2nd person and, frankly, I’m glad the author didn’t make it any longer as 2nd person is tricky and, more often than not, ends up cloying. But what is special about this piece is we get to see what Lee could do with description if he worked it into the other stories. Some of the images here I found far more erotic than most of the sex scenes in all the stories. This is where we see the potential that is exciting.

Smoke Break. He wants me to go outside with him, but what does he really have in mind? A moment in time, this is another porny piece that certainly works as it is, but which remains fairly unremarkable.

Younger. Two gay men want to be young again, but is younger always better? Again, we get to see Lee’s potential when he breaks away from the norm. There is some really good character detail in one of the two protagonists (the other much thinner) and it is an interesting concept that’s executed fairly well. It’s nice to see a story about senior citizens finding some love in a world obsessed with youth. The single misstep for me is the device used to bring them together. I would simply have liked to see them get together, as they were, a meeting of minds. The twist is tried and true, but we dodge the more interesting subject of life for the significantly older gay male.

I Will. A gay man’s erotic plans for the object of his obsession. Another short piece that diverts from the traditional story telling method of the author. Here we see again the potential as Lee allows himself to play a bit with form. Interesting.

Getting Past Almost. The first two chapters from Donovan Lee’s novel, available separately, about a gay man’s search for satisfaction and true love. The first of the two chapters works extremely well, with some really rich character building (a drag queen taxidermist….it’s not as silly as you might think) and some really tempting back stories for the characters. I want to know more about these people and I would love to see Lee bring more of the richness of character from this story into the others. Alas, this chapter was far too short for my taste, but reading this is what convinced me that Lee is someone I want to keep an eye on.

The second chapter, unfortunately, gives up some of the depth of character of the first in favor of a ton of steamy blow and hand jobs. But the characters are far fuller than in most of the other shorts in the collection, which makes this recounting of high-school experimentation one of the better entries in the collection.