Two Boys in Love by Lawrence Schimel – review

Title: Two boys in love
Author: Lawrence Schimel
Genre: Gay romance
Price:US $13.95
Other Information/warnings: Explicit m/m
Two Boys In Love is an anthology of fourteen stories by Lawrence Schimel, and also the name of the five story arc at the end of the volume. The stories take place in a variety of locations from Europe to New York, and include two fairy tales and a ghost story, as well as those set in the modern, real world.

My review: ‘Two boys in love’ is something of a misnomer, since easily half of the stories aren’t about love as such, but about casual sex, first encounters, or flirting. On that basis, it’s going to be a disappointment to the romantic-souled reader, and I think it’s fair to say that most female readers are also going to find this anthology somewhat lacking, in part because of the almost total exclusion of women’s voices and characters. I had the feeling as I started to read this – a feeling which only increased as time went on – that I was most certainly not the target audience for this group of stories, and indeed, it’s likely that the stories would only appeal to a subset of gay male readers too. Many of the stories are about casual sexual attraction – noticing a man is gay, or interested, and following through, or speculating about doing so. What happens next is just not a big part of these stories at all, and unless the hunting, the gay scene, is of interest to the reader, after a while, the process seems a little boring. Where the stories succeed is as time slices through the lives of gay men in Madrid, Barcelona, or New York, the millieu, the interests, the day to day existence in these places. Where they fail is in engaging the reader any further. In only a couple of stories was I stirred to any real interest in the narrator, or to speculate what happened to them after the story ended. In most cases, the author seems content to present us with the little bonbon, the intersection between our reality and his characters, but does nothing more with it than that.

I have to say that my failure to engage was at least partly a product of the writing. Schimel has a rather overwritten style, which emphasises his unfortunate habit of telling us, rather than showing us, how wonderful/sexy/mysterious his characters are (and breaking off in the middle of a sex scene to do just that.) It’s not that he’s a bad or incompetent writer, but his text is overdecorated and burdened with unnecessary speech tags and adverbs and editorialising, and honestly, paring this volume down to half its word length would have made it a far tighter and more interesting read. I felt distanced from the characters, from their worlds, from the text, because the author writes at arm’s length. In only one story was I able to get past that to feel any real emotion at all in response to the narrative – the rest of the time, I was far too conscious of the very act of reading, which made the entire thing a chore to get through. By contrast, his sex scenes are underwritten and unerotic, so they work neither as porn or literature, and while I know the writing isn’t intended to arouse a straight woman, I would be surprised if a gay man would hold this volume in one hand and work himself enthusiastically with the other either. Fortunately, however, the sex is a relatively minor component of the book.

The book of love. Sant Jordi in Barcelona, and the narrator buys a book and a rose – traditional gifts for a lover he does not have. Perhaps today, he will find someone to give them to.

An overlong story with a slightly unbelievable plot and an even more unbelievable ending, I never felt interested in whether our narrator was going to succeed in his quest, partly because it and the object of his attentions are swamped in a wealth of local detail and information that don’t actually engage the reader. It’s just window dressing. The narrator is also just a bit of a soppy twit, which doesn’t help.

The road to love. Two lovers take a road trip through Spain, and one muses about their relationship.

This is pure telling – no showing at all. The narrator tells us how he and his lover met, and how he feels about their relationship. And…that’s it. Dull.

Märchen to a different beat. Hansel and Gretel, after the escape from the gingerbread house, and going to their senior prom. Hansel doesn’t have a date. Fortunately his transvestite fairy godfather – his ‘Mary Fairy’ – can fix that.

Yes, Cinder…er, Hansel, you will go to the ball! ‘Märchen’ are German Folktales, but there’s a very modern feel to this story. Full points for originality (and for one of the only female voices in the entire book, belonging to Gretel.) This was okay, but could have been so much better – the humour raised an occasional slight chuckle, when it could have been belly laughs from the moment ‘Mary’ appeared, and again, the telling, oh the telling, and no showing. It also switches POV in the middle of a scene with no warning, which tosses away even the tiny amount of emotional investment we might have had in Hansel’s situation. The last line was pretty good though.

Fag Hag. A witch makes a deal with a boy in payment for creating a love spell.

Unusual for having a female narrator, if not a particularly likeable one, this was one of the few stories in the book that drew me in somewhat. The witch’s embittered lonely thoughts, for once, felt authentic, and the distant writing style was a better fit for this kind of story and the narrator’s closed off mentality. Not exactly enjoyable, but more thoughtful than many of the other stories.

Season’s Greetings. A man living in New York has an unusual reaction to his Christmas Cards – one that his neighbour enjoys as well.

This is stroke fic – literally. Masturbation is the name of the game, but there’s a story as well, the narrator recalling past lovers with the arrival of Christmas Cards, and reacting to each one in front of his window, giving his neighbour a thrill too. As in all the sex description in these stories, the author never lets us really enjoy the wanking – almost as if he’s ashamed to write pure porn, and so has to drift off in philosphising. There’s a serious lack of sensuality in the sex writing itself, which is a shame because he otherwise manages to evoke a decent sense of time and place and emotion. The writing overall is a bit too pedestrian to really grip the reader in so slight a narrative.

The Story of Eau. A man recounts bathtimes with his lover.

This is so much like the kind of tiresome slash writing I go out of my way to avoid – ‘sex’ scenes that are all about the who does what and where and how, but with absolutely no sense at all of how it feels, or of mood or scent or sensation or anything. Flat, boring, and less fun than the narrator’s haemorrhoids.

Occasion a need. A HIV positive student accepts a free condom, never thinking he will get a chance to use it.

Interesting premise, but a story that needed to be twice the length that it is. I was just getting into Peter’s story when it ended. Pity.

Water taxi. The fare for a lift in a boat is amusing for all concerned.

Yawn. More porn. Anonymous sex, uninterestingly told.

River of time. A man carries out his dead friend’s last request, and disposes of his ashes.

At last. A story that made me shiver, and cry, and actually care. Ironically, the most vivid character in the entire fourteen stories is a dead man. It’s a story about grief, and memory, and how we carry those we love in our heart and minds through our live, long after they’re gone. Spooky and sad. Almost worth buying the entire anthology for.

Two boys in love. Five stories about Carles, his lover Javi, his friend Miguel Angel, and other denizens of the gay district in Madrid.

The slightness of the individual stories and their inconsequential plots – Carles is hit on by an unattractive Frenchman, wonders if his lover is sleeping with David Beckham, talks to transsexual passersby, and gets all angsty and jealous about Javi moving into his own apartment – is compensated for by the slowly building picture of Carles and his world. A very small, gossipy one, where everyone knows each other and possibly is sleeping with them. That intimacy mirrors that of his relationship with Javi. Carles is struggling between wanting to be much closer to Javi, all the time, and still wanting his freedom and not to crowd his lover. It’s about the tension between sexual attraction in a smorgesbord of attractive and available men, and wanting to restrict oneself to a single person because they’re all you really need. It’s not a story with a definite beginning, middle and end. Nothing is resolved, the conflict is so minor and unthreatening, that we don’t feel Carles is really in any danger of losing his relationship with Javi. Another slice of life, a window on a world and a city many of us will never experience, and then we move on, a little curious about Carles’ fate, but no more than that. There’s nothing there to become absorbed in, but it’s an enjoyable interlude, nonetheless.