Best date ever edited by Lawrence Schimel – review

Title: Best Date Ever: True Stories That Celebrate Gay Relationships
Editor: Lawrence Schimel
Genre: Romance, true tales
URL: Buy at Amazon
Price: US $15.95
Other Information/warnings: occasional use of bad language and sexual references
Summary [from the Introduction]:

“…many of us have found ourselves on plenty of dates
gone wrong, and there are many collections of worst date stories,
this anthology sets out to do something different. We wanted to
celebrate the romance of gay life, instead of always focusing on
the negative…”

My review:

This is a collection of true life tales by gay authors about their best date ever (duh), edited by the well-known writer, Lawrence Schimel. It sets out, as the introduction says, to celebrate romance and positive aspects of gay relationships, and that, it ably does in twenty first person narratives. Some, like the first handful, are very slight tales indeed, romantic, tensionless, notable mainly because they’re so ordinary. That, I believe is the message there – that gay men are just like everyone else in their loves and romances and how they meet and what they want. They meet in clubs and college and in parks and concerts and have first dates which very occasionally turn out to be with the man of their dreams – many of the best dates are, not surprisingly, with the people who the narrator is still with, often after many years. That’s something that bears emphasising – that many gay men are happily, monogamously in long-term relationships which are as full of tenderness and romance as any straight partnership.

This anthology is about the romance, the attraction of minds and hearts, less about the physical, and deliberately so. In that respect, it’s an easy read for anyone worried about too intimate a description of gay sexual relations, and worth suggesting to those who think gay men are pathologically incapable of gentleness, love or fidelity. Even in tales of infidelity, as in Jim van Buskirk’s ‘Tea for two’, there is still emotional depth. The men in this anthology aren’t just mindless sex machines, driven by their balls.

If anything, I think the stories here are too heavily weighted towards the light and positive – it’s lovely that the guys are so happy, but it doesn’t make for an enthralling read. Of the lighter stories, the two themed under ‘Birthays and Anniversaries’ were the most enjoyable for me personally. The sections ‘First Meetings’ and ‘The Internet’ bored me, and I did wonder if there would be any substance to any of these stories at all.

It was thus a relief to discover not every story was about a happily ever after, because the reality of gay men’s lives so often denies that, and to pretend otherwise would not be respectful or realistic. The stories became more complex through the ‘Travels Together’ and ‘Turbulent Times’ sections, and finally, the intensely romantic and hopeful theme of the book does not preclude two very sad, exquisitely beautiful stories under ‘Farewells’ (which still celebrate love, however tragic.)

So there is something here for every taste, and though it’s aimed very solidly at the gay male readership, I think we straights could learn a thing or two by reading it. There’s some beautiful writing (also, I have to say, some damn banal stuff) and it’s very nicely edited. The ubiquitous first person voice may not appeal to everyone, and the line between truth and embroidered memories isn’t entirely clear, though perhaps not important either. If you are gay, have gay friends, want to learn a bit more about a group of people who are increasingly demonised and misrepresented in popular culture, or perhaps you’re just a plain old sap for romance, then you might find this the book for you.