The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica – Lawrence Schimel, ed. – review

Title: The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica
Editor: Lawrence Schimel
Genre: romance, real life, erotica
URL: Amazon UK / Amazon USA
Price: £7.99 / $13.95
Other Information/warnings: explicit sexual content, adult themes
A collection of over 30 stories of gay erotica by male authors. From the introduction: “THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF NEW GAY EROTICA is, in many ways, a document of the sexual reality of gay mens’ lives as much as fantasies.”

My review:

This is simply a fascinating book to read, and not just to a gay male audience (clearly not, as I’m neither gay nor male.) M/m writing outside the gay publishing houses is dominated by women, as the editor acknowledges – some of that writing is very good, and read by straights and gays alike. But it has to be said that a lot of m/m writing by women sucks like a hoover. Much of it purports to be using a ‘gay voice, and some authors go so far as to create a gay male identity to present this voice, but in reality, it’s as realistic as a lot of ‘lesbian’ porn – and about as erotic and interesting. Despite this, it’s often said by slashers (and even by me) that men just can’t write erotica like women can – and that they can’t make it appealing to women.

This anthology blows that assumption out of the water. If your sole experience of gay ‘erotica’ is, this will really open up your eyes, because this is the authentic gay male gaze, presented with true style. The writing is largely excellent – well edited, lyrical, and far from clichéd. The story-telling is competent and engaging (again, usually – there were some stories which just didn’t work for me as entertainment or writing, but they were in the minority.) And the writing really was sensual, though I do have to wonder if one could describe it as ‘sexy’.

The variety here of relationships, sexual events, fantasies, and partners is truly amazing – once again, the editor has done a wonderful job of creating a broad palette of tones and emotions for the reader, and if one story doesn’t appeal, it’s easy to move onto the next. There are actual plots, proper narratives here – one experiences real emotional involvement. It’s what we’re told too often that men are incapable of creating. These stories are as far removed from stroke fic as Dickens is from Jeffrey Archer.

As a writer of stories featuring homosexual men, I found myself cataloguing the ways that the men’s writing in this book differs from my own and other women’s. I couldn’t sneer at the technique, certainly, as I’ve done when I’ve read other erotic writing. In this, the difference lies not in ability, but emphasis. Women like to create ideal characters. Here there’s an acknowledgement that gay men are as in thrall to bodily perfection as women can be, but there was also a very strong thread of acceptance of the very imperfect as well. Fat, old, ugly lovers had their appeal as much as buff, tanned twenty somethings, something you don’t see in most women’s writing. The men think about smell and hair and skin and muscle definition in a way that is quite distinct from the way women do. The importance of visual cues is often cited as something peculiarly male, and this book seems to support that, but the attraction is still a lot more than skin deep. I found it interesting how men size up other men’s personalities from their appearance and behaviour – women, I think, see men in relation to how they will treat a lover. Men, at least on the evidence here, see other males in relation to how they behave independently of other people, as themselves in their own lives, rather than in relationships with others.

Another significant difference was the nature of the encounters described. Women like to idealise relationships, but in these stories, relationships are often far from ideal. I was struck by how many of the stories didn’t just have bittersweet endings, but downright bitter or sad ones, yet the encounters, however brief, held meaning and power. The indignities of age, illness, and paid sex are mercilessly described in a bleak, unsentimental way, but love is also there, and tenderness. Hopes and dreams, however unrealistic, are shown in the most unlikely settings – a dying man’s bedroom, an encounter between an erotic masseur and his clients. The kind of things you rarely see in women’s writing about gay men, if at all, but described repeatedly here. The ‘happily ever after’ is desired but not seen as the only measure of a good sexual experience. Monogamy isn’t necessary. Perfection, sweetness, or even orgasm aren’t necessary. There’s an emphasis on the moment, rather than the long-term – it’s enough that’s it’s good for now, not for all time.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this book. The very first story surprised me, and the stories kept on surprising me, moving me, making me think. I think to call this ‘erotica’ is unfortunate, since not every story even features sex in any detail at all, and I suspect some people might avoid the book, thinking it was just jerk-off material, when it’s so much more than that. It’s about something different – what turns gay men on, what they notice, what they think is important, what are the memorable features of the encounters they have with each other. It’s about gay men themselves, not just how they fuck and who. In the end, this is an anthology about the connections gay men make with each other, and how they see the sexual landscape. Even when the story doesn’t turn the reader on, it’s still a compelling view into a world most of us will never experience for ourselves.

I think the editor was right to only select male authors for this book. I think also what’s he’s done is to create a collection which is authentic, but accessible beyond the group of people it describes. Whether a non-gay, non-male reader will find this book erotic, I find it hard to judge. But I can certainly say it’s rewarding and meaty, regardless. Recommended.