Why are publishers releasing so many good gay books so late in the year that no one can include them in their best of 2013? It's tough for Glenway Wescott's A Visit to Priapus and Morrissey's Autobiography and most vexing of all for debut author Jason K. Friedman's Fire Year [Kindle]. I've just started this collection and greatly admire the author's abundant care and gentle humor in simultaneously converying his characters' inner and outer selves, and his skill with the believable surprising detail. As ever, it's a gift to find someone writing so intelligently about gay lives.
National Book Award finalist and one of The New Yorker's 20 under 40, Salvatore Scibona selected the book as winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize and offers a three-page introduction calling it "candid, cunning, brave, and wickedly funny... Love, lust, religious tradition, the new South, the transcendent promise of faith, the liberating hope of sexual awakening—he twists all of them together here in stories as true to our goofy joys as to our deepest intuitions."
PW's starred review: "These seven funny, fearless outsiders’ tales set in Savannah and Atlanta—some depicting bygone orthodox Jewish communities, others the rife-with-irony “New South”—gravitate toward taboo. One preoccupation of Friedman’s Mary McCarthy Prize–winning debut collection is the breakdown of traditional mores, but its standouts specifically tackle pent-up sexual desire. In “Blue,” a bar mitzvah celebrant recalls the religious awakening inspired by a plate of veal parmesan that extinguished his “fascination” with men’s bodies; the narrator of “Reunion” finds himself pursued by a onetime high school golden boy, for surprising reasons both friendly and libidinous; and in “There’s Hope for Us All,” a curator discovers an erotic secret behind his latest art exhibition—and another in his personal life. Throughout, Friedman’s warm, lively voice and characters fluently convey the region’s contradictions and just-roll-with-it humor. (The narrator of “Reunion” notes the Confederate flag hanging alongside the American one at a hometown karate tournament, then quips, “The hospitality of Southerners is exaggerated.”) In other stories in which people wrestle with grave religious concerns, Friedman tunes his pacing and diction to the moral issues at stake. Strengthened by the diversity in subject matter, the through-line of sexual coming-of-age and temptation gives this volume a satisfying coherence."