Updated: Feb 25, 2021
This wonderful collection reflects gay experience in surprising and entertaining ways. With a strong undercurrent of dark humour, a splash of supernatural and a lot of imagination, Wheeler's short stories are anchored by erotic desires but buoyed by wit and a love of language.
They're also very diverse, which is rare with single-author collections. I was expecting a mixed bag, but the strike rate was high. Even the stories that failed to transport me held my attention. While it's fair to say some owe a debt to great writers such as Poe, Dahl or Rod Serling, the author brings a wealth of personal style, flair and lived experience which make these tales feel original and authentic. In fact I was struck by Wheeler's ability to write in a variety of voices yet retain a unifying style.
There's great joy as a reader in getting into the passenger's seat and being taken for a ride by a confident driver. From the initial erotically charged, supernaturally infused delights of Strawberries and Spider Strands, you know you're in good hands. You can relax and and enjoy the sights. Wheeler's masterful tonal shifts means the journey scales the gears of storytelling seamlessly, accelerating from introspective memoir to hilarious farce, taking a sharp turn into the macabre only to speed down surreal highways.
The sex is explicit but recognisable, which is refreshing. It is used to propel the stories forward, define characters and underscore the themes. And at times, it subverts the cliches of gay fantasies to satisfying effect. Wheeler makes the most of the potential of lust (and its gratification) to clarify characters' frustrations and aspirations, and help them come to terms with their true identities. Some of these erotic scenes are also loaded with powerful insights (The Fireside Bright, Changing Planes). Most are a lot of fun.
Highlights for this reader (aside from the aforementioned) include the incredibly moving Templeton In Love, in which music helps two exes figure out the way forward, and Yuri: a Pride Memoir, a simple but elegant reminder of how easily we can take our rights and freedoms for granted.
These berries were sweet and juicy and I'll be back for more.