Montreal author Peter Dubé’s new short-story collection affirms his place at the forefront of gay surrealist fiction. Dubé, who edited the queer men’s surrealist anthology Madder Love, confidently blends the strange, fantastical, and occult into stories of contemporary gay life. The collection is equal parts intimate – even confessional – and aloof. The resulting tone is dramatic, with each narrator dwelling in the angst of self-awareness. The first story begins, “I am a metaphor … waiting to be perceived, completed by your participation.”
Although the circumstances of each story suggest unique narrators, they read practically as one voice, sharing the same anxieties, fascination with the complexity of desire, and ability to seamlessly shift across the limits of so-called “reality.”
At times the book’s surrealist tone is only an underlying hum, as in “Egress,” a protest narrative mapping an otherworldly landscape of tear gas, batons, and fleeting allies. Other times, the notes are more prominent. In “Tides,” a man rides the sweet melancholy of heartbreak into an erotic underwater dream sequence. Often, Dubé’s stories trade the surreal for the supernatural: a dying man is haunted by black magicians in one, while in another, the protagonist’s mother and lover literally escape into their art. Only the second-person dystopian story “Drifts” feels out of step. While not totally incongruous, the speculative fiction stands out from the rest.
Dubé’s writing is lush, baroque, and elaborate. Obscurity and variation of language define his prose, occasionally at the expense of precision or clarity. The influence of Jean Genet and Ronald Firbank courses throughout. Like Genet, the erotic is where Dubé’s sometimes awkward ornamental tendencies hit their stride. Some stories are downright hot, particularly the rough-trade memory play “Needle.” Although, like the protagonist of “Funnel Cloud,” he risks “overthinking [sex] … intellectualizing it,” the careful attention to detail shows Dubé’s knack for describing gay desire.
Dubé’s voice tries on a number of modes and eloquently attests to the crucial notion that everything we perceive – environmentally, interpersonally, sexually – ought to be considered “real,” whether we’re comfortable with that or not.