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Channel Surfing in the Sea of Happiness

by Guy Babineau

If this book becomes ghettoized as “contemporary gay fiction” it would be a pity; while definitely, openly gay – the book’s eight short stories casually refer to such mainstream taboos as bathhouse sex, transsexuals and SM – there are characters and ideas of resonance and beauty here deserving of a wider audience.

Set largely within the gay communities of Toronto and Vancouver, and written with a brilliant eye for physical detail and psychological observation, these stories are amalgams of opposites: light entertainment and serious meditations on love, loss, kindness; realistic characters and settings and pure fantasy; page-turning plotlines and moments that demand reflection, even reading aloud, to better appreciate the poetry or ideas expressed.

Babineau mostly succeeds at marrying these dualities without strain, especially in the triptych about Trevor. “Why God Forgives Our Sins,” depicts a Thanksgiving that Trevor, sick with AIDS, spends with his lover, his sister, and his conservative aunt and uncle, whose suburban “normalcy” is affectionately humanized in Babineau’s character details. The dinner scene, with the younger relations ignoring the elders’ conversational limits (“don’t talk about the gay thing”) rings vividly, hilariously true.

A couple of stories reveal links between film noir and a certain gay esthetic: observations and descriptions perched between newly coined cliché and razor-sharp Wildeian dissection, as in “The Food Chain”: “Oh, Canada, it’s good to be back. Well-mannered, well-behaved, polite, orderly, cold, no identity, lacking self-confidence. Hmmm, I’ve just had a heart-warming thought,” “What?” I asked as I swerved into the hotel parking lot. “We carry the passport of a psychopath.”

Babineau brings considerable talent and experience to this, his first collection. His wit, style, keen intelligence, and fluid storytelling skills make him a writer to watch, and Channel Surfing in the Sea of Happiness a collection well worth reading.