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|Number of Pages||:||280 Pages|
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Those readers who have read Quatrefoil will be familiar with the writing style of James Barr. I wrote a review of Quatrefoil on Amazon outlining my own particular opinion on that subject. Like so much of reviews - they are only an opinion. Barr continues this writing style in these short stories I presume because of the success of his book. If it's not broken don't fix it. However because he is using a different medium , the short story, he is much more circumspect in how he uses it and has to `cut his cloth to measure' as he is limited by space. Gone are the long lingering descriptions of rooms and scenery and he makes do with a few choice words to set the scene. I refer to Hanging Fire in which a hunting expedition is beautifully described without labouring the setting for pages. Instead he concentrates the descriptions on the persons involved so the setting becomes background - as it should. It's a very well crafted short story too. You feel you know the plot and where the story is going but by the last page you realise that nothing was as it seems at all.There are seven stories in all and no two are the same. The locations are more or less in and around small town Middle America, oil industry connected and they each involve men who are either coming to terms with their sexuality, not exactly sure what their sexuality is or have accepted it but don't know what to do about it. The reader has to keep in mind that these stories are set in the late 1940s and early 1950s when men had no exposure to alternative lifestyles or had more than enough in the army during the second world war.The Bottom of the Cloud I found a bit disturbing. It concerns a smug gay man who believes he has it all and is holding out for better - until he picks up a tramp-like man in a park and everything changes. It's a `redemption through pain' sort of tale.The Good Kid is quite short but full of pathos. It's about two small time crooks who teamed up in prison and have a get rich quick blackmail scam that doesn't go to plan. Your heart goes out to Bobby who idolises Moxie his mentor and would do anything to make him happy - even going with other men.First You Take a Live Goat has just two characters in it and doesn't leave the doctor's consulting room. We have a young college student whose mind and body seem to be living separate lives.Success Story is the plot of a novel really and Barr uses all the skills of a novelist in composing this particular story. It involves two men, one a mysterious stranger who arrives in the oil fields looking for work - apparently with only the clothes he stands up in. He shares a room in a Boarding House with Ren, a recently divorced man who is a bit dispossessed without any vision for his future. The two slowly come to like (or at best realise that they don't dislike) each other and we follow the next four years of their working lives. It's a slow burner and charts the slow unflowering of both their hearts.Spur Piece I first read in part in a book on Pulp Fiction so I was glad to read the entire story here. It involves a young Doctoral student Tom who falls for a young teenager working the farm just as he did and continues to do when he gets time from college. We chart his internal journey as he seeks to understand why he is attracted to the boy - who is a straight A student who idolises Tom. He intellectualises the attraction but really wants to get to know him well if only to see that he comes to no harm because he recognises in him the same tell-tale signs he himself exhibited as a gay teenager who doesn't know it. He wants to mentor him without getting involved with him so as to protect his reputation. His plan goes well until in a meeting one day Chris, now graduated High School puts a proposition to him which he cannot ignore.Tryout is the longest story and is of interest to writers in that it gives the reader an insight into the writer's method and the work that goes into producing any work worth reading . I suspect we are getting some background on how Barr himself approached writing. The story involves a well-heeled wealthy young man who doesn't want to follow his family into the law or politics and believes writing may be for him. A chance encounter with an established author is manipulated by him and he gets to spend three months with him in his lakeside cottage learning the craft of writing. The only problem is that the writer Ballan Hie is a well known homosexual and he is wary of becoming guilty by association - but then maybe he may have desires in that area of his life? Worth exploring anyway. We follow the development of the writers over the summer months with a strange but probably realistic ending.Overall the stories seem like an extension of Quatrefoil and could almost be inserted into the plot. They reflect mature reasonable gay men and their approach to the constraints of their lives in the early `50s. Not all survive untarnished but most do. They stand the test of time though and a new reprint wouldn't go amiss.