‘The Rest of Us’ By Guy Mark Foster
The short story collection The Rest of Us (Tincture) chronicles what it is to be African-American and gay, amid homophobia, religious dogma, and racism. This collection is a passionate journey through the complex landscape of romance, mired in damnation, rejection, and denial. Guy Mark Foster is able to encapsulate youthful angst, heart-wrenching heartbreak, and familial disconnect, all with an assured empathy for each of his characters.
The collection begins with “Boy,” a barrage of artfully constructed dictums from a father to his son. It is an exhaustive list detailing the “do’s and don’ts” necessary to confirm to “male identity.” Ultimately an essential guide on how to be a boy/man, while cautioning to avoid displaying any signs of being a “punk”; “fold worms in half when you bait a line for fishing; throw like a man not like a punk; don’t bite your lip or swing your arms when you walk.” The father’s instructive lesson is precise, fluid, and arresting, yet appears futile, “…never cross one leg over the other’s knee and people won’t too easily peg you for the punk you are right under my very roof due to become.” The disdainful acceptance of the unacceptable conveys the tenuous familial connection experienced by gay boys and men across race and ethnicity. “Boy” expounds the nature of being male; prescribing the ideal behavior of manliness, while denying any evidence of the authentic self.
There is an underlining current throughout The Rest of Us, which speaks to those moments when one is made acutely aware of his identity based on society’s perception of who they “peg” him to be. It is that moment of awareness when one realizes that who “they” are is considered by some to be inferior or abnormal. Throughout the book, Foster provides a collection of those lowly moments. In the story titled “The Word Nigger” a young black boy sitting in a classroom filled with white students is dismayed by a class reading of a literary classic where the word nigger is read aloud, set during a time when the word carried the weight of its initial intent, the character suffers alienation; and in the heartfelt “The Affair” in which a young black male college student engages in a sexual relationship with his white male counterpart, in spite of their mutual affection, he is confronted with the reality that his openness as a gay man and his blackness are a threat to his lover’s mainstream “normal “existence.
In the book’s title story Foster reveals the insidious pervasiveness of denial; how fear of judgment and the repercussions that may occur from acting in one’s authentic truth can alter one’s behavior. The main characters, an African-American gay couple in a long-term relationship, are engulfed in an argument around public display of affection. While one partner defends his right to be affectionate with the person whom he loves, whatever the risk, the other, on some level, reverts back to the tenets of the opening story “Boy”, conscious that any display of their sexuality is scornfully objected and could potentially be detrimental.
Rest assured The Rest of Us is not limited by a perspective concerned only with actions around racism and homophobia. The author manages to write an imaginative array of stories that are meant to entice and reveal the variant ways of how identity is manipulated. “You Get What You Pay For” and “A Type of Vampirism,” as well as the “The Confession of John-Paul Simmons,” are all testaments to Foster’s innovative storytelling, each providing provocative text around the negotiation of sexuality, interracial relations, and gender identity respectively.
In the midst of the topics that make up Foster’s collection, the complex beauty of men loving men is very much present. Most times the romantic connection formed by the men steers the reader along an emotionally charged ride. The Rest of Us is affirmation that although our existence as gay men, more specifically African-American gay men, has been plagued with familial, religious, and racial strife, we still manage to love and exist on our own terms.
The Rest of Us
by Guy Mark Foster
Paperback, 9781590210062, 180 pp.