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Gay men are great travelers and Eric Sasson does them justice in his spirited new collection, Margins of Tolerance (Livingston Press). Provocative and unapologetic, the stories here offer a glimpse into the conflicted psyches of men in transition alongside moments of rare insight. There are shades of Holleran and Kramer here with prose by turns bombastic and elegiac.
Peruvian hotel clerk Francisco desires much more than American TV or, even, the affections of Columbus, the horny gringo guest entertaining a string of local boys, in “Floating.” An accidental touch incites a neurotic storm of speculation and recrimination for an airline passenger seeking some epistolary therapy in “Dear Guy in 24B.” “Body and Mind” introduces Marcel and Hunter, a couple celebrating their anniversary, Vegas-style, with some joint play. They’ll soon discover that not all things that happen in Vegas stay there. And the idea of Russian men proves a far greater aphrodisiac in “The Coming Revolution” than the men themselves.
Sasson is interested in the moment when desire confronts reality, and while the stories here – largely depicting solitary travelers – examine that theme with honesty and compassion, overall the collection feels uneven. At times, the overt politics of the prose gets in the way. The titular story has a powerful message: that acceptance demands assimilation and that tolerance often hews a narrow path. But the effect is stymied by a heavy-handed approach and details that are too on-the-nose: a painting of straight couples enjoying a screening of Brokeback Mountain plays a pivotal role. Sasson is strongest when examining the unmoored space a queer traveler occupies abroad as he does in “Remains of a Once Great Civilization” and “Getting There,” among others. Ultimately, the stories here offer a snapshot of a culture in flux between a rich past and an uncertain future. Margins of Tolerance is not so much a road-map to where we’ll end up as gay men, but rather a guidebook to help us make the most of the journey.
Margins of Tolerance
By Eric Sasson
Paperback, 9781604890938, 227 pp.