In his story collection Don’t Make Me Do Something We’ll Both Regret, Chicagoan Tim Jones-Yelvington zestfully recasts gay men and boys in the central roles of a surprisingly wide array of literary vehicles, including an American Girl-ish story, a Raymond Carver-ish suspense tale, a Heart song, Dawson’s Creek-ish plots, the movie All About Eve and the Bible.
In his biblical imitation, The Book of Sarah, presented in five sections, familiar scriptural stories are wildly contorted and reimagined with four characters serving in every role — Sarah, Hagar, Abraham and Isaac, all of whom are men. They’re randy in a pretty graphic way, so this isn’t for the easily scandalized.
But, for the open-minded, it’s fun to see what Jones-Yelvington does, such as in this homoerotic echo of the Song of Songs, a description of Isaac, an alehouse bartender and a savior of some sort:
His teeth were white as sheep, recently shorn and fresh washed. His lips a scarlet ribbon, and his mouth inviting. His neck as thick as the tower of David, jeweled with the shields of a thousand heroes. His thighs a paradise of pomegranates with rare spices.
Hagar is a drag queen, like Jones-Yelvington himself, whom “God sent…forth to glitter and chorus in the clubs, where men like sheep would flock to watch each other by night.” She is Isaac’s mother who “though presumed male at her birth, [is] a beautiful woman at all times, and not only upon the stage.”
Many of these stories deal with poignant yearning, from childhood into adulthood. In “Figures Up Ahead, Moving in the Trees,” a seven-year-old boy is playing Barbies with the Boy Next Door.
“Say it like I told you, he tells the boy. Here, let me show you….”
“This is boring, says the Boy Next Door. Why can’t we go to my house and play with my Transformers?”
There are Boys Next Door in various forms in many stories, such as the high school quarterback, kidnapped by a classmate who has worshiped him from afar and has written on the inner cover of his geometry notebook their names enclosed in a heart.
Wrestling the tied-up athlete out of a car trunk, the kidnapper says: “Oh, if you only knew how much this moment means to me, how long I’ve waited for your touch.” The plan is to go to Wilmington, Delaware, where the two will live out scenes “from my favorite shows.”
Another Boy Next Door, #DamnDaniel, is a key character in Jones-Yelvington’s reimagining of an American Girl novel “Meet #AlexFromTarget,” in which two boys scheme to meet at night by the river. At Daniel’s random touch, Alex’s insides melt:
A voice like a fairy wrinkles the air….Moonlight kisses Daniel’s cheek…He is first crush and fairy godmother rolled into one.
But Alex — like Samantha in her first American Girl novel — is an orphan living with a strong-willed patron. In this case, Alex’s patron, one of several predators in Don’t Make Me, lashes out at the boy:
The actual, literal boy next door? How dare you! Nobody gets that fantasy. Nobody gets to experience a moment so perfect.
A thread of revenge
In a later story, Daniel and another boy fall victim to fairy tale-like predator, but the five members of a boy band turn the tables on the Svengali who manages the group and has been raping the lead singer. His comeuppance involves a crossbow.
There is also a thread of revenge through many of these stories, the most violent of which involves an overbearing straight guy. It begins: “I am a blind man, a faggot, an old friend of your wife’s, and I am on my way to spend the night.” At one point, the clueless, domineering straight guy asks,
“Do you do that on purpose?”
“Act extra gay.”
“Oh, honey,” I say, pick up my drink, down a swig. “You should know by now. I’m extra everything.”
No crossbow is involved, but let’s say the guy eventually realizes that he has underestimated his gay visitor.
Dark aspects but also joy and wonder
In the story which opens this collection, the character named Tim Jones-Yelvington is dead, a murder victim, and also, from beyond, the narrator of the tale. Items from her collection of dirt on frienemies are being texted, maybe by her.
Throughout the story, she is trying on one “new me” after another until, finally:
“I am playing the part of a teenage girl….I am a teenage girl trapped in the body of a faggot, a faggot tapping tweets, a faggot tapping out a text. I am rattling my trap, trapped in the body of a teenage girl.”
Jones-Yelvington’s collection is like that excerpt. The stories look at what it means to be a gay boy and man from a wildly varied set of perspectives and a seemingly constant fluidity in the expression of a gay orientation.
There are dark aspects to this, such as the predators, but also great joy and wonder, such as Alex watching the moonlight kiss Daniel’s cheek.
In this dark and sparkling way, Don’t Make Me is a celebration of all that it means to be a gay male in these United States of America.
Patrick T. Reardon
This review originally appeared at Third Coast Review on xxxxxxx.