A History of Barbed Wire Paperback – May 30 2008
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But as Alan Ball's American Beauty invited us to do back in 1999, if we look closer we might see a slightly different picture. All the iconography of masculinity is there, but it is celebrated and subverted at the same time, being both self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating: these guys are mountain men, the same kind of men they grew up lusting after, the same kind they grew up to become, the same kind they now want to take in their arms, to bind and gag and make beg for mercy.
Mann's native Appalachia is so arrestingly evoked in this book that it becomes a living breathing landscape, every bit as real to the reader as King's Maine or Tolkien's Middle-Earth. The author's love for his homeland is achingly clear in the sheer density of sharply-observed detail and lovingly-described seasonal changes. The men of Barbed Wire are not just men, they are of the earth, elemental in that way. The author conjures connections between the odor of a plant's sap with the aroma of a man's secretions, the forms and contours of a man's body with those of trees; even worshipping the very soil as our source and our eventual destination.
The second way you can read the book is by seeing the stories and novella as a single narrative, the central character consistent all the way through. Certain names are used often enough to suggest the author may have intended this all along.
Among my favorite stories are:
The title piece, "A History of Barbed Wire", a slice of poignant autobiography about getting a tattoo.
"Dionysus Redux" and "Captive," brilliant explorations into the glory of submission to men who know exactly how to dominate us.
"Balsam Poplar Buds" and "Raspberry Moonshine,"
tales of the right men -- meeting in the wrong place and the wrong time -- and their time together thusly being that much more precious.
And of course, the devastating "Fireflies", in which the vengeful spirit of a slain Confederate soldier, whose bravery and gallantry in the war was ignored in the face of his homosexuality, returns to our time to seek absolution...and revenge?
Jeff Mann's A History of Barbed Wire is first-rate gay erotica. Highly recommended.
Of the collected stories in Barbed Wire, four really grabbed my attention (and everything else). Briefly, "Dionysus Redux" is the tale of Don, a muscular, hairy, "forbidden" student who's the subject of his professor's daydreams. The descriptions are beautiful and the narrative solidly written, yet strongly erotic.
"Balsam Poplar Buds" traces Allen and love-interest Travis as they end up, serendipitously, in Allen's bedroom one snowy night playing their guitars. You can take it from there, but the story is still one of my favorites. Again, Mann creates magic with his descriptions!
You've got to love the title, "Raspberry Moonshine," especially if you were brought up in the rural south as I was. Greg teams up with fellow student James to research and write an essay on, of all things, moonshine. Things get interesting when James takes Greg to check out a real, working moonshine still. They get caught and things become more interesting. Then the story ends, yet it doesn't.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the collection is "Fireflies." It seems there was a Confederate officer accused of sodomy. A century and a half later, a Civil-War buff spends a series of nights in the room where the officer died, now part of a bed and breakfast inn. Weird, sensuous dreams become increasingly real and the story ends in the only way that it could end. Jeff Mann's talents for story telling are at their peak in this tale.
I highly recommend A History of Barbed Wire. I read it (twice) and was completely caught up in it. Jeff Mann is an incredible talent. Read Barbed Wire and you'll agree with me.
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