Every so often I read a book the reminds me that the whole time I’ve been tearing around the city doing whatever it is I do, there’s been a whole other thing going on that has nothing to do with me and my daily shenanigans. Portland Queer, subtitled Tales of the Rose City, is just such a book.
Conceived of and edited by scrittorista fabulosa Ariel Gore, the 24 entries in this collection cover the territory figuratively and typographically. In some ways a response to Portland Noir (at least inasmuch as they were released within months of each other). PQ seemed at first to lack Noir’s defining aesthetic. For me, it took reading the book cover to cover before I realized that the range of style in the collection is a unifying aesthetic. Rather than a book going in 24 different directions, it’s a diverse diversion spanning a broad range of human experience. As Ms. Gore says of the stories in her introduction:
…giddy, faint, qualmish—like falling. Like love. Destabilizing. Moving targets. Like a part of the whole and at the same time outside of it. First person. We who are always running away and looking for home.
Most of the stories are in the first person, that voice that suits the short story so splendidly. They range from the profound to the nugatory, from searing to frothy. There are pieces by such noted writers as Marc Acito and Tom Spanbauer, and there are gems by writers I’ve never come across before.
Favorite among many favorites: “The Trailer,” by Megan Kruse, which felt elegiac and autumnal – a refreshing if somber antidote to today’s 100+ heat.
Is it any accident that many of these stories explore or celebrate or criticize Portland as the land of a thousand genders? Many of us gravitated to the town through sheer psychic dead reckoning and can’t believe our luck. But that doesn’t mean it’s time for the credits to roll. Notions of home are often synonymous with constructions of identity. Both weave in and out of each other inextricably in these tales that range from Alberta Street to Hawthorne to Washington Park to the Rose Café to Starky’s Bar and beyond – all familiar settings that dress the stage for some startling revelations.
And it all happens right here in Portland, Ore. Under your nose, perhaps totally unobserved by you. Check it out, you might be surprised. I know I was.
Huh. It does have to do with me, after all.