Reviewed by Tyler R. Tichelaar for Reader Views (3/07)
"Postcards from Heartthrob Town" is a collection of short stories about gay men traveling around the world in a quest for sex, love, and companionship. The originality of this collection is partly due to the settings which range from unique sections of the United States to foreign settings including France, Germany, Morocco and Japan. The information the author provides about all these places is astounding--one marvels to think he has visited so many countries, and even more marvelous, if he has not visited all these areas, that he writes as one intimately familiar with each city and its streets. A deeply sophisticated world view is pervasive throughout the work and becomes more so with the progression of each story.
Despite the often exotic settings, the real theme of the book is the emotional journey of being gay and seeking love and understanding. Because the same theme runs through the stories, they build on one another, although the reader may have difficulty remembering distinguishing marks of many of them with a few exceptions where a distinct tone comes through as in "Reuben Ran." What makes the stories true literature is they go beyond simply focusing on the sexual aspects of being gay and delve into the emotional longings and alienation that gay men experience. They are not quick, pornographic gay fantasies--although they do border on fantasy at times. The happy ending is not achieved by a sexual act--nor do they deal with the angst of one's sexual identity. They are far from simply "coming out" stories. They surpass these more typical elements of gay fiction. What predominantly sets the stories apart from other gay fiction is Wozek's mature and sophisticated language. In a few stories, the adolescent characters' language seems a bit too sophisticated, but overall, the tone and style is powerful and carries the reader along in an almost dreamy addictive prose toward an often emotionally difficult ending.
"Postcards from Heartthrob Town" is not without its moments of humor however. In the first story, "Tenderness among Wolves," the adolescent boy, just beginning to awaken to his sexual feelings, tries to understand himself by dressing his G.I. Joe toys in grass skirts and allowing them to copulate with one another. The story, "Reuben Ran," is of a lighter, more fast-paced tone, and optimistic as the young protagonist runs away from home to study art in Russia.
Overall sadness permeates the book, a constant sense of dissatisfaction despite or because of the characters' frequent obsessions with sex. We see gay couples falling apart, men learning their lovers have cheated on them, or men who are saddened by a past that might include abuse from a previous lover or a best friend who refused to speak to him again when told his friend was gay. In the end, the book seems largely to be about lack of fulfillment, and not surprisingly, recalls E.M. Forster's novels, although more "Howards End," where the characters strive to connect but fail to do so than his gay novel "Maurice" where the ending is an unrealistic fantasy.
In one story, the main character comes to feel sorry for his lover who appears trapped in his sophisticated facade. Similarly, the reader finds himself caught up in the dreamy, exquisite sophistication of the prose, yet all the beauty of the author's words does not hide the deep unhappiness of the characters and their situations. Whether the reader is gay or straight, he will appreciate that the stories are about the mystery of human relationships in "Postcards from Heartthrob Town." Readers will find their own experiences, longings, loneliness, and exquisite fearful romances depicted in these pages.
Received book free of charge.