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Like skilled acrobats, these stories straddle the line between realism and fantasy, and fly through the air between them Sexual attraction between men in the circus world seems like such a good fit that I wonder why no one compiled an anthology on this theme before Like gay men, circus performers have traditionally been nomadic social outcasts, and the yearning of a lonely boy to run away and join the circus seems like a thinly disguised desire to come out Several of these stories are set in a realistic past, when trained elephants in a travelling show were less controversial than the human performers and crew In Roustabout by Dale Chase, the twenty year old narrator begins his story in California in April 1878 Jack Hodges was shot two days ago and while the man who done him in has been strung up, there remains an empty place in me that will not likely be filled by justice, be it vigilante or otherwise The narrator was Jack s lover, and he goes to the circus with a barely conscious plan to find some distraction for his grief.An exchange of meaningful glances between the narrator and Tully, an older, muscular roustabout who is setting up a tent, leads to a fast hookup which could possibly lead to a deeper relationship But there are no guarantees The Twenty Four Hour Man by Dusty Taylor shows a professional P.R man through the eyes of a rube, an innocent young man in a small Kansas town in 1915 While seducing the whole town to come to the circus starring Buffalo Bill, the handsome stranger seduces the narrator, who has never met anyone like him before The young man s father had always warned him to beware of con men and circus types as moral stumbling blocks, but even after the handsome stranger has left him forever, the narrator doesn t regret their night together.In Circus Wagon Love by Garland, a group of circus performers listen to the radio during the Second World War, wondering if they will be sent to one of the camps where people go in but never come out When the narrator, a contortionist, learns that a Hollywood movie, Freaks, is being made about the sideshow, he feels ambivalent I honestly didn t know how I felt about it His reaction is much like that of a gay filmgoer to a film that shows his people as freaks, but which gives them public exposure In the fantasy stories, the circus represents an imaginary world of unlimited sex and real monsters The narrator of The Midnight Barker by William Holden is an immortal wraith, one of a circus family that survives on the energy of the living The young man we want has to have a tainted heart He has to want it, need it, desire it Through their desires, we create our Netherworld where we make their fantasies come true Through their fantasies, we feed The circus is a jealous whore, a ravenous hag that sucks the vitality right out of a person, just like a bloodthirsty vampire sucks the veins dry Like a vampire, the narrator seems likely to change his chosen victim into one like himself.The title character in The Great Masturbator by Daniel M Jaffe is rud to cause gay men to disappear from the real world When the narrator, whose life is going nowhere, goes to the circus to be cheered up, he learns what has happened to the missing men He is trapped in a kind of limbo from which there seems to be no escape, but he tells the reader I live in hope Circus Maximus by Sean Meriwether is set in a dystopian society run by clowns whose patron saint is John Wayne Gacy, serial killer of young men in the real world The story is told by an ant, a young man whose lack of performing skill condemns him to the lowest rank and whose protective love for his younger brother drives him to kill The two young men run away from the circus and discover a tribe of fellow refugees led by a magical queen who resembles the older wisewomen in The Matrix and Tommy At last the narrator finds his tribe and the male mentor he needs, although the life of a fugitive won t be easy Oggie Joins the Circus by the team of Jay Neal and R Jackson is a lighter story a teenage boy s masturbation fantasy Parker the Barker introduces young Oggie to the circus of his imagination Ah, young sir we have many wonderful wonders ready to amazingly amaze you Inside my pants inside our tents, I mean you will meet the world s best hung midget, incredible twin contortionists, Melvin the Magnificent soothsayer, human goat and tattooed man a mystifying fun house of mirrors and a remarkable game of skill and luck, to mention but a few of our unique attractions Oggie discovers all these wonders before being welcomed home Steve Berman s story, Tell Me What You Love, and I ll Tell You What You Are, shows a contemporary circus as a slice of untrustworthy reality Printed in two columns on each page, the story is an episodic two ring show in which a rueful older man accompanies his closeted nephew and the nephew s friend to a circus of illusions The handsome guy working the Guess Your Height, Your Age, Your Fate booth seems attracted to the uncle or is he The reader can never be sure what is real and what is not.In a parallel story, Magic by Matt Kailey, another lonely, disillusioned gay man discovers a circus that advertises only by word of mouth, where an incredibly well hung performer chooses him for magically painless public sex Two of the realistic stories to use the term loosely focus on the roles of a fluffer a kind of roustabout in the world of porn films and a wrestler Charlie Does the Big Top by Hank Edwards is an over the top dirty joke in which the circus is actually a porn film set, and the central character gets paid to keep the stars as hard as they need to be The Worker by Cage Thunder is about coming out into another dream job In this story, a bored college student has come home to Kansas for the summer Did The Wizard of Oz start a tradition of setting quest stories in Kansas At the circus with his former high school buddies, the narrator is fascinated by Steve Starr, a pro wrestler who helps the kid to find his calling and his stage name, Cage Thunder The remaining stories are or less realistic, and are as captivating as the obvious fantasies Il Circo dei Fiori by Gavin Atlas suggests that the circus as entertainment, business and lifestyle may be doomed, but the narrator tries gamely to save the circus of flowers, his family business, and hang onto the man of his dreams In several of these stories, the appeal of circus performers for audience members and humble handymen is a source of erotic tension In Aiming to Please by Nathan Burgoine, a knife thrower seduces an enthralled audience member by hurling sharp knives that barely miss the target s flesh while pinning him in place In Winter Quarters by Tom Cardamone, young Jimmy who works the concession stand gets to wrap his idol, a performer of his own age, in cotton candy when the circus is not on tour In the brief Horse s Ass by Ralph Seligman, the handyman narrator has dramatic sex with a clown who uses white grease paint as lube The circus, as shown in these stories, is a powerful metaphor for collective and personal dreams and fears The sex that takes place there is sometimes slapstick, sometimes scary, but always hot It s worth the admission price. 3.5Tented is an anthology of erotic stories that revolve around the circus Not just the typical clown stories with rubber noses and big feet indicating other big appendages but just about any depravity, kink, or curiosity you can think of these stories go there Surprisingly the stories are universally good with a few standing out amongst the crowd There are no dull notes, no boring stories you d rather skip but instead each one is interesting, different, and intriguing.Tented begins with a great foreword Rarely are introductions or forewords in anthologies that interesting In fact they are something most readers skip entirely as they rarely give good insight into the following collection nor do they add much Yet I have to say this foreword is concise and well written It immediately gets your interest and makes you want to read the stories The few well chosen words introduce you to the sweaty, dirty, kinky circus that will follow and not the sanitized, pretty, blank one currently popular.The collection delivers no less than the introduction promises as it delves into the working men of the circus and those that visit From the first story to the last, this group of fifteen tales is about dirty, raunchy sex amidst the dirt, gleam, and sweat of the circus as it was meant Although the stories range from historical to post apocalyptic, the shady, seedy element of the circus the one that makes it the most interesting, the most forbidden and enticing is the main backdrop There is something creepy and weird about the majority of the stories yet they are fascinating in a way You simply can t look away and have to read wondering where the authors will take you next.There is flat out titillation with Hank Edwards Charlie Does the Big Top or the humorous, entertaining encounter between a clown and his lover in Horse s Ass by Ralph Seligmann Tom Cardamone s Winter Quarters is sugary and sweet with a touch of paranormal about a young man finding his place within the circus Circus Wagon Love by Garland offers a sweet romantic flair amid down and dirty sex between two performers that learn a new position If you ever wondered just what positions a contortionist can get into, this story helps solve that riddle.The stories are universally well written and offer something intriguing, fascinating, and eye catching The sheer imagination that goes into the idea of sex at the circus never fails to amaze me as the authors go down and dirty with fantasy and desire There are favorites of course and these will be reader dependant I particularly enjoyed Dale Chase s Roustabout set in the old west as a horseman has a hot, sweaty encounter with a circus worker Chase s great flair for prose and erotica makes for an enjoyable setting and story.Additionally The Midnight Barker by William Holden is quite fabulous as a dark, creepy, and scary turn at the circus The bright lights may hide some terrifying things and this story isn t afraid of the dark and exposing those desires and cravings Similarly, Circus Maximus by Sean Meriwether also shows a dark side to the circus in this post apocalyptic tale of brothers on the run from a clown posse This is another well written and enticing story that involves some brotherly love but an even intriguing backdrop On the sweeter side is Aiming to Please by Nathan Burgoine, which is very cute and quite raunchy A curious visitor encounters a knife throwing Russian which ends with the trailer rocking.These are just a few of the stories that make up this anthology The variety of stories makes this one that is entertaining and absorbing to read It s highly erotic with sex as the main theme of all the stories, yet it s not the only theme as desire, loneliness, need, hunger, and despair all play into the tales as well If you haven t seen the weirder, creepier, but interesting side of the circus, definitely check this out. Couldn t possibly do a better job than Jeff Mann, who provides a very comprehensive review at Out In Print Hurry Hurry Hurry Step Right Up And Read Stories Both Salacious And Miraculous Only Fifteen Dollars For The Grand Tour Of Tented That S Three Fins To Meet The Great Masturbator Three Lincolns To Explore A Post Apocalyptic Future Where Every Clown Has His Very Own Catamite Yes, My Friends, These Stories Are Guaranteed To Amaze, Beguile, And Captivate That S The ABC S, My Boy Stay Close, You Might Learn SomethingWe Have Acrobats Ready To Assume Positions, Knife Throwers Blade In Hand, The Stickiest, Sweetest Cotton Candy Around, And Even A Hall Of Mirrors To Reflect Your Deepest Desires Featuring Performances By Such Talented Artistes As Steve Berman, Tom Cardamone And Sean Meriwether Roustabout, by Dale ChaseI know I ve mentioned Dale Chase just a few days ago, but I should point out that when I got my contributor copy of Tented once again an anthology edited by the unique Jerry L Wheeler Dale s anchor story was my first introduction to her work, and I went seeking her tales out thereafter Roustabout is a tale told in California in the late 1800 s, and full of what I ve since learned is Dale Chase s brilliant mix of bittersweet longing that is so often a central piece of her erotic westerns The arrival of a circus the wagons appearing, tents being set up brings a man who had planned to come there with his lover, who is now dead What he finds instead might be a chance to heal.Tented is an anthology that to me was full of genuine surprises The theme seems so narrow at first circuses, after all, are exactly that just circuses but the collection as a whole is so incredibly varied I m dead proud to be in this one Winter Quarters by Tom CardamoneThis is one of my favourite short stories in Tented Put far too simply, it s the story of Jimmy, who is with the circus and just hasn t found his niche yet The others all seem to know which way they were growing to be future trapeze artists, or clowns, or roustabouts but not Jimmy Jimmy works the concession stand, and seems to have a knack for spinning cotton candy, but that s not likely to lead him anywhere else under the Big Top An encounter with one of the acrobats, however, and some deft handling of the cotton candy machine, might just reveal about where Jimmy could be headed than he had ever considered before.I love this story, and the joy of the cotton candy between the two young men is a blast It s clever, and fresh, and while Jimmy at first feels a little bit lost and than a little bit pathetic, the journey in this quite short story takes him somewhere completely different I already knew I liked Tom Cardamone s stories from my brushes with other tales he d written, but this is one I return to for a quick smile Charlie Does the Big Top, by Hank EdwardsBringing a character from his Fluffers Inc novel to the circus, Hank Edwards adds a wonderful chuckle to the mix of Tented Charlie is a hapless character, whose oral talents never fail to uh get a rise from those he s helping get ready for a shoot, and the porn company he works with is doing a circus themed video.That the director hates him, and Charlie has been known to perhaps botch things somewhat is a fun mix that of course leads to some sexy and silly mishaps Charlie is a fun character, and Charlie Does the Big Top is a fun story And if you enjoy him, there are three Fluffers Inc novels to dive into Horse s Ass, by Ralph SeligmanOne of my favourite memories of meeting Ralph Seligman in New Orleans at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival was having dinner with him and his fellow, and a large table of many of the contributors of Tented, and watching him pull out a clown nose and pop it on his face I needed that laugh then.In fact, one of the things Jerry L Wheeler said in the original call for submissions was to avoid clowns Clown erotica, the tone suggested, would likely be a very very hard sell And not hard in the good way Ralph managed to sidestep that gracefully, in a way, using the greasy white clown face paint to make the shortest story in the collection a lovely laugh out loud inducing pleasure.Certainly, re reading it today after reminded me that there are people out there to support than I need to worry about not supporting So thanks for that, Ralph Again The Midnight Barker, by William HoldenI mention this every time I swing around to talking about Tented, but the variety of the tales included in the anthology is a huge draw to the collection Case in point The Midnight Barker William Holden brings his usual dark twist to the erotic, and creates a character that is unforgettable.Not quite vampiric, but definitely a kind of erotic and parasitic creature, the voice of the tale runs a circus that has a dark hunger at its heart a hunger fed by young and strong men who are themselves just tainted enough with a dark desire to offer the right sustenance As the young man, Derek, is spun into potentially offering himself up, the story tightens and ratchets up the tension Holden has a way with characters like this, and you ll definitely shiver along the ride. I finished read Tented Gay Erotic Tales from under the Big Top yesterday It was good Dale Chase s Roustabout, the first story in the anthology remains my favourite, although I didn t actively dislike any of them I enjoyed Nathan Burgoine s Aiming to Please, Gavin Atlas Il Circo Dei Fiori and Matt Kailey s Magic in particular Sean Meriwether s Circus Maximus was unusual, but none the worse for it I was slightly confused by Cage Thunder s The Worker, purely because it was set in a fairground, rather than a circus but perhaps I m being pedantic As I said above, I didn t actively dislike any of the stories included, although, of course, I enjoyed some than others.
- Jerry L. Wheeler
- 10 January 2017 Jerry L. Wheeler