Reviewed By Stanley Bennett Clay, July 3, 2009
Poet G. Winston James makes a remarkable fiction debut with SHAMING THE DEVIL, a collection of short stories that examine black, predominantly homoerotic experiences with beauty, passion and a boldness that renders it both transcendental and deeply personal. One need not be gay or black to enjoy these well-honed nuggets of literary art that twist, turn, enthrall, and provoke in ways that only a poet can. Mr. James is not merely a fantastic storyteller and thinker but a wordsmith Michelangelo whose nearly every sentence is painstakingly crafted into well-cut diamonds. Forgive the hyperbole, but I am simply overwhelmed.
The collection opens with UNCLE, innocently, even sweetly, narrated by a little boy celebrating his sixth birthday while his body celebrates feelings for his uncle that he does not understand. An empathy-inducing reminiscence of new and uninformed sensations, desires and longings, it will take many a reader back to those first frightening and fantastic pre-pubescent shivers engendered by the very presence of a hero-worshipped same sex relative.
While RAHEN (my personal favorite) boldly tackles gay bashing and rivets until the heartbreaking end, CONFINING ROOM flips the script on homie-sexuality. And take note of this beautifully written phrase from THE SPACE BETWEEN: “He opens her with four fingers. He speaks rivers inside her. She does not know what to do with her hands. The rest of her body. Or the thoughts, like famine and harvest, roiling in her head.”
UNDER AN EARLY AUTUMN MOON is the tale of a late night tryst with a surprising twist set in the fuckable landscape of a public park. PATH and SICK DAYS are thematically linked both in tone and content; tracking the light hearted—-in fact downright hysterical—escapades of a metrosexual homosexual’s quest for transient trade and the attended consequences of infidelity.
JOHN poignantly examines a self-loather’s confrontation with his demons via a therapist and a hustler, and although I’m not much of a fan of sadomasochism, I found SOMEWHERE NEARBY brilliant in its mix of cruel sex, brutal assault, intellectualism and the power of brooding self-examination at death’s door.
A seventeen-year-old boy weathers a violent physical and psychological storm in his native Jamaica as his older gay brother, banished years earlier by a now-absent father, lays dying of AIDS in the brief but powerful STORM. And CHURCH returns a prodigal world traveler to his hometown congregation where his moving revelation restores faith in a true and loving God.
This twelve-story collection ends with THE EMBRACE, a bright and buoyant story of three friends and their sexual fantasies that slowly turns erotically haunting when one of them introduces another to a mysterious lothario. THE EMBRACE is sure to leave you breathless.
As in any story collection, some are better than others. But there is not a weak one in this bunch, as the author gives each narrator a unique voice, each story its own fascinating twist, and writing as appealingly grandiose and artful as Morrison and Baldwin.
Indeed, Baldwin and Thomas Glave are the only BGM writers to win the prestigious O. Henry Prize for Short Fiction. Based on a couple of the best stories in SHAMING THE DEVIL, it would not surprise me one bit if G. Winston James was chosen to make this a literary trinity.
Book Marks by Richard Labonte, May 18, 2009
Shaming the Devil, by G. Winston James. Top Pen Press, 160 pages, $14.95 paper.
James, with two poetry collections to his credit, brings a poet’s ear for resonance, a poet’s eye for detail and a poet’s voice for characters to his first book of fiction, a dozen powerful, unflinching stories depicting a black gay cultural and sexual landscape. In Rahen,” a desperately lovelorn schoolboy lusts for both a star athlete and a best friend; in “The Embrace,” a hesitant young man opens himself to gay sexual variety; in “Sick Days,” a 42-year-old man with a graduate degree and a Fortune 100 day job finds himself in a holding cell when he’s charged with public lewdness for subway sexual pickups; and in “Confining Rooms” – crafted with rhythmic Southern black dialect: “I on’t go to school no more…on’t nobody wanna hire you if you black” – a high school dropout with a devoted girlfriend is enthralled by a boy whose sexual suggestiveness both arouses and terrifies him. On one level a collection of same-sex loving erotica, James’ stunning, vulnerable stories also consider issues of racism, class and violence with clear-eyed candor.
Minutes and men’ by Grady Harp, February 28, 2009
G. Winston James explodes on the literary scene with a collection of short stories SHAMING THE DEVIL that introduces him as not only a writer of some of the most erotically charged fiction in the manner of Jean Genet, but also a writer so skilled in his craft that no matter the topic he is able to suffuse his stories with intelligence, challenging concepts, sophisticated imagery, and a way with idiomatic dialogue that is as fine as any being written today. Born in Jamaica and schooled in Brooklyn, James has the courage to take the African American experience into challenging territories – the particular milieu of the gay black male – and succeeds in not only sculpting very fine short stories that cover many aspects of his chosen subject but also in maintaining a high quality of craftsmanship in his mastery of the English language.
SHAMING THE DEVIL surveys the many dynamics of the African American male in the ‘forbidden zone’ of male sexual preference from childhood to adulthood. He skillfully opens his collection with ‘Uncle’, a subtle tale of awakening desires in a young child who focuses his safety of nebulous choice on a loving uncle: avoiding anything approaching inappropriate behavior between curious young Jake and his kind Uncle Paul, James allows us to feel the isolation of a child with different proclivities responding to a family unaccepting of anything but the established norm of behavior. It is a very tender and very intuitive examination of the sexual awakening of a small child. And from this beginning James moves us through the stages of growth that include abuse by peers, experimentation, arrests for seeking gratification in public areas and the humiliation associated with dropping the daytime successful role type to joining the low life in a jail and in addiction therapy (‘Paraphilic behavior. …what you do in here is tell the truth and shame the devil. Victimization starts and ends with abusing someone’s trust. You want to build trust again. This is as good a place as any to start if you want to avoid recidivism. That’s the only way you’ll get your lives back on track.’), desire for dangerous liaisons that clouds the judgment of even the most stalwart men, and even the spectre of AIDS and the associated need to return to the family in the days before dying.
In one of the many exceptional stories, ‘Church’, James takes a character into a return to home situation that is planned to include a calling out of the Church atmosphere for the irresponsible handling and castigation of young black men who have ‘strayed’ into same sex lifestyles. The manner in which he paints the atmosphere of this church together with the decisions he makes in communicating his emerging end of life loathing of a world that has not supported him, altered by the presence of the congregation and the spirit of the sanctuary is one of the finer portraits of the importance of the Church in the African American life. ‘The Church was a venue where you could witness the Black family defining itself: the faithful wife, the obedient young children, the disappearing older children and the often-absent husband.’
SHAMING THE DEVIL, then, introduces a very powerful writer who is capable of creating all of the aspects of same sex eroticism with equal amounts of desire and danger while using his rich vocabulary and polished skills as a writer to make his subject go far beyond simply sensationalized tales. G. Winston James is a multitalented artist, a man who understands raw visceral grit as well as he defines elegant prose. He is a writer who will become better known in time. This is a very fine introduction publication. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, February 09