Contemporary fiction often ignores or pushes aside gay themes. That’s why it’s wonderful to have a journal like Jonathan; it spotlights what is generally left gathering dust. A journal dedicated to gay men’s fiction, Jonathan is captivating from page one. More than most journals, it reads like a chorus of voices; the ten narrators of Jonathan’s fiction are vulnerable. They are strong and insightful.
Jonathan opens—appropriately—on West 14th and 6th Ave. in New York City’s West Village. Set in this historically “gay” neighborhood, Steven Cordova’s story, like many in the collection, is an intimate first-person narrative. Cordova’s story is laced with emotional complexity and freshly stated, spot-on observations. Similarly, Aaron Hamburger’s story doesn’t hesitate to expose a man at his most insecure moments. Understated insights sprinkle his prose:
Sometimes in your life, you look backward, and you see a series of small decisions, each one seemingly inconsequential at the time, but altogether monumental, irrevocable, leading you to where you are now. And you wonder, Is this the life I was supposed to have led?
While several stories in the collection take on relationship themes, Andrew Demcak’s “1-900-GOOD-BOY” exposes a different foray into gay sex life. The hotline. The narrator’s first fumbling experience with anonymous sex is comically and intriguingly depicted. He decides to dial on a whim after waking up with a hangover, still high on Vicodin. His defensive humor as he compares the sex hotline to pizza delivery—both he calls modern conveniences—evaporates as the unsettling hookup evolves. He brings the dark room where they meet to life with sharp descriptions: “The only thing I could make out of Don was the glowing red tip of his cigarette that was floating in space about three feet in the blackness ahead of me.” We, too, are confused. We, too, squint at a phallic flickering we can’t quite make out. The story’s surprises continues to the last sentence—when our disenchanted narrator decides, despite the horror he felt moments ago, that he wants to do it again.
Jonathan Vatner’s prose poem opens yet another door in the corridor of gay dating culture—the locker room. The story arranges itself in short staccato sentences that move as quickly as the men entering and leaving the changing space.
In a chorus of voices, Robert Smith’s story stands out. Some of the issue’s most beautiful writing comes in his “Happy Birthday, Numbskull.” His command over first person and vivid imagery make for a powerful read:
But for a few moments every morning I was alone in my igloo, behind windows covered in snow and ice, with the steam coming from the old muffler growing into white, condensed clouds all around me, and I felt that was the only part of the day I was ever really safe. At least until the windows defrosted, and the crystallized corners slowly rolled back onto themselves, curling at the melting edges like a page from a book I wasn’t supposed to be reading thrown onto a fire.
Jonathan, though shorter than many of its literary companions, packs a lot of punch. The voices sing different tunes: of heartbreak, of loneliness, of homophobia, of joy, of fear, of exploration. As a collective, the chorus of voices portrays the rarely-found intimacy between reader, narrator, and author.