Edited by Peter Burton (Arcadia Books)
In this post Will and Grace, Queer Eye, Broke Back Mountain world, where gay is the new black, and every home should at least know one, a "Gay" anthology seems a little like a quaintly queer idea. However since being homosexual, to twist Graucho Marx, consists largely of being the member of a club you didn't initially want to be a member of, especially if you come from a small town, or live in a tough part of any major metropolis, such projects retain a fundamental necessity.
The power of television and cinema comes with built-in limitations. The audience must watch in order to gain enlightenment. A Casualty Of War is a richly varied compilation of tales. Peter Burton, who has previously edited several other award winning collections, has assembled a valuable cast of well-known and up-and-coming writers, and the tone veers from the lightly comic to the downright horrific. The theme of war is used sparingly, be it the combat of inner conflicts, to the obvious brutality of dressing up in your country's uniform, and traveling abroad to kill people whose language you neither care for or understand. This is therefore a collection of great understanding, but one that is very short on tenderness.
In "The Other Half," Hugh Fleetwood adopts the tone of Saki in a tale about the pitfalls of betrayal, mischief and deception. Francis King's poignant cross generational friendship between an elderly actress and a young waiter and John Haylock's take on a closet case dealing with a visit from his brother and his wife is a comic gem, expertly drawn, whilst Steven Saylor's almost voyeuristic narrative of another man's travails betrays an acute sense of narrative.
The story which gives the collection its name, is dark and harrowing, drawing a perfect thread between the depravity of war, and how it twists the emotional needs of those it employs. Scott Brown is a talent to observe.
Richard Zwinler's closing tale is exquisitely written, a precise and reflective story, you can almost feel the sunshine rise from within the nostalgic narrative. It is especially gratifying to see the much neglected Desmond Hogan make an appearance, and any work from the pen of Neil Bartlett is a lesson in both economy and style. What Peter Burton proves in his astute selection, is that the short story remains a potent literary force.
Even though this anthology may be the victim of marginalization because of its niche, it is one that anyone could benefit from perusing. What it reminds us, albeit with sublime subtlety, is that the human condition is essentially perpetually at war, and sometimes the most homely of settings can easily become a war-zone.