13. A collection of short stories: Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars Collected by S. Renee Bess and Lee Lynch
List Progress: 20/30
This book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time, after I received it as part of a blind giveaway at an independent bookstore in Oakland, which feels very fitting. Our Happy Hours, LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars is obviously about bars, but often makes references to bookstores, community halls, clubs and online forums, all places that queer people gather with each other to form communities. Our Happy Hours was compiled in 2017, in direct response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. Through fiction, non-fiction and poetry, writers process their feelings about the massacre itself, about their relationship with gay bars in general, and about their communities. Collected by S. Renee Bess and Lee Lynch, who both have stories included, the anthology strives to paint a picture of what these social institutions mean to people, for better or for worse. And on the whole, this collection does a good job.
Multi-author anthologies are always hit-or-miss and your enjoyment of them is largely dependent on how you respond to each individual writer’s style, which is a big gamble to take. While Our Happy Hours didn’t always knock it out of the park, the success percentage was definitely higher than many collections I’ve read, and I don’t recall many true low points. The fact that Bess and Lynch’s respective stories were among my favorites makes me think that having good writers at the head of the project definitely helped the collection as a whole. These are my top recommendations
- “Omar Mateen’s Shirtless Pics Make Me Sad” by Clay Kerrigan
- “On the Sidewalk in Front of Kellers” by Richard Natale
- “Black and White Strobe Lights” by Rebekah Weatherspoon
- “A Night Beyond the City Limits” by Renee Bess
- “At a Bar in the Morning” by Lee Lynch
- “Chances” by Shelley Thrasher
- “Sharon’s Lookout” by Anne Laughlin
- “All I Never Said” by Patrick Coulton
- “The Pulse” by Michael Ward
These particular stories stood out for being rich, evocative, and different. Because the downside of this anthology is that a lot of the stories are quite same-y. Despite being called “LGBT Voices”, the stories are majority lesbian with occasional gay male stories, and most of them are unambiguously positive. The stories that really jumped out to me were ones that addressed issues of racism, ableism and substance abuse within bar culture; being queer does not make something perfect. These nuanced takes avoided looking at the community with rose-tinted glasses, though still with a great deal of love.
I have never been someone with a regular place at gay bars, though I have very fond memories of Divas in Northampton, MA and The White Horse in Oakland, CA. These stories were written in the immediate aftermath of the Pulse shooting, and I am reading them during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is bound to change the face of bar culture for many years to come. But even in the face of trauma and disease in pain, there will always be a queer community out there for people to find a home. And I am glad that Our Happy Hours was able to record some of those moments in time.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.