By: Qubari Dane
Before diving into this review:
Years ago i was working in a bookstore. The owner and I indulged in a conversation about short stories. She noticed i kept purchasing most of the books in her short fiction section. As I was purchasing one, she said, “Oh my god u really are into these short stories aren’t you?”
“Yea, I love short stories.”
“I can’t really get into them. They always seem like there should be more to them. Reading them makes me want more.”
“I think sometimes a novel would have been better if it was a short story. And i think that desire for more u get … maybe that’s the point of them … titillate your mental desires.”
She laughed and admitted later that she was reading more short stories.
My next story comes with me reading a novel by George Sand. In the introduction she wrote that she composed the book when she was in her youthful phase when writing was a natural inclination without concerns for theme, editing, point of views, and other literary technicalities.
Now Let’s Dive in shall we?:
I mention the previous encounters because they were brought back to my memory as I was reading the collection of short stories by Jai Smallz. An emerging author that has that youthful natural inclination mentioned by Sand mixed with that skill to write cliffhanger tales that makes the reader think that more should be added simply because their curiosities had been piqued. Upon reading Jai Smallz, one with knowledge of talented African-American gay writers of the nineties, one can easily recall E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy and Sapphire in his work: The conversations are vivid; the scenes are familiar and at times dramatic; the experiences that occur within the stories created by Smallz can be hostile, comical but most importantly realistic. In short he is a talented writer and one that is bound to be even greater as time progresses.
A few years ago when I came upon Jai Smallz’ story entitled “Moving Out,” I was so impressed by the story that I immediately messaged him and begged him to let me have it sent for publication on cocktailmolly.com. Initially he agreed, but quickly recanted stating he wanted to make some changes to the story and was considering it for his collection of stories. I must admit I was a bit disappointed but knew something for certain. The man was the next best writer for the 21st Century.
And that is what readers are getting in his collection of short stories, Smallz Shortz: Volume 1, a taste of what literary skill & greatness looks like; terse tales with an ability to capture vignettes of character emotions. There seem to be a strong emphasis from Smallz imagination about how familial bonds, friendships, and intimate romantic encounters affects the psychology of homosexual relationships. Such is the case with the gem The Best Man where Marcus expresses to his best friend and lover, Johnnie that coming out would ruin their relationships with their families and friends and would be particularly devastating to Marcus’ career in politics. In Understanding, the narrator expresses to his lover Jamal how perturbed he was with the hostility he was receiving from family about revealing his sexuality to them. Jamal offers his lover solid advice on how to deal with them and the situation while revealing his troubles with family after he came out. At the end the narrator’s mother calls which is a foreboding cliffhanger that either his mother will be understanding to his situation or she will always be getting in the way of him & Jamal. In the hilarious story, Whoremones, the main character gets busted in a self-pleasing moment with gay sex video. And lastly, in Where We Stand, where lovers are caught in a heated discussion about their relationship and the reader sees the fear of rejection from Isaiah pertaining to his family about his sexuality. In these tales we see how family is pertinent to the gay community and it is enjoyable to read how Smallz incorporates these emotions and conflicts into his stories as well as the underlining message of not allowing one to deny their natural urges; be yourself, while family should learn to love and respect their children’s sexuality as normal.
In stories such as Outed and Down Low, we see how this inability to accept oneself can lead to some serious complications. For example, we get a hostile character in Outed that screams maddeningly at his lover and breaks it off with him immediately once he learned that someone found out about the two of them. Leaving the reader to ponder, is this character going to go his entire life living a lie? How will it affect him and others he becomes involved with over time? The same scenario takes place in Down Low as two young men, of course lovers, with serious SWAG are in a discussion, while smoking weed, about a girl one character (Derrick) has gotten pregnant but is denying. The other lover (Kareem) does not believe Derrick but, cannot scold him about denying his sexual encounter with the girl and getting her pregnant. They are both on the down low and living a lie. Again the reader is left to curious fancies pertaining the future of these young men and all the other parties affected by their decisions.
CM:Who r some of your literary influences?JS:I don’t really have any influences besides writers like Joss Wheadon, the creator of Buffy, the way he writes a story and pieces everything together so we have a whole world is amazing to me. I just like great writing.CM:What was the first time u knew u enjoyed writing enough that u wanted to do it for a hobby and even professionally?JS:The first time I knew I would be a writer was when I was young and I would use my action figures to make up a whole story. When I played around I built mansions for the toys out of cardboard boxes. When I used to go to McDonald’s, I would beg my mom to get me a girls happy meal for a girl toy. I mean I was deep into it and I used to write a lot of fan fiction, but when I used to write on BGC (Black Gay Chat) back in then day, I got a lot of critiques about my work and how I should become a writer full time. That did it for me then.CM:What’s your goals as a writer?JS:My goal is to have a series of books and shows people enjoy. I think that’s a fairly simple ideal.CM:When’s your next gem coming out?
JS:I have three projects expected to be published this year.
Friends, Hidden Feelings & The Single Life are stories that explore friendships on the edge of romantic relationships save for The Single Life story do we find the friend drifting in thought about his single status and his friend’s infatuation with random new loves. In some instances the affection is reciprocated but all too often there is a situation where one friend is in love while another friend is chasing someone that is bound to leave them heartbroken.
I will note that Moving Out, The Best Man, Life at Sixteen, Down Low, My Ex, Understanding and Sleep Over are very solid writes. This does not discount the other pieces by no means. In fact, Outed, Hidden Feelings, & Friends are equally as solid and tales that are left open for expanded scenes (at least I’m salivating for more).
The story that will probably jolt the reader initially is Flesh Wounds. It is a turn away from the previous stories. At least from a genre perspective. It is more of a sci-fi/fantasy/horror tale but has all the moral exactitude found in his other fiction pieces. It is allegorical. An understated message of having to be a gay black couple in a world where they are typically seen as the abnormal creatures. Here in this story the creatures are the many others – supposed normal ones. The creatures are chasing the gay couple; trying to turn them, but being turned away from one’s natural self is absolute death. Jai’s ending is practically Shakespearean.
I think what is delivered in these stories is again the simple idea of the gay black community being gifted & plagued with the same issues found in heterosexual relationships; fear, lack of fulfillment at times, lust, love, understanding, support, affairs, rejection, trust, and friendship.
Jai we await your next gem …
Qubari Dane is a marketing consultant and writer from Cleveland, Ohio USA.
Smallz Shortz volume 1 available at Amazon.com/Jai Smallz