Jardonn Smith and I share many friends and I have seen his name many times as a writer of gay fiction. I don’t know how or why I have never read him but I figured the time had come to do so. “Suspicious Diagnosis” despite its alarming cover is quite an interesting read. It consists of four short stories and a short two act play which are all connected by a sense of despair. What is written is raw but within the writing there are pearls that would shine brightly with better editing.
“Suspicious Diagnosis” which gives the book its title is very short look at a coward who reminisces over the love of his life. I have yet to discover what the story has to do with anything but I am sure with several rereading I will find out.
The play “Senility” is set in a gay bar and our two characters, Brad and Dee, seem to be waiting for something to happen. They are old friends and somewhat reminded me of Vladimir and Estragon in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. When the anticipations turn out to not happen, the two resume their mundane lives.
The best story is “A True Ring” and is about Marshall Strendehocker, a very serious college wrestler who is aiming for a big break but without the usual theatricals that many use to break into the “big time”. When Jimmy Dolan comes to convince Marshall to change his mind, the two fall in love and we get a very unusual love story.
“Such a Man” was a guilty pleasure for me as it reminded me so much of an experience I once had. Stanley, now dead, is being remembered at his funeral service and our unnamed hero (Stanley’s former partner) reflects on his life.
Finally. “The Nosy Neighbor” is the story of Daniel McKay who recently buried his wife and forms a friendship with his gay neighbors, Jeremy and Fred. Eventually sex ensues and as the lives of the three men come together Daniel begins to understand a good deal about compassion.
So you ask me—where is the despair that the men share? Simply it exists in the fears that the men share of having their sexuality discovered. Our men are gay but they are not obviously so and feel that their sex lives are their business and no one else’s. They want to live as they are without having to worry about condemnation or acceptance from the larger society.
So what is that with the horrible picture on the cover? We see a guy with something coming out of his mouth but we do not know what it is. Could it be that he is telling us to leave him alone and let him live his life as he chooses? I think that is what it is.