Mann, Jeff. “A History of Barbed Wire’, Suspect Thoughts Press, 2007.
In “A History of Barbed Wire”, Mann’s collection of short fiction, he gives us a look at stories dealing with bondage and sado/masochism and bear culture but even if these stories do not represent your kind of activity, the lyricism and intense language will keep you reading. Mann looks at the dark side of desire and the very unclear line between fantasy and the real world. As he inspects lust, he also celebrates domination and submission and he does so with the touch of a poet. The stories are intelligent and very erotic and as is written on the cover, the collection is “state-of-the-art smut”.
The stories are set in Appalachia and deal with the men of the country-big beefy Bears and Mann uses many literary illusions which add extra meaning to the beautiful prose. Figurative language and imagery also abound giving the prose a melodic rhythm—something not usually associated with erotica. Unlike so much of what is being published in gay literature, Mann writes about rural and small town gay life. Mann writes in the tradition of Southern writers by making the reader comfortable with little confusion while at the same time his writing deals with issues that are “in-your-face”. He tears down some of the misconceptions about gay rural America and shows how, unlike in urban areas, rural gay life is progressing, perhaps not as fast as in the cities but still providing an outlet for gays. He focuses on the commonalities of gay life rather than the differences.
There is also a concentration on beefy, hairy and masculine men and looking at the differences between tenderness and roughness. The world of nature is present throughout Mann’s stories and Eros is always present. He tells us that some of the stories are autobiographical and the tone of the stories sets an atmosphere that will not likely be forgotten. The stories here reflect courage—how to be who you are, it is necessary sometimes to break free from the constraints of a society that labels who you are.
Man gives us stories of adultery, kidnapping, sexual exploration, a biker and a masochist as well as of characters who live in a state of torment. We get to have a look at what bondage and sado/masochism are as well as what they are not. And most important—for me, at least—is that peek into rural gay life. Living near the Ozarks, I have access to the “mountain men” who come to town but it is extremely interesting to read about their activities on their own turf.