Anthology offers 4 stories from 4 perspectives

More-perfect-union-coverA More Perfect Union, anthology by B.G. Thomas, J. Scott Coatsworth, Jamie Fessenden, Michael Murphy (Dreamspinner, 2016) paperback $17.99; 350 pp; eBook $6.99; 104K

As we near the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing marriage equality as the law of the land, Dreamspinner Press is publishing an anthology of stories from four authors — who also happen to be married gay men — exploring  love and marriage in days before and since that ruling.

A More Perfect Union, the publishers say, is intended “to commemorate the anniversary of full marriage equality in the U.S.” and celebrate “the idea of marriage itself — and the universal truth of it that applies to us all, gay or straight.”

In “Someday,” author B.G. Thomas tells the story of Lucas Arrowood and Dalton Churchill, who meet when Lucas is walking to school on the first day of kindergarten and Dalton stops to help Lucas tie his shoe. The two become best friends and then lovers. But even after Dalton stands up to his conservative family to defend his love for Lucas, he refuses to marry his partner until same-sex marriage is legal everywhere.

J. Scott Coatsworth contributes “Flames” to the anthology. It is the story of Alex and Gio, life partners who are separated after an argument. When their home is destroyed and Gio is critically injured in a fire, Gio’s mother banishes Alex from his side, and Alex has no legal recourse since the two had never married. But Alex is determined to get to Gio, to use their memories to bring him back from the brink of death, no matter what rules he has to break to do it.

“Destined,” by Jamie Fessenden, is the story of Jay and Wallace, who first meet at an LGBTQ group and but take six years to finally become a couple thanks to bad timing through many meetings. Once they are together, though, they fight their disapproving families and even the state legislature to overcome the obstacles in their road to happiness.

The final entry in A More Perfect Union is “Jeordi and Tom,” by Michael Murphy. It tells the story of an open, loving gay couple living in the rural South, and how they withstand the efforts of family members and even a pastor to stay together. When Jeordi is hospitalized after an accident, his family tries to keep Tom from his side, prompting the two men to start a battle for legal recognition even against the bigoted county clerk who won’t issue them a marriage license.

— From Staff Reports

The Battle for Room 314 by Ed Boland (Grand Central 2016) $26; 243 pp.

Battle-for-Room-314What was a nice, educated gay man doing in a snarling pit of teenage attitude? With sweaty palms and a worthless planner, newly-minted teacher Ed Boland wondered that himself. Inspired by teachers in his family, he’d given up a well-paying job to teach but the ninth-grade class he’d gotten wasn’t what he bargained for.

Because Boland had spent a year teaching English in China, he figured he had a leg up on a job at Manhattan’s Union Street School, a new combined middle and high school that focused on history and international studies. Teaching there, he’d been led to believe, was a dream job and, since he’d already worked with promising but disadvantaged New York-area minority students through Project Advance, he thought he knew the kind of fresh-faced students he’d have.

Instead, what he found in the classroom that fall were sullen, attitudinal, sometimes violent young adults, many (if not most) of whom were dealing with absentee parents, drug abuse, poverty, pregnancy, and bullying. Some of his new ninth-grade students were in their very late teens; many were unable to write in complete sentences or do age-appropriate schoolwork. At least one barely spoke English.

And yet, with a Hollywood-happy ending on his mind, Boland persevered. He hoped to connect with the kids, though they were often uncontrollable. He dreamed they would eventually learn something, though they usually ignored his lessons. And when the year was over, he had considered staying at Union Street but he just couldn’t.

“I so wish it were a different ending for me and for the kids,” says Boland, “but some stories have to end like a seventies movie — gritty, real and sad.”

The solution to the country’s school- and grade-based issues, says author Ed Boland, is a multi-faceted one, beginning with more education for the educators. There are other fixes, too, and The Battle for Room 314 offers them.

But that’s not all: Boland, overall, tells a story that’s both shocking and unsurprising; part To Sir, With Love and part battlefield skirmish. There are occasional moments of too much information (both personal and classroom) but even more of frustration and missed opportunity (again, on two levels). What Boland shares left me feeling glum, mostly, but there are shadows of hope in this book — especially at the end, when he wraps up his story with a chapter of follow-ups.

Though you should be reminded that it’s representative of one man’s experience in one school, this book offers hard lessons. Still, if you’ve ever fretted about the state of education — on either side of the teacher’s desk — The Battle for Room 314 goes to the head of the class.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 24, 2016.