Reviewed by Tom Cardamone
If the prose didn't feel so natural, I would suggest the stories in Six Positions: Sex Writing are a bit too premeditated, more so than most writing, to be superbly original. No common ground is covered here. Quan's writings are deliberately off the map. Or all over the map, as it were, as he discovers/incites/explores sex in different cities, on different continents, in different positions and, in some cases, with an incredible number of interchangeable partners, all with a very autobiographical feel. A first person point-of-view dominates the collection. But these stories are linked by more than voice or action (and I mean action), as the binding goal is nakedly revealed in the last line of one story: "Sex and something beyond it."
The author's musical ear for the erotic is attuned to catch and replay bedroom songs that are far from "Top Forty" territory. In "Instrumental," Quan relates erotic encounters with a variety of musicians, poetically capturing how each one approaches sex differently, instrumentally, with results not always predictable. The next story, "First Draft," is a deft tale of happily self-conscious sex between two writers, a fun story, and a must-read for writers tortured over whether it's ever okay to write about writing or include a character who is a writer. Another tale consists of two parallel columns that show the corresponding thoughts of two guys as they hook-up. This one is really innovative. One drawback though -- Quan gives them both the same first name. This is so overplayed in gay literature that no matter how strong the temptation, any gay author who knows anything should know better.
Near the middle of the book is the best story, the explosive "Positive." Hot sex with a hot man who is HIV positive, eroticizing the reality of the situation, bringing touch to someone others would deem untouchable, and of equal importance, the reasoning behind such a reach, is brave art. The concise sentences are exploratory here, not declamatory, the poetry pure and startling:
So the ultimate turn-on is not skin and sweat or the symmetry of nipples. A physical touch that reminds you of the shock of how sweet and rich are the finest Belgian truffles and at the same time of that dizzy sharp edge of not eating for a full day. How hard kissing can be. A duet of tongues. Or how soft.
No, it's in the mind. An entire national library of the erotic. Here's the shelf on immortality, the invulnerability of the young or the want to be young. This is where you don't care. Where you do something that might kill you because the moment, or your imagination, or your just-fuck-it philosophy takes over. Indifference to consequence can be the sweetest part of the body.
Now that's dark, sexy, and probing. And for the rest of the story the point-of-view is first person. But when Quan uses "I," he does so in a manner that suggests more than a retelling of his own experiences; these are questions and situations, ongoing physical divinations, not encapsulated merely for brunch-time gossip. His use of "I" speaks less of "me" and more of "we."
In the remaining stories his experiences concerning race are aptly expressed, and even when race is the theme of the story, the issue never overrides presence, and by presence I mean the continual erotic bass line that keeps each story both afloat and linked to one another. It's a rare slice of erotica that can prod the reader to examine political and social issues while remaining hot. Where too many gay writers swab everything in their path with coyness or cynicism, Quan employs a knowing joy with writings mysterious but not intractable, hot but not humid. What really makes Andy Quan a successful storyteller is that these stories are invitations and not confessions. It's as if he's writing "Well, now that I'm naked, why aren't you?"
And the title story? Itís the shortest of the bunch, and in closing the collection it hums like a prose poem, one of those tunes that haunts a room rather than fills it. Thatís just another way of saying it resonates. A fine ending to a fine read.