If you've ever read any of Ken Shakin's anthologies of short stories, you'll know that it's difficult to read them in one go. One thing that can be taken as a guarantee in his work, he packs a lot of meaning and imagery into every phrase, every sentence. Words often have two meanings and nothing is ever straight. (Pun intended)Not for the squeamish or the faint at heart. His books are collections of vignettes on characters he has met, heard about or stories he's been told. All larger than life and all memorable. The most common phrase I utter when I read something of his is "Oh, dear" then I cackle.If you're looking for blow by blow sex, forget it. Yes, there's plenty of penises, but it's the people that are memorable not the mechanics.First up is "Real Men Ride Horses" how's this for a quote:The little feller likes horses. He goes straight up to the man, smiles and says plain as day: “I like your horse.”That breaks the ice. Johnny might be a pushy little slut, but then all the power to him.In fact it's hard to choose what part to quote, there are so many little phrases and paragraphs that summon up all sorts of images.There's the Diva Queen in "Revenge of the Ghetto Diva"A social ladder from top to bottom with studs and jocks on the top and geeks and nerds on the bottom and faggots in the mud......“To suck dick, honey.” Here’s one tongue that’s not afraid to do its thing. He sticks that rattler out and it’s long enough to strangle me....Only a true diva would have the balls to try for the football team, which in diva terms means getting them in bed.There's the church organist who lusts after the young Vietnamese boy. The gay kid who lusts after his straight brother.All stories told with Ken's inimitable world-weary style. He doesn't judge, he describes, almost daring the reader to take a moral stand and feel superior or otherwise. Such as in "Bingo" the tale of a gay Bingo Caller who runs the Church of the Latter Day Bingo in the middle of nowhere.For the anonymous man at the turn of the millennium, sex is his religion. Man is his god and come the Holy Spirit. Satan is the virus.Getting it is a spiritual thing. Drugs sanctify the act. Sex satisfies those essential urges to be one with the anonymous other and surrender to an almighty power. In a world where the Pope takes a vow of poverty and bingo halls are non-profit charities, the only higher truth is an orgasm. It turns you on or it doesn’t. A matter of life and death.The best way to read these is when you've had a dose of unreal m/m romance and need a reminder of what the world is like or at least was like. Attitudes within the gay community and out change over time, but basically the underling motif of desperation and alienation still remain. Unfortunately.If there is one that stood out for me, it was "Medicine Man".With its vivid picture of trailer parks and prejudices as much on the part of the narrator as others. Little snippets of reflections on life as the author goes to talk to a gay medicine man living in a rusted up RV.The age is something between young and resurrected....We don’t shake hands. He seems as personable as a man could be not knowing you and not caring the slightest. A handshake would be insincere....Ken’s not there to buy the weed the guy grows in half his trailer he’s there to talk about being gay in his position. The medicine man tells him:“Soon as they know about you, your friends become your enemies. Even good guys can’t stick up for you. Suddenly you’re some kind of child molester, a danger to the nice people and their families, and that gives them the right, praise the Lord, to break in one night and kick your ass into the desert. Beat the living fuck out of you and stick you in your car like it was your coffin, dump it on the roadside like it was your own fucking fault. Don’t matter if you’re still not dead. They torch the car anyway so the cops can write it off as an accident.”My paranoia exactly."Medicine Man" is an interesting tale that deals with (amongst other things) looking back on a drug filled younger days with the author admitting:“How much of my youth did I smoke it to try to get back to the lost innocence of my childhood. To that lonely place inside. And all I got was stoned.To be exposed to the elements than wilt inside your head. Whenever I see people who are still at it after all these years, they look too old for it. Lone heads still carrying the torch. Alone in it, without their gang of merry men. Smoking with Medicine Man brings it all back. The feeling, even though I’m sitting in this trailer in the middle of nowhere, a far cry from the concrete desert of my youth. The feeling is the same. A sense of waiting for something to happen, continuously exuberant about the expectation. As long as you take the medicine.Then the Medicine Man starts telling him about botes – not man nor womanThe tribe was diverse. A strange bird walked the plain. Certain men who dressed as women and worked with women and were even taken as alternate wives by men. They seemed to act like squaws. Yet they were bigger and stronger than many braves. Long legs made for swiftness in the desert. They could run through the night. They were seen carrying off fallen heroes from the battlefield, to nurse them back to health. They were known for their skills in fellatio....Medicine Man tells me there was another kind of sodomite in the tribe, one not so easy to recognize. Th e Indians called them blood brothers. Two young men adopting each other in friendship. Two braves in battle, bonded together, their souls and bodies united in more than just blood. The missionaries soon began to realize that these were love affairs. The men hunted and fought together. They drank and ate and smoked together. And they slept together. Their bond was more fierce than any that could be forged with the multiple wives they left behind....So much for cowboys and Indians. This is the stuff they left out of the movies. And the text books too.I highly recommend this book. Take it like a dose of salts. To clean out the system after an overdose of romance.