Book Review: 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell

Garon CockrellBook Review, BooksLeave a Comment

Brontez Purnell’s “100 Boyfriends” is a collection of short stories dealing with the lives, relationships, mistakes, benders and everything in between of queer men, mostly of color. To describe it as revelatory might be underselling it.

The only flaw in this collection is that each story ends. You’re left wanting more, hoping for another glimpse at what these characters are experiencing. You want them to be OK, to succeed, to find love, but most of all, to see what happens next. Purnell writes so conversationally that it feels like he’s a friend at a bar, intimately recounting experiences that will echo life for some and create “what have I missed?” feelings in others.

In one of the early stories, “Hooker Boys (Part One)” a man deals with writer’s block and a hangover that feels like “nature is telling me I’m a bad person” while ruminating on friends who have died or moved on to families, age, madness, all essentially going away in some form or another. All this before he calls for a hooker friend to establish control in his sexual needs. Yes, this hooker is a friend, yes he pays him, and he cums three times. From there the story moves to RJ and Mike, two roommates who eventually grow apart, and have a brief reunion where one doesn’t remember the other’s name and then onto a brief romance with a closeted older man, a father who keeps his indescretions secret. These are all such human moments. Such raw truth’s that it’s hard to imagine just how fictitious some of these stories are. One particular moment between the father and his lover where they cross paths in the street and he is with his sons: “…his eyes met mine and he shook his head at me, as if to say, “No-not here, not now.” I wanted to be hurt but the fact was that man was a stranger and not my real father.” That says so much about the nature of a relationship and what a man might chase or feel in a relationship. He goes on to say he “would soon know all the ways in which men were not to be depended on.” This is a feeling that echoes through so many. It rings true like a sunday bell. 

He presents these men’s lives without gloss. There’s no illusion of perfection or inherent goodness. It’s not network filter, it’s cable exposure. Purnell is not trying to paint a world he wishes existed for queer people. He’s showing us the world that queer people live in, and while it’s often less than glamorous, it’s the reality that makes each story successful.

International locations from NorCal pot farms, small town Alabama, European clubs; rock and roll, sex, drugs, drinks, hookers, johns and most importantly, the men whose stories we so vividly experience, are all just parts of Purnell’s gorgeous masterpiece. Shocking to some, but immensely important in how it opens up the world of people some may not be familiar with, certainly the rag tag group of boyfriends we meet in this collection. We even get a look at a young boy in Alabama, viciously bullied who meets a friend he immediately clicks with only for him to be gone the very next day. The image of this boy writing and erasing his friend’s name on his wall in pencil is heartbreaking. Who hasn’t done something similar? At once celebrating and hiding a feeling we may not quite understand yet. 

You’ll find yourself laughing, maybe even a little uncomfortable. You might find yourself questioning your own life and history and wonder what you missed out on. You might be surprised to find a tear dropping from your eye, and all of those possibilities are a testament to Purnell’s gifts. “100 Boyfriends” is at once beautiful and dirty, and you love it all the more for its grit, its truths, for Purnell’s willingness to open wounds and demand you observe a life that may seem wildly different from your own, but deep down, feels the same.

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Garon CockrellBook Review: 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell