Jendi Reiter’s wise and ambitious novel Two Natures is the story of young gay man Julian Selkirk who, Crusoe-like, finds himself washed ashore in New York in 1991 and ‘dependent on the kindness of strangers.’ Julian is an aspiring fashion photographer, whose career lows and highs quickly alternate, mirroring his personal exploration of the gay scene and his search for love. The spiritual and the carnal, the beautiful and the sordid, interweave in complex patterns, overshadowed by the gathering AIDS crisis, as the years to 1996 become increasingly hostile to difference. The intensely personal is the politically fraught, and Julian has to cope with the vagaries of love and ambition while mourning friends and lovers.
Fine writing transcends generic boundaries. Should we call An Incomplete List of My Wishes, Jendi Reiter’s outstanding collection of short stories, Southern fiction? Possibly, but only as long as we permit a Southern sensibility (however defined) to extend as far north as New York and Connecticut. Is it LGBTQ? Assuredly, yet the breadth of human response the book elicits encompasses far more than specific issues of sexual/gender identification. Is it historical? In part, but the 1990s reside still in many living memories and can comfortably coexist with the present. May we even call these prizewinning works short stories? Only if we allow that a short story need not necessarily tell a story, or that it can tell many stories all at once.