It is no secret I love a retelling or a transposition of a classic character into a new setting, and as such it will likely surprise no one that “Golden Hair, Red Lips,” from Matthew Bright’s brilliant Stories to Sing in the Dark, was an instant favourite.
The time and setting Bright visits is the Castro (San Francisco) during the GRID years (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, which was the precursor name for HIV/AIDS), and the character in question? Dorian Gray.
What unfolds is a man who can never be harmed bearing a kind of witness, but this is Dorian Gray, who is, of course, not a particularly good man, and so his witness is through his particular sensual lens. Dorian can’t be hurt—though of course he does have a background, niggling worry that perhaps this, this could be the thing that gets through—and as this repeated pattern of vibrant love and sensuality fading into death forms an ongoing beat through the story, there’s an incredibly brilliant authenticity to Bright’s presentation: these men in Gray’s life are loving each other all the harder and more passionately for the briefness they’re getting, and there’s Dorian, outside and watching.
And wondering who might be responsible.
The final moments in this story are absolutely shudder-worthy and disturbing and awful—and all too real—all at once. It’s a kind of queer horror I think works the best: grounded in history and reality so firmly, you can almost accept the speculative as fact.