18th & Castro by Karin Kallmaker is a collection of stories set on Halloween in the Castro. It’s part of the “Bella After Dark” (erotica) collection of Bella Books, which I wasn’t aware of when I picked it up. It’s still not entirely erotica, though. The emphasis is more on the characters and relationships than the sex.
I love that storytelling device of stories weaving together, and this collection does that well. As the title suggests, almost all of the stories take place in one apartment complex. Characters that are barely mentioned in one story get their own several stories later. Moments witnessed by bystanders get continued somewhere else.
And the stories are interesting! It’s the dynamics that drew me in. Budding relationships, years-long relationships, old and young lovers are all in the mix. Each story has the characters interacting in unique ways, though. They seemed rounded, even if they don’t get a very long story.
There’s also the bonus factor of Halloween, of course! It isn’t overwhelming (there’s only one story with a supernatural element, many characters stay home), but it’s a nice background theme for the season.
I did have a few problems with the stories, though. One is the hint of cissexism (equating lesbianism only and always with vulvas) that crops up more than once. Another was that although the dialogue seemed natural and unique to each character most of the time, the sex talk seemed really awkward to me, and it all seemed awkward in the same way. Almost all of the characters referred to their partner as “baby,” which perhaps is just a personal pet peeve, but still seemed too uniform. The sex talk in general just seemed stilted.
Other than that, though, it was a strong collection, and a good first introduction to Karin Kallmaker.