Having feelings for his best friend and roommate, Daniel Bennet, is a constant source of struggle for Peter Corcoran. Sure, Peter and Danny can burn up the sheets now and then, but it’s what Peter can’t do for Danny that plagues him. Peter will never be able to hold Danny’s hand or kiss him in public, won’t be able to give Danny children or be a homemaker for him. So it’s a bittersweet ritual that Peter accompanies Danny to Starlings dance hall each week. There, Peter watches all the dolled-up dames clamor for Danny’s attention from the back of the smoky club. He waits until Danny’s danced enough before they head home together. Peter is always ready to entertain Danny behind closed doors, but fears the day Danny will move on. Except Danny has no intention of moving on. Despite appearances, he wants to build a future with Peter at his side. If only Danny can find the right way to convince Peter that he’s in it for the long haul, the two of them may have a real shot at happiness.
Starlings Again is a steamy short story set in 1940s Manhattan. I thought the context clues about the setting were very subtle. Rigsly mentions one specific musician by name, but the bulk of the ambiance was delivered more through my own nebulous idea about what the 40s would have been like: the idea of spending a night in a dance hall rather than a club, some of the sartorial choices, and the living situation (a dormitory-style apartment where bathing facilities are shared among residents). Taken as a whole, though, I think this sets the background well enough for the characters. And crucially, the time period sets up Peter for his main conflict—wanting the stereotypical “happy couple” life with Daniel, but knowing society would absolutely condemn such a pairing.
When it comes to our main character, Peter seems deeply affected by the constraints society places on him. He couches his own happiness in terms of white picket fences and 2.4 children and he also assumes that Daniel cannot possibly return Peter’s feelings. I feel like this makes Peter a very lonely (and a bit pathetic) character. He relishes the secret life he and Daniel currently share, but simultaneously seems deathly afraid Daniel will leave him for the right woman. Much of the story’s angst originates from this internal conflict. The story is told in third person, but because Peter is the main character, it’s more from his perspective. I think this allows the reader to sort of wallow in Peter’s headspace regarding his relationship with Daniel and lets us discover Daniel’s true feelings in real time along with Peter. Daniel, on the other hand, seems to be oblivious to Peter’s struggles and doubts…and that’s because he seems entirely devoted to Peter. This comes across on-page in just about every scene. Daniel makes subtle gestures when in public (shoulder bumping on the walk home, for example) and very obvious gestures when in private (such as learning how to give a blow job). Even with Daniel’s undivided attention, Peter still manages to feel insecure until the climactic scene in the story.
As far as structure goes, there’s not a whole lot here. Basically, we meet the two characters at the end of a long night of dancing, they go home, then make passionate love and have a heart-to-heart. The story is absolutely focused on Peter and Daniel. First, the reader gets to delve into Peter’s insecurities as noted above. This is followed by a love scene that is described in great detail. In the aftermath of this scene, Peter finally confronts the truth of his relationship with Daniel. I think this is also where the reader finally gets to see Daniel without being filtered through Peter’s insecurities.
Overall, this is a very quick read, perfect for a lazy afternoon. Even without a deep dive into the time period, readers can still enjoy a sense of being in an earlier era. The period is also sketched out well enough to make the reader understand Peter’s fears and appreciate Daniel’s ultimate gesture at the end. As someone who enjoys angst, I liked how Peter struggled to accept the possibility of finding real love. At the same time, fans of happily ever after will melt at the conclusion of the story. All in all, this is angsty-sweet, character-driven romance with a very high level of spice.