IN THE EPIGRAPH of Sex with Strangers, Michael Lowenthal quotes Yoko Ono, who wrote that “every meeting is like a miracle,” considering the number of people in this world and the small fraction of them that we will encounter in our lives. These stories look at some such “miracles,” investigating the many ways people face the possibility and potentiality—and reality—of human connection, often, though not exclusively, through sex and intimacy. Lowenthal is a writer, editor, and teacher whose previous novels include Avoidance (2002), Charity Girl (2007), and The Paternity Test (2018). Sex with Strangers is his first collection of short stories, eight in all, some of them previously published in journals or anthologies.
The stories are richly varied in both setting and scope. In “Over Boy,” a gay man on the cusp of thirty feels the pull of youth, which he believes is slipping away. Out clubbing, he sees a crowd of fresh-faced college boys as emblematic of a world to which he no longer has access. It’s the kind of transition that can seem at once tectonic and blink-and-you-miss-it, happening as one ages out of a scene. But through a drugged-out encounter with a man nearly twice his age, he comes to understand that there is value in getting older—that it’s not only the young who hold the keys to beauty and promiscuity. Here as elsewhere in the collection, an unexpected encounter ends up revealing the narrator’s blind spots in how he views his own world and desires.