... along comes Brontez Purnell with his new—novel, is it? Linked stories? Let’s settle on hurricane. This hurricane of delirious, lonely, lewd tales is a taxonomy and grand unified theory of the boyfriend, in every tense ... It is known that mothers retain fetal cells of the children they have carried. In the world of Purnell, there is no intimacy that doesn’t leave its traces, its residue ... A critic might find fault with the repetition, the way scenes swirl rather than build — and some critics have — but that feeling of eternal recurrence is beautifully by design, it is the very argument of the book ... Purnell is so good on sex; the scenes are so filthy and true that they draw all the attention. The book has been warmly received but reviewers, describing the sex, have curiously uncoupled it from the lives of the men, who meet between shifts at work or move in together because one is homeless, say, or addicted ... But how starkly these characters seem to seek in one another what the world does not provide — a kind of safety and permanence of work and housing, which are so scant and fragile in this book.
The itinerancy in locale and perspective, well suited to the fragmentary form, also finds a natural complement in Purnell’s spry humorizing and keen modulation of rhythm and pacing, skills no doubt sharpened by his history as a musician ... Raised Christian, Purnell is duly fixated on the corporeal, blood and bodies in all their seeping, unruly acridity ... The collection recalls, in style and substance, the New Narrative of the late 1970s and ’80s, when the burgeoning influence of HIV/AIDS awareness amid the sexual revolution invited gay literature out from underground, from short stories in Playboy, wanted ads in newspapers, and other snippets ... These are Black stories by a Black queer author of great prolificity and range, but traffic in no BLACKNESS™ legible to the consumptive masses seeking antiracist reading lists ... they are also performances of technical virtuosity, formal experimentation, and mastery rarely acknowledged in Black writers, whose primary function—that of teacher—is presumed to be at the level of content, not style. They play with and resist autobiography, enlivened by Purnell’s marvelous ear for Black vernacular and his finely meted candor. The stories end as they begin, without clear resolution or arc, slipping out quietly into the morning light.
More polished and assured than his previous work ... as though it put on a clean shirt and good shoes before guests arrived ... Purnell’s observations are at once lyrical and familiar, like a perfect joke dropped into a group text or whispered into a lover’s ear. While Purnell’s sensibility is queercore, his writing follows the oft-unacknowledged literary subgenre of cruising — a more contemporary, gay variant of flânerie: the men who wander for dick, from Jean Genet to David Wojnarowicz to Samuel R. Delany. The public square winks with possibility. Gas stations become libidinal pump-and-dumps. Bathrooms, bathhouses, truck stops, theaters, warehouses, and docks peel back to reveal entire erotic ecosystems structured around giving and getting orgasms ... the belief is that public sex reorganizes the world in a way that allows for a radical reconception of desire ... Sex doesn’t have to mean anything, but novels should and it’s not clear what 100 Boyfriends amounts to in the aggregate. The paragraph-long snippets begin to feel repetitive. They blur together, as casual sex is wont to do.