Fiction of Desire

10.21.2007

By Steve Weinstein

Their positive outlook is all the more remarkable considering how profoundly debilitating it was to have buried most of their friends and companions during the height of the AIDS crisis. No one has written more forcefully about the twin effects of aging and AIDS than Holleran, for whom AIDS represents the universality of loss, whether of a friend, lover, or parent.

Grief is his clearest statement about the equation of sex and death. Stopping in front of a sex club, a character observes, 'the last time I went here, I was downstairs in the basement standing in a puddle of goo, while some guy chewed on my nipple, and I heard a little voice say: 'After so many deaths, you're still doing this?'' But Holleran always lightens the gloom with mordant humor. The narrator of Grief is now teaching AIDS literature: 'Here I am, twenty years later, discussing as a historical event the thing that killed my friends.' Homosexuality itself, once so shocking and mystifying, is now accepted in life and the curriculum, discussed in the same dispassionate, matter-of-fact way by bored straight students.

The HIV-positive Michael Tolliver also passed through depression, desperation, and panic into dry wit. Of an old sex buddy he sees across the street, he observes, 'His face had trenches like mine -- the usual wasting from the meds. A fellow cigar store Indian.'

More than AIDS, however, it's the awareness that they lived through the most exciting years in our history that informs these men's works. 'So much happened so fast!' Felice Picano says. 'When I give talks to younger people, people are always amazed that gay culture and society was put together so rapidly.'

No one has done a more thorough job of chronicling this age of wonders than Picano in a series of memoirs and his novel Like People in History. Picano himself was instrumental in helping establish the new gay literature as the founder of two seminal gay publishing houses. His newest memoir, Art and Sex in Greenwich Village: Gay Literary Life After Stonewall, looks back on those heady days when he and the gay liberation movement were young.

He believes that today, it's all the more urgent to take stock of the past. 'We're just beginning to catch our breath and say, 'What happened here?'' he says. 'I'm 63 years old. Most of the people around then died. That's why I'm forced to become a historian -- because I'm the only one left who can write about it.'

Silver Threads: A Reader

My Lives by Edmund White
With painful honesty White divides his unconventional memoir into sections based on family, friends, work, and lovers.

Grief by Andrew Holleran
A writer staying in Washington, D.C., tries to befriend his quirky landlord but can only relate to his dour dog and the diaries of Mary Todd Lincoln, who spent the post'Civil War years as a deeply depressed shopaholic estranged from her family and nation.

Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin
Now 55, the narrator takes care of the aging Anna Madrigal and enjoys a quiet life working as a gardener with his young partner in his beloved San Francisco.

Nights in Aruba by Andrew Holleran
Amid a marginal existence commuting between life in Manhattan's East Village and the Florida Panhandle, where his parents live, a man reminisces about his youth on a Caribbean island.

Chaos by Edmund White
A man deals with a faulty memory, a callous younger generation, money problems, advancing HIV, and a highly unsatisfying affair with a much younger man.

Like People in History by Felice Picano
In this gay Gone With the Wind, the frenemy of a suicide-seeking man with AIDS goes over the cross-coastal scenes where their lives intersected.

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