I was covering AIDS as a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee during the 1980s, and this book brought back searing memories. Part of the novel takes place in the gay community in Chicago in 1985, part of it in 2015 among survivors. I remember the anger, fear, and loss of so many people in the early years of AIDS. I remember how the disease was used to attack and condemn gay men.
Rebecca Makkai captures those emotions and the dreadful toll. While many of the details, like the people, are fictional, some of them are real. One bit of reality: the novel mentions “the Unitarian place … a gay-friendly church right off Broadway, and thus — recently — Funeral Central.” This is my church now, Second Unitarian Church, and we’re still proud of the support we could provide when it was needed.
The novel also resonates with our own very recent times when disease, too, became political, and as a result covid-19 was a worse disaster than it needed to be.
Obviously, this is an outstanding novel, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize — and for me it’s also a personal book, reminding me of why a little corner of my heart is still angry and broken. The novel ends with hope, though: “If we could just be on earth at the same place and time with everyone we loved, if we could be born together and die together, it would be so simple. And it’s not. But listen: You two are on the planet at the same time. You’re in the same place now. That’s a miracle.”
Love is love, even when everyone and everything tries to destroy it.