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AIDS Literature  
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The most pointed gay American AIDS fiction of 1990 appeared in The Body and Its Dangers by Allen Barnett (d. 1991); four of the collection's six stories concern AIDS. Its centerpiece, "The Times As It Knows Us," counterpoints the media's stereotypical depiction of gay men under AIDS with the more complicated behavior of a Fire Island household during a weekend AIDS crisis.

Notable American AIDS drama also appeared in 1990. Terrence McNally's teleplay André's Mother movingly documented a surviving lover's mourning and his rapprochement with his dead lover's mother. In their musical Falsettoland, which enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run, William Finn and James Lapine brought the characters from their earlier March of the Falsettos (1981) into the age of AIDS and its painful losses.

Published in France in 1990 was A l'ami qui ne m'a pas sauvé la vie (trans. To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, 1991) by Hervé Guibert (d. 1992). This autobiographical novel focuses on a young writer who obsessively confronts the "calamity" of his disease and at the same time seeks the "salvation" of a miracle vaccine promised by an American friend who never delivers. In sketching AIDS in the narrator's friends as well, the book created an extra stir for its portrait of the philosopher Michel Foucault as the stricken Muzil.


The most vehement AIDS writing of 1991 was the collection Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration by the AIDS-activist painter David Wojnarowicz (d. 1992), which includes "Postcards from America: X-Rays from Hell," the blistering essay that sparked opposition from Jesse Helms and the National Endowment for the Arts when it introduced the catalogue of the 1989 New York AIDS art show Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing.

As piercing in their quiet realism are the last two chapters of Paul Gervais's Extraordinary People (1991), a novel in the form of linked short stories about two dissimilar homosexual brothers and their family. The narrator and his lover return to Boston to be with his older brother and his lover as his brother dies of AIDS and then face the emotional aftermath back in their expatriate home in Italy.

The most extensive African-American AIDS writing to that point appeared in Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men (1991), edited by Essex Hemphill and conceived by Joseph Beam. More than a quarter of the book concerns AIDS, from stirring poems by Melvin Dixon, David Frechette (d. 1991), and Craig G. Harris, to unembellished autobiography like "The Scarlet Letter, Revisited" by Walter Rico Burrell (d. 1990), to an interview and poem by Marlon Riggs (d. 1994) about his film Tongues Untied.

A rare 1991 volume is Rachel Hadas's Unending Dialogue: Voices from an AIDS Poetry Workshop, which includes forty-five poems by the eight members of a poetry workshop the author ran at New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis from 1989 to 1991. It features particularly skillful work by Charles Barber ("Thirteen Things About a Catheter"), Glenn Philip Kramer ("Pantoum for Dark Mornings"), Glenn Besco ("Vernon Weidner Visits in a Dream"), and Dan Conner ("Retinitis").

In recounting the harrowing AIDS deaths of Hugo and most of his friends in A Matter of Life and Sex (1991), Oscar Moore assaults the British tolerance of "solitary suffering" with AIDS as well as the general British "embarrassment" at "too much" expressiveness. Yet Moore seems implicated in the same universe himself (and risks distancing readers) in featuring as his protagonist an emotionally constricted sex- and drug-addicted "nice" boy ("Hugo enjoyed appearing detached"), reacting against his suburban and Cambridge milieus by plunging "into low-man's land."

David B. Feinberg's even more acclaimed Spontaneous Combustion (1991) is a sequel to his Eighty-Sixed. Now B. J. is HIV-positive, and the tensions in writing AIDS comedy are even more acute, with Feinberg alternately collaring the audience with blunt statements of suffering--"The course of the illness left one raw. Nothing was left but tension and anger"--and placating it with arch remarks: "Why couldn't I have leukemia or some other more socially acceptable malady?"


Two 1992 American AIDS dramas received widespread critical praise. Winning the Tony Award for best book of a musical, William Finn and James Lapine united their earlier March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland into Falsettos and made Whizzer's AIDS death even more wrenching by juxtaposition to the lovers' original romance. Larry Kramer's The Destiny of Me, which had a successful off-Broadway run, continued the story of Ned Weeks from The Normal Heart, with Ned now an AIDS patient at the National Institutes of Health having flashback conversations with his younger self and family.

A third of Thom Gunn's The Man With Night Sweats (1992) concerns AIDS, with especially noteworthy, rending elegies for lost friends (for example, "Lament," "The J Car"). Was (1992), by the Canadian-born Geoff Ryman, contains one of the most vivid and moving depictions of AIDS in fiction, in the story of the stricken actor Jonathan, one of several figures involved variously with The Wizard of Oz whose lives Ryman intertwines in the novel.

In contrast, Adam Mars-Jones's Monopolies of Loss (1992)--which reprints his four stories from The Darker Proof and adds five new pieces--largely confirms the point he makes in the book's introduction about the "detachment" of his artistic approach to AIDS. AIDS is a dominant concern in only two of the new stories, and in the one that comes closest to "facing things" about the epidemic, the sometimes very poignant "The Changes of Those Terrible Years," Mars-Jones has the man who turned his home into an AIDS hospice finally close it down.

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