Sunday, August 13, 2006

Grief

I took a quick break from Garbageland (which, incidentally, reads a lot like Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers) to read a book that I read about on Salon. It's Andrew Holleran's Grief - and I'm not sure what attracted me to it. To be honest, it was probably its references to AIDS in the 1980s and the survivors of that stage of the epidemic. But nonetheless, I checked it out from the library -- after getting over my inital shock that they actually had something I was looking for. I tell ya, even though the Ames library is way better than the Washington library ever dreamed of being, there are days that I truly miss the Iowa City Public Library. I'm not sure I've ever lived anywhere that had a better library, or had a public more dedicated to it than that one. Granted, I haven't lived in very many places and have never lived outside of the state of Iowa, so that's not saying much.

Anyway, Grief kind of defies synopsis. If I were to try to summarize its plot, it's about a fifty-something gay guy that comes to Washington, D.C. to teach a class on AIDS and literature. He has just lost his mother. In the house where he's living, he picks up a book of letters by Mary Todd Lincoln. The juxtaposition of his grief over the death of his mother, Mary Todd Lincoln's grief (that was apparently lifelong) over her husband's death, and the pall that AIDS cast across that generation of homosexual men was the crux of the novel. Mostly, as Salon said, it was like sitting in a darkened room listening to someone tell their story. And it was fascinating.

I expected it to be a downer, and at times, it was. But mostly, it was just introspective and sedate.

Perhaps my favorite line was uttered by the narrator's friend, Frank, referencing the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. He said:

"I used to think that the eighties were very like a nice dinner party with friends, except that some of them were taken out and shot while the rest of us were expected to go on eating."

I really enjoyed Grief - in much the same way I enjoyed And The Band Played On. While the latter was a piece of non-fiction about the AIDS epidemic in the 80s (which I'm overdue for re-reading), this was fiction about the aftermath of that. They make good companion pieces. And I have a feeling Holleran's novel Dancer From the Dance is the opposite bookend to Grief, with And The Band Played On narrating the horror of the middle.

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