Afterlife: A Novel by Paul Monette
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was so enraptured by Becoming a Man and Borrowed Time, that I moved right into Monette's fiction, starting with his first book, and then ground to a halt. This is his first fiction work I've picked up since then, I'm saving Last Watch of the Night for some unknown time in the future where I can savour it.
Monette's writing got better with AIDS, the books had a focus and that trend continues here, though for much of the first half of the book he struggles to overcome his old writing style, that of a privileged man writing from a pedestal and casting only half an eye at his subjects. Its especially difficult to write a book with all men, all white gay men, and be able to keep the characters separate. One supposes they're all friends due to their similarities but for the first half of the book I had no idea who was who, and I suppose I didn't really care. The second half of the book the action picks up and at the same time the story becomes more focused on just two people, rather than the confusing eight at the beginning, and the book became good. I was surprised, I was all set to give it a negative review but I'm glad I stuck with it.
The book details a life lived in between the falling bombs of the AIDS epidemic. There is desperation, such as when a character "called the Federal Building, demanding release of a drug that people were smuggling in from China." I understand the frustration, but actions like this led to the over-prescribing of AZT and the death of early patients.
As the novel continues Monette loses most of his detachment from the characters and once they become real this novel becomes the heart-felt AIDS crisis snap-shot it should be. It just takes a little too long to get there.
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