Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sickness and beauty

by Mary Gaitskill

It's strange how long ago the AIDS crisis in America seems. Not that it isn't killing people every day, not to mention ruining African nations. But in health class we learned that if you had HIV, you would get sick and die very soon. I remember the figure often given was five to 15 years that someone could live with HIV. Gay men now in their 40s and 50s watched their circle of friends die off.

I imagine that, as a child of the '80s, I read books about the early days of AIDS, much like a child of the '70s might read about preparing for nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Veronica isn't only about AIDS -- it's about beauty and sickness and strength and memory -- but it's there. And it's there in the '80s and then again in the late '90s.

Alan Hollinghurst's The Swimming Pool Library doesn't mention AIDS and takes place before anyone's heard of it. (It was written in 1989.) But because it's about sex and gay men, with all it's nostalgia, it hurtles toward crisis.

Because of when I was born, I grew up learning that sex can kill you, and it is strange to get inside the head of a character who doesn't know that yet.

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