The plot of the book spans the years before and during the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The book begins in the early 80s as we are introduced to an early twenty’s Benjamin “BJ” as he’s making his mark in New York City. He starts out in grad school and his attempts to find a boyfriend in the city. There’s a lot of comically raunchy descriptions of his encounters, which at first glance could be seen as obscene but a careful reading seems to be the character making fun of himself. Towards the end of the first half of the novel, we see BJ develop a community of friends.
The second section begins in January 1986. The AIDS crisis has decimated a lot of the gay community in NYC and BJ is no stranger to the social and emotional toll of the crisis. Through his voice readers are given an inside glimpse into a community in crisis as they attempt to fight for survival as well as care for those around them. I won’t say more about this section to avoid any spoilers.
This was a great book club pick. Yes, you should be aware that there are some graphic descriptions of sex. However, they aren’t just for titillation. BJ himself reveals how empty, pointless, and unhealthy these random “tricks” are. It’s also used as a counterpoint to BJ’s self-imposed celibacy in the second half. There’s a lot of content and craft to debate but all in all a good look at one slice of society during a time period you don’t hear much about in society at large. This was my first artistic, rather than historical, glimpse into the era. This was touching and insightful and prompted me to want to read more about the era of the AIDS crisis and to see what more contemporary writers are saying about it.