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Afterlife Hardcover – February 17, 1990
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From Publishers Weekly
Having told the highly praised story of his lover's death in Borrowed Time , Monette portrays the anguish of AIDS survivors in this sad and moving novel. Travel agent Steven Shaw has been holding weekly gatherings for AIDS widowers, but he "can't take care of them anymore." Unfortunately, however, he is put in situations that require him to do just that, while simultaneously wrestling with his grief and fear of death. Widower Dell Espinoza requires particular attention; his threats to pour AIDS-tainted blood in a public reservoir and his vandalism of an anti-gay ministry have made him a fugitive. Meanwhile, oversexed Sonny is perpetually searching for a new "oasis." Far more serious-minded, Steven seeks a relationship with a TV producer, realizing that all he can hope for is a day-to-day existence with his lover. A heterosexual woman in his employ shows that there is hope for kindness in the sea of homophobia, but Dell doesn't see it that way, and meets a tragic, if predictable, demise. Sonny finds a strange, but strangely plausible, resolution to his obsession--whose details may put off straight readers. Nonetheless, the story rings poignantly true.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
After dealing with the subject of AIDS autobiographically in Borrowed Time (LJ 8/88, and an LJ "Best Book of 1988") and through poetry in Love Alone ( LJ 4/1/88), Monette turns to fiction. Three men lose lovers to AIDS in the same week and hospital, creating a bond via their common grief and their own AIDS-positive status. Steven withdraws from life, making it difficult to connect with the new love being offered in the person of Mark. Dell is full of rage and plots against a homophobic evangelist. Sonny, the golden boy, simply denies both his grief and his illness, trusting in New Age mysticism to save him. The portrayals of Dell and Sonny border on caricature, but Steven's slow journey to wholeness is as satisfying and real as fiction can get. Highly recommended.
-James E. Cook, Dayton & Montgomery Cty. P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the center of this trio is Steven Shaw, whose home provides the oasis of last resort for the men and their friends. Grieving and calloused, depressed and moody, Steven attempts to combat his indifference towards the travel agency he owns, remoteness from an employee who is close to death, and disinterest in the possibility of a new relationship. His journey is aided by Margaret, who runs his business in his absence and cares for the dying Ray, and by Mark, a Hollywood executive with whom he unexpectedly falls in love.
Steven's fellow survivors are less centered and more erratic, however. Dell Espinoza allows his anger and grief to degenerate into an obsessive aggression towards an uncaring society and he funnels his hostility towards acts of vandalism, reserving his most vicious attacks for a loathsome, gay-hating evangelist. Not even a loving, empathetic sister Linda can save Dell from his own fury. Stunningly attractive and intellectually shallow, Sonny Cevathas (the third widower) deals with his grief by ignoring it altogether. Discounting his own health problems as minor inconveniences, believing that New Age trickery and "positive thinking" can halt his own demise, and searching for a rich man to immerse him in undeserved luxury, Sonny is the book's most wicked (although, I'm afraid, scarily accurate) portrayal of one of many men who fooled themselves into initially believing that AIDS could be simply wished away.
Depression, anger, and denial--the paths taken by these three incompatible friends--are rarely so clearly demarcated as they are in Monette's characters. (Dell especially represents an extreme that is, thankfully, scarce.) But the author injects his tale of loss and sorrow with enough humor and affection to keep it from the edge of hopelessness. Not just a book about death and dying, "Afterlife" is, more than anything, a book about learning to live again.
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 surpassed, 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.
The characters are well formed, not sterotypical, and show how any human can react to a loss of a loved one to something so meaningless.... Gay or straight in so much of it is not relevant. It more than anything else I have read, shows the devestation and the legacy that AIDS has left behind.