Books by Paul Monette

Released: Feb. 1, 1997

This final work by National Book Award winner (for Becoming a Man, 1992) Monette, novelist/poet/memoirist who died of AIDS in 1995, is cast in the form of a fable. Monette does well as a stylist in this farewell effort (``minimally edited for clarity and resonance''), but less well as a storyteller. A witch of changeable gender casts a spell over a forest to protect the freedom of the First Ones, those animal descendants of the forest's first settlers. The witch dies, leaving her spell intact but the responsibility for its preservation in the uncertain hands of goofy Albertus, an apprentice wizard. Just what the spell is, or how it works, isn't made clear; its main function seems to be to repel interlopers—such as hunters—and to keep the forest as it has always been. On the other hand, the larger animals still chase the smaller; the law of the wild remains intact. When the witch dies, a Great Horned Owl, sensing an opportunity, displaces Albertus and takes it upon himself to rule in the witch's place, ostensibly on behalf of the First Ones. Owl announces to his subjects that many refugees, exiles, and criminals from felled forests have entered through a tear in the forest's fabric of magic, and he calls for harsh measures. Then, midway through the fable, Owl's Orwellian tactics cast a shadow over Renarda the Fox and Lapine the Rabbit, both females, who have fallen in love and decided to live together in the same den. They are circumspect, not wishing to upset the other animals by their same-sex, different- species affair. But Owl hears of their affair and, calling down the law on them, exiles Renarda and Lapine to different parts of the forest. Enter Albertus to save the day by resurrecting the dead witch. As political fable, neatly enough spelled out but less than memorable. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: June 1, 1994

Although novelist, memoirist, and poet Monette (Becoming a Man, 1992, etc.) is sometimes vituperative, his language is always sharp in these essays. It is only when he falls away from criticism that his prose thickens and slows down. In ``Puck,'' Monette writes in a seemingly benign way about his dog, but it soon becomes apparent that he is communicating something about himself through his unusually unsentimental relationship with the animal. ``Gert'' describes an elderly lesbian whom Monette befriends, and his admiration for and puzzlement over the elegant manner in which she both reveals and conceals her sexuality. Monette scathingly attacks the Pope in several of these essays, but ``My Priests'' describes the few men of the cloth he actually admires. They include a Catholic priest named Gambone, who left the order after his lover died of AIDS, and Brother Toby, who has organized a lay Catholic community for children with AIDS that sells Christmas trees to raise money. Monette describes his impromptu wedding ceremony, which was officiated by a New Age woman called Ma; Monette skeptically calls her ``the Auntie Mame of gurus,'' but he also respects the ``bluesy sort of comfort'' she brings to her many HIV-positive followers. In ``3275,'' Monette manages to avoid emotionalism even while describing different graves he has known (those of lovers and those of the famous). He constantly—and effectively—undercuts the material's saccharine potential with passages like ``Are you reeling from the mawkishness? Because it gets worse.'' Occasionally this incisiveness is lost. ``A One-Way Fare,'' an examination of the importance of different journeys he has made, drifts off into travelogue about halfway through, and the dissection of insomnia in ``Sleeping Under a Tree'' is less than involving. A mix of the personal and the political with the occasional misstep. Read full book review >
BECOMING A MAN by Paul Monette
NON-FICTION
Released: June 22, 1992

From ``the cauldron of the plague'' comes a bitter memoir by the author of Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir (1988) and six novels (Halfway Home, 1991, etc.). ``Twisted up with rage,'' Monette is urgent to tell his story: ``the fevers are on me now, the virus mad to ravage my last hundred T cells.'' He begins with his straight-A childhood, darkened by his brother being crippled by spina bifida. But the source of Monette's fury comes from growing up in ``the coffin world of the closet,'' losing a ``decade of being dead below the belt,'' and now finding himself a victim of what he calls ``the genocide by indifference that has buried alive a generation of my brothers.'' Clearly, Monette wants to berate and shock this ``Puritan sinkhole of a culture'' with crude language (``Roger was up to his tits in therapy'' is a printable example) and explicit accounts of his homosexual encounters, starting as a nine-year-old. After describing a one-night stand, he mockingly asks, ``Is this more than you want to know?'' and then explains that a late lover advised, ``rub their faces in it.'' Monette does. Later, he writes, ``I was so sick of hearing myself talk about sexuality—hetero, homo, and otherwise.'' But despite the pose of no-holds-barred honesty, the author's diatribe offers only a predictable view of his elite schools (Andover and Yale) and little on gender theory beyond the statement that ``gay is a kind of sensibility.'' The offhand prose veers from the flip (``I try not to be gayer-than- thou about bi'') to the melodramatic (``I have to keep my later self on a short leash as I negotiate those hurricanes of feeling that propelled my time with women''). A deliberately self-absorbed manifesto from the AIDS battlefield, angrily slicing the world into us and them. Read full book review >
HALFWAY HOME by Paul Monette
Released: April 14, 1991

Monette's third AIDS-related effort (Borrowed Time, Afterlife): a rather contrived melodrama about two brothers, one living with AIDS and the other being chased by the mob—but, still, Monette has room for his strengths: an exploration of the lessons learned when living with such illness and an appreciation of what matters most. Tom Shaheen once had a career as Miss Jesus, the jazz messiah, and played to good reviews—as well as to county censorship. Now, stricken, he lives in a California beach-house courtesy of Gray, a sort of wealthy angel (``Guilt has gotten more dinners on the table than hunger ever dreams of''). When brother Brian shows up unexpectedly, Tom, the narrator, begins to dredge up his past: paternal abuse and (we find out later) some sexual stuff with Brian. But soon enough the story gets its exposition out of the way and revs up to the plot (not for nothing has Monette written the novelizations of such movies as Predator and Scarface): Brian's Connecticut house gets blown away by the mob, and Brian shows up again, this time with wife Susan—homophobic—and son Daniel. The resulting psychodrama is touching, mostly: Daniel gets to know and love his uncle; Brian and Tom finally become reconciled (even as Brian prepares to enter the witness-protection program); and Gray and Tom fall in love. In the finale, Brian, whom Tom always thought ``couldn't make a wrong move if he tried,'' needs help—the man who set him up has him at gunpoint—and Tom uses his affliction as a weapon, displaying his lesions, then biting the attacker to terrify him before grabbing his son. The ending is a happy one. That is, there's a good deal of sweetness and buoyancy to balance the rhythm of relapse and anxiety. Monette comes full circle—his protagonist not only working through grief but also finding a fuller life for himself and learning to love again. Read full book review >