Though the novelist (The Beautiful Room is Empty, p. 86) and co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex, Edmund White, gets top billing...



Though the novelist (The Beautiful Room is Empty, p. 86) and co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex, Edmund White, gets top billing in this two-man anthology of seven stories responsive to the AIDS epidemic, the four by the young Englishman, Mars-Jones. deserve all the praise. White's stories bog down in the clichÉs of romance, gay culture, and sexual politics; Mars-Jones' transcend their topicality with grace and eloquence, and, as a consequence, impress us more with the urgency of the crisis. The very acronym for this dread disease never appears in these stories portraying a ""whole new world of risk and stigma."" in fact, the ill narrator of Mars-Jones' ""Slim"" prefers the Ugandan word for AIDS as recorded in the story's title--it's just one of the many ""techniques"" this bitter victim uses to cope. Even his Trust-sponsored visitor--a well-meaning chap--inspires resentment, and begrudging admiration. ""An Executor"" tells the sad tale from the other perspective--a volunteer deeply affected by the death of the man he visits; he must serve as the secret executor of the dead man's leather garments, clothes that would disturb the grieving parents. In ""A Small Spade,"" two lovers, only one of whom tests positive, vacation in Brighton, where a particularly nasty splinter, and its removal at the hospital, foreshadows the difficulties to come and the transition in their love. Little hope, but much courage, characterizes the brief reversal in ""Remission,"" where two kind and loyal newly-found friends tend to the failing narrator. If, in Mars-Jones' view, ""gay life promised the depraved and delivered the cosy,"" in White's view, depravity seems to deliver disease. Much more graphic in sexuality, and more journalistic in recording the changes in the gay community prompted by the virus, White's stories are also more political in a superficial sense--the self-described former ""slut"" in ""Palace Days"" ""saw every ailment as a badge of courage in the good fight against puritanism."" Like the infected young translator in ""Running on Empty,"" this once ""hot number"" mourns the lost past of ""wild nights of sex and dance."" Where White records the transition from ""anal shenanigans"" to ""safe-sex jerk-off parties,"" Mars--Jones avoids camp and false sentiment, and worries in pitch-perfect prose of becoming inured to grief.

Pub Date: April 1, 1988


Page Count: -

Publisher: New American Library

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1988