THE MEDICINE BURNS: Stories by Adam Klein
Kirkus Star

THE MEDICINE BURNS: Stories

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

What little ""medicine"" is available in this debut collection is not only painful for the embattled characters, but it throws into painful relief the displaced moods and passions of the gay psyche as it confronts the end of the century. In a severe, disciplined, brooding style that presses each of his six stories toward a harsh and elliptical conclusion, Klein (1979 winner of the Academy of American Poets Prize) details the struggles of his small tribe of loosely tethered characters--most of them starved for some kind of emotional fix. ""Club Feet"" establishes the basic tenor: Each of the gay men who functions as a pivot for an individual narrative will suffer a physical malady either altering his self-image or threatening his life. In ""Club Feet,"" the narrator finds in his deformed foot an inescapable connection with his similarly disabled mother. In ""Undertow,"" an adolescent infatuation with a straight relative leads to rape and victimization, with detours through theft and voyeurism. The title story explores Klein's central obsession, the rending tension that links beauty and ugliness: Scarred by cystic acne, the narrator nonetheless manages to devise an attitude toward his malady that lets him function both as foil to and confidant of Lawrence, a striking painter with a troubling taste for older men. ""Keloid"" and ""Dr. K."" are weaker tales, though explicitly addressing the lurking specter of AIDS, for which the only medicine is hope. The last piece, ""India,"" summarizes in novella form the plangent chiaroscuro that characterizes the author's style: After his lover's death, the narrator, himself stricken with AIDS, takes a feverish trip to India and wanders among an unlikely gaggle of locals and expatriates, allowing the rich experience of travel in a strange land to shape his final days. Harrowing, and yet exquisite, unflinching, and compelling.

Pub Date: July 24th, 1995
Page count: 200pp
Publisher: Hisk Risk/Serpent's Tail