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 Four of the nine stories in Mars-Jones's latest appeared in The Darker Proof (1988), a co-collection with Edmund White. Here, there are four more pieces concerned with AIDS, plus one relatively lighter interlude and a preface that frankly addresses the problems of focusing on an epidemic as a source for art. Mars-Jones has no illusions about the power of his fictions, these ``parasites on a parasite.'' But for all his modesty, he offers much-needed insight into the emotions of grief and loss. ``The Brake'' is a candid, unapologetic profile of a hedonist who indulges in a life of excessive drinking, eating, drugging, smoking, and sex--all in reckless disregard of his doctor's advice. But it's maturity, not fear, that eventually finds him taking his career as an architect seriously. The unspoken prospect of disease hovers above his adult resolve, threatening to undermine his new- found discipline. ``Baby Clutch'' also finds value in driving metaphors. Here, a man standing death-watch for his lover finds signs of a normal life in his driving lessons, themselves everyday exercises in risk and control. In ``Bears in Mourning,'' a club of burly, bearded gay men refuse to mourn the suicide of one of their own, an HIV-positive fellow whose personal choice seems a gross affront to those struggling against a most unwelcome end. In ``The Changes of Those Terrible Years,'' a former musician's agent nurses a man until death and then becomes heir to his lucrative estate, which he transforms into a private hospice--until a punkish resident accuses him of growing ``fat on other people's misery.'' In the not-so-light interlude, ``Summer Lightning,'' the narrator celebrates his unusual and spirited aunt, a naturist who dies naked on the beach. Free of platitude, group-think, sentimentality, and all else that one might expect from such topical fiction: elegant stories that surprise us with their mute passion and artful rage.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-41940-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993