Feinberg's reflections on AIDS are often annoying and mediocre, frequently witty, and sometimes deeply disturbing. Novelist Feinberg (Eighty-Sixed, 1989) starts out unpromisingly. The first and title essay of the collection is burdened by zeitgeist clichÇs (e.g., ``I plead the Twinkie defense''), patronizing scorn for the reader's supposed ``bleeding liberal heart,'' overuse of italics for emphasis, and insights more appropriate to a T-shirt than an essay (``Reality is for people who can't cope with drugs''). After that piece, though, the writing picks up. With dark humor and rage, Feinberg brings us to ACT UP meetings and demonstrations and recounts the deaths, funerals, and memorial services of his friends. He also chronicles his own physical decay in unsparing detail; some of these sections are so visceral that they are hard to read. In lighter moments, he reflects on red ribbons, the gym, and the etiquette of HIV disclosure. Though Feinberg's humor can fall flat, most of the essays have their moments: At one point he muses, ``Gays call straights breeders...I'm sure we'll come up with a derogatory term for neggies [HIV-negative people] soon enough: Aseptic? Hermetically sealed?'' His rudeness can be delightful; on a bus, he tells some young people pondering the meaning of life to keep it down, ``because some of us are thirty and we have already had these conversations.'' Sometimes his campy, flippant style seems trivializing, but it can be highly appropriate, as when he exposes the cynical selling of AIDS, from criminally insensitive direct- mail campaigns for AIDS organizations (one group's letter begins ``Before he died, he asked me to mail this to you'') to LifeStyle Urns (cremation urns marketed specifically to people with AIDS and their survivors—some even come engraved with a lambda symbol). Despite this collection's title, Feinberg is no Hunter S. Thompson, but he does have an effective, biting edge.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-670-85766-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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A slim, somber classic.


Didion (We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, 2006, etc.) delivers a second masterpiece on grief, considering both her daughter’s death and her inevitable own.

In her 2005 book, The Year of Magical Thinking, the much-decorated journalist laid bare her emotions following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The same year that book was published, she also lost her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, after a long hospitalization. Like Magical Thinking, this book is constructed out of close studies of particular memories and bits of medical lingo. Didion tests Quintana’s childhood poems and scribblings for hints of her own failings as a mother, and she voices her helplessness at the hands of doctors. “I put the word ‘diagnosis’ in quotes because I have not yet seen that case in which a ‘diagnosis’ led to a ‘cure,’ ” she writes. The author also ponders her own mortality, and she does so with heartbreaking specificity. A metal folding chair, as she describes it, is practically weaponized, ready to do her harm should she fall out of it; a fainting spell leaves her bleeding and helpless on the floor of her bedroom. Didion’s clipped, recursive sentences initially make the book feel arid and emotionally distant. But she’s profoundly aware of tone and style—a digression about novel-writing reveals her deep concern for the music sentences make—and the chapters become increasingly freighted with sorrow without displaying sentimentality. The book feels like an epitaph for both her daughter and herself, as she considers how much aging has demolished her preconceptions about growing old.

  A slim, somber classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-26767-2

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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