The panicked, formative years of the AIDS epidemic create the dramatic backdrop for this sentimental yet searingly authentic novel.
Treat’s resonant debut novel is set in 1983 during an era that saw the birth of cellphones and the Internet. Yet it was also a time of mounting distress over a mysterious, contagious, deadly “gay cancer,” especially for gay men like 30-something Jeff, the novel’s protagonist. Having abandoned his life in New York City—where “friends of friends were getting sick, and it felt like the noose was tightening”—he relocated to Seattle to teach history at the University of Washington. Timid and with a past history of excessive drinking, Jeff struggles to make quality interpersonal connections amid awkward trips to the health clinic and episodes involving phone sex, invitation-only warehouse clubs, one-night stands, and bathhouses. However, it is the attention of sexy 20-year-old Henry, “a boy on the cusp of manhood,” that he desires most. Jeff becomes sensitive to Henry’s penchant for unprotected sex and, worse, casual intravenous heroin use. Meanwhile, Nan, a kindhearted divorcée and mother to Henry’s roommate, Mike, has opened the doors to her generous home, the Yellow House, to provide a sober community center and an emotional and physical harbor for gay men in need. The House provides Jeff and Henry with a place to live and attend recovery meetings while also offering some life direction as the pull of abuse proves formidable, particularly for one of them. Treat, a former Yale professor, writes well, and his novel benefits from an easily digestible plot and a smooth sense of pacing. The conclusion may seem overwhelmingly somber to some readers, yet it’s fitting for the troubled era. Treat’s novel is a fine addition to AIDS literature, wonderfully achieving the frantic atmosphere of the mid-1980s, the rainy rawness of the Pacific Northwest, and the sensuality and unique connections within the gay community.
A compassionate, engrossing novel of life in the early plague years, depicted here with authentic detail and a true heart.