Vast opening salvo in a thunderous assault on the prideful prejudice that separates “us” from “them” in the time of AIDS.
“I may be going back further than necessary in laying out the backstory,” writes author/activist Kramer (Faggots, 1978, etc.), “but if this is the prime complaint against me, I shall remain consistent to my belief that all is better than less than all….I remind you once again that this is my history of the plague.” Our narrator is not quite omniscient, just as this huge book doesn’t exactly sprawl; sometimes it lounges like an odalisque, and sometimes it huffs up to grizzly bear proportions. Ever the controversialist, Kramer doesn’t hesitate to start on provocative ground: After introducing us to an alter ego–ish writer who is struggling with an equally massive history of the American people—the other ones, the ones who are enduring this “Plague of The Underlying Condition”—he announces that “the First American People are monkeys who ate each other.” Say what? Kramer’s anthropology may have its debatable points, but it points both to the antiquity of the illness and to a human condition—ahem, underlying condition—of violence and segregation, to a chronology that hurtles forward to Ronald Reagan’s coded assurance that there was indeed an “us” and a “them” at play in the terrible disease. The victims are endless: “sailors, whores, orphaned children, the abscessed, the poxed, the near-dead, and yes, the dead” figure in Kramer’s genealogy, which, for all of its awareness of the Grim Reaper, is defiantly lively. There is nary a dog in these pages that is not supremely shaggy, never a missed opportunity to offend someone. Kramer ranges among voices, eras and styles, the dominant ones being steely anger shading into Pynchon-esque goofiness but always with serious intent.
Breathtakingly well-written. And how could one not keep reading, no matter how endless, a book with a line such as “You don’t just drop a penis like Tibby’s into the narrative and let it go”?