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A Memoir

by Mark Doty

Pub Date: March 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-017210-X
Publisher: HarperCollins

Asking, ``What does a writer do, when the world collapses, but write?,'' Doty, whose world collapsed when his lover died, gives an answer that's both generous and indulgent. In a look back at the period before, during, and after Wally Roberts succumbed to complications of AIDS, the author (a winner of the National Book Critics Circle award for poetry) walks a path between the practical and the poetic, the enraged and the calm. On one hand, he's got helpful observations for support partners—``The lower one goes in the medical system, it seems, the more humanity, the more hands-on help, the more genuine care.'' On the other, he's ready to turn profound on death's many approaching moments, especially its final one—``. . . he is most himself, even if that self empties out into no one, swift river hurrying into the tumble of rivers, out of individuality, into the great rushing whirlwind of currents.'' Putting the puzzle of his life back together after Roberts's demise upset it, Doty returns to the Boston house where the proud and very out pair first lived together (but in separate apartments); recalls the Vermont homes they shared; and fills in the final Provincetown years. He visits landscapes here and abroad, finding reminders—and metaphors and avatars—of their relationship wherever he looks. He also writes with love about the friends who filled the couple's days with joy and anxiety (a self-destructive poet identified only as Lynda particularly delights and infuriates Doty). He commemorates Arden and Beau, two rollicking dogs who kept things much happier than they might otherwise have been. A poet with a quick memory for poems he didn't write, Doty is angry at the realities of the world when it unleashes physical and moral diseases, and grateful when it shows a kinder face. A book very much like grief itself in that it's sometimes awkward, often uncontrolled, and always deeply felt.