Celebrities—and some ordinary people—keep the party going as the AIDS plague gathers in these elegiac stories of gay life in the 1980s.
Walker’s debut collection imagines encounters between iconic gay men, drag queens, clubgoers, and warmly empathetic female divas in a vibrant but increasingly shadowed demimonde where news of the deaths of friends becomes routine. Designer Halston, Andy Warhol, and Liza Minnelli attend a fashion show and then repair to Studio 54 to snort cocaine and toss off bitchy one-liners; flamboyant rocker Freddie Mercury escorts Princess Diana, dressed as a man, to a London bar where she takes in a man impersonating her; a humble handyman bonds with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when they visit a gay bar in New York; an aging Rock Hudson, unaware of his coming rendezvous with the HIV virus, cruises a gay nightclub and finds a hot young thing who still considers him a stud; a San Francisco drag queen channels Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker while Bette Midler beams from the audience; an average-looking gay man feels he is safe from the mysterious disease he dubs the Hot Guy Flu because it only seems to strike the handsomest men. And in the title story, artist Keith Haring erupts in spontaneous image-making at a Danceteria party, with Madonna herself belting out a benediction to him. Walker registers and skillfully evokes the intensely image-bound nature of these boldfaced names—a coked-up Minnelli is “bubbling, a bit manic, laughing. Like a tall puppet”—but also manages to give these brittle narcissists inner lives of needy vulnerability. His supple, fluent prose evokes the inchoate dread haunting the frantic party scene (“The strobe lights from the balcony flickered in just the right way so that, for a second, everyone looked as if they were frozen in time, suspended from the ceiling by wires”). Too cleareyed for nostalgia, this volume paints an evocative, painful, but sympathetic portrait of a cultural watershed.
A fine collection of tales about people dancing frenetically on the edge of doom.