THE GIFTS OF THE BODY by Rebecca Brown


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Brown (The Children's Crusade, not reviewed) relates this slow, doleful tale of a home-care volunteer for people with AIDS in an unsentimental voice that treats illness and dying with a sort of reverence -- but which also fails to generate much interest. The unnamed narrator in an unnamed city is a long-time volunteer for Urban Community Services, a program founded to provide care for people with AIDS (PWAs). As the number of PWAs grew and new medicine allowed them to live longer, the need for home-care workers, respite workers, buddies, a food bank, and home meals expanded, so that UCS is now a significant community presence with government funding. The narrator manages to slip in this textbook information while describing the time she spends each week with various clients: Connie, an old woman who was infected with HIV during a blood transfusion while undergoing a mastectomy; Rick, a young gardener who's going downhill fast; Ed, an angry soap-opera addict who doesn't want to enter the hospice because no one ever leaves there alive; Carlos, who is sometimes incontinent and trying to deal with the embarrassment of his new condom catheter; Marty, an old friend of Carlos's, who reveals that he helped Carlos kill himself because he was in so much pain at the end; Keith, a man virtually covered with quarter-sized purple sores that the narrator, for the first time since starting her work, has a hard time dealing with (he ""really looked like the plague""). In the end, the narrator realizes that her difficulty with Keith was a sign of burn-out and accepts the drain that comes with watching people die. So when Margaret, a friend and the head of home-care services at UCS, tests positive, quitting this kind of work is the only way the narrator can recapture hope for a cure. Guilt-inducing for those who expect good writing and find themselves yawning over people's deathbeds.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: HarperCollins