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The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis.

The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis.

This book makes so much of the policy debate on AIDS sound like shameful squabbling. As White and Mars-Jones shape it, the greatest challenge posed by the AIDS crisis is the spiritual one: What sustains the soul that is bereft of family, enduring slow death? The gay male AIDS sufferer speaks through these seven stories with the voice of the outcast, full of pain and yearning but also with courage and generosity. While the laboratory researches a cure for the body's illness, art seeks a salve for the mind's.

Although the malignant acronym appears only once in this entire collection, it is the menacing reality behind every page. The authors present the casualties like doctors pleading for an end to war. They show us how the epidemic is also damaging the healthy and how the daily horror of AIDS is scarring the witnesses. It is harder to bury the dead when life seems mocked by so much injustice. Gay culture prizes youthfulness; AIDS destroys youth in a particularly malicious way, leaving the living with booby traps of bitterness and rage. In Mars-Jones's "An Executor," the passing of someone young leaves an afterimage--a wardrobe of sexually implicit leather--that is both a rebuke of the owner's past and an emblem of his beautifully human contradictions. A volunteer AIDS "buddly," sent to cook and hug and, now, to clean up, is left to choose how to dispose of it.

One of the most painful aspects of AIDS is the atonement it often begs. White has alternated between celebrating gay culture and examining the problems of gay identity. In "Palace Days," youth is slipping away from the president of a gay travel agency for whom the limitless carnality of the seventies had once been a way of making a living. Now his friends are dying and he wants to atone for a past that feels more and more like an accusation. He falls in love, pledges fidelity, and mounts a siege against fears that he is a fraud. It is in this heroic struggle, not just against despair but for loving and being loved, that White finds the greatest dignity of his characters, and it is where The Darker Proof achieves its most moving conclusions.
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Author:Arena, Joe
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1988
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