WHEN YOUNG DR. ANDREW FAULK first learned he was HIV-positive, he was devastated for it certainly meant imminent death. Until then, he’d been an outstanding young physician with years of intensive training. That day, without warning, he faced the great divide of his life. Due to the rigors and stress of training, he considered abandoning his medical career. But, instead, he dedicated the remainder of his life to the fight against AIDS, ultimately participating in the care of approximately 50 patients who died, many his own peers, including his partner. Being HIV-positive, Faulk discovered something other doctors didn’t experience—in every patient he cared for, whatever the symptoms, he saw himself. As patients and friends died around him, at any time he, too, could have “stepped off the earth.” Yet with intuition, insight and compassion, he brought peace and comfort whenever possible to those he called “my guys.” After a long silence he recounts those heroic years and tells this, his true story as doctor, patient and survivor.
Faulk recounts the “individual histories... rich in solace and hope” of patients and friends. His portraits shine with unmitigated warmth and a savvy encapsulation of personalities. His writing pulls together most strongly in its externally focused recurring threads: dinner party friends returning as partners in shared grief; sweet reminiscences of his first husband, Jack; and stories of lavish “goodbye parties” for those choosing self-euthanasia. Faulk’s detailed but measured narratives about caring for the dying never lean in to the sensational or voyeuristic urge. The chapters can be choppy, but the prose is meticulous even as Faulk writes about the emotional and cognitive problems caused by his HIV encephalopathy.
Negative, isolated chapters calling out an embezzling receptionist, lamenting ACT UP’s angry tactics, or disparaging the philosophy of Louise Hay detour distractingly away from the larger message. Retrospective passages that unburden the author of guilt and self-reproach are heavy and awkwardly distancing, as if Faulk is unsure how to invite readers into that emotional space. Notwithstanding the personal framing, the book serves best as an insider’s cultural history of the insular middle-class, urban gay community taking care of itself through a devastating crisis.
Takeaway: Readers curious about the experience of living through the 1980s AIDS crisis will find this memoir enlightening and affecting.
Great for fans of Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played On, Larry Kramer’s Reports from the Holocaust.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+