Geography Of The Heartby Fenton Johnson
From the author of the award-winning novels Crossing The River and Scissors, Paper, Rock comes a powerful book about the transformative power of love. Fenton Johnson recounts the history of "how I feel in love how I came to be with someone else, how he came to death and how I helped." Johnson interweaves two stories: his own upbringing as the youngest of a Kentucky whiskey maker's nine children, and that of his lover LarD Rose, the only child of German Jews. survivors of the Holocaust.
What can you say about a book that makes you cry on page 3? That it does so again on page 4 complicates the reviewer's job further. Nevertheless, this is not a tearjerker: Johnson's (Scissors, Paper, Rock, 1993, etc.) memoir is a moving expansion of the genre. The last of nine children in a devoutly Catholic rural Kentucky family, Johnson was initially the pursued and not the pursuer in the relationship he memorializes here. Larry Rose's backgroundSan Francisco high school English teacher, the only child of German-Jewish Holocaust survivorscould scarcely have been more dissimilar. Johnson resists entanglement: Larry is HIV- positive, and he legitimately fears having his life taken over by responsibility for Larry's care once he develops AIDS. He also fears the pain of becoming attached to someone he will lose. What he discovers is that being in love with Larry transforms him. As Johnson writes in an extraordinary passage about ministering to Larry on a daring trip to France just days before the invalid's death: "I understood the shallowness of my fears that I might abandon Larry once he grew sick. Now I only wanted to be with him and to care for him, for in caring for him I was caring for myself. I discovered that I loved even his illness and his dying . . . because they were a part of him; there was no having him without these." The labors arising from love, Johnson learns, are not labors.
We think of memoirs as retrospective narratives of long lives. Where AIDS is involved, the time frame is very different, the intention more urgent. This profoundly moving, painfully honest book is a remarkable testament to a short life and the enduring love that emerged from it. It deserves the widest possible audience.
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