Director of Communications, PFLAG
God Doesn't Make Trashby Barbara Rose Brooker
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In Publisher’s Weekly April 23, 2001 issue, the industry magazine spotlighted the LGBT book scene in 2001. In his article prefacing a list of nearly 200 selected Gay and Lesbian titles, Charles Hix stated: “Significantly, the number of books dealing primarily with AIDS is down compared to 2000…AIDS is now more likely to be treated as an incidental fact, not a focus.” Indeed, scanning the titles and descriptions of the books listed in the article, I counted only eight titles that spoke of AIDS specifically.
There appears to be little interest anymore in the personal stories of those lost. Indeed, it takes the stature of an Edmund White to even interest a major publisher in another collection of cenotaphs. What then do we make of Barbara Rose Brooker’s brave little book recounting the stories of friends and acquaintances long dead from AIDS?
The book’s title comes from a conversation Brooker had with former Marlboro Man and later AIDS model, Christian Haren. Brooker, a struggling novelist with two young daughters had been a reluctant but loving witness to her next door neighbor’s early agonizing victimization and discrimination preceeding his death from the virus and its complications.
In an effort to fulfill a promise to her friend, Brooker sets about taping interviews with AIDS patients in a half-hearted attempt to document their stories. Christian Haren was her first interviewee.
Galvanized by anger and illness, co-opted by the nascent AIDS response movement as a poster child, Haren is in a unique position to usher Brooker to the Castro and San Francisco General Hospital’s earliest AIDS ward in the rapidly blackening early days of the pandemic. Constantly, Haren pushes her to listen, to record, to write. Alternately cajoling and hectoring, the dying Haren manages to inspire the straight, Jewish, liberal Brooker to undertake a project which was to haunt her for the following fifteen years.
The product of that haunting, some twenty-nine chapters profiling men and women, gay and straight in the grips of a time and a disease, is really as much a portrait of middle class America’s dawning awareness of and helpless witness to the pandemic as it is of the dying’s.
The dying themselves are vibrantly recalled in Brooker’s tender, elegaic chronicalling, but it is the portrait of Brooker herself that is most compelling. Her journey from sympathetic bystander to paralyzed witness to stoic promise-keeper is a genuine document of a time and a place that seems, unfortunately, to have an expired shelf-life.
That is the pity and the promise of this fine little book. Pity that it might easily go unread and ignored for now, but it promises to be a classic for the times to come. I have written before that history is most intimately experienced by small people in small places. We are lucky to have this small history now and waiting again in a huge unknown future.
-by Jay Quinn
Lambda Book Report
Director of Communications, PFLAG
Author of First Victim and Director of Communications for Senator Bob Dole
- Xlibris Corporation
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