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Posted October 16, 2010
`I've lived in a sort of fugue state for years now - my mornings beginning during most people's supper, my evenings ending at the start of canine morning rush hour, when the sidewalks glisten with the new day's fresh piss. I'm more likely to recognize the dog than I am the person holding the leash.' So begins the latest novel TOSS WHIRL PASS by Shawn Stewart Ruff whose rise to literary importance since the publication of his first novel FINLATER has been swift and sure. Ruff is a national treasure, a gifted writer who is unafraid to tackle difficult topics because his use of the English language is as polished as anyone writing today. He can comfortably move from eloquent poetic prose (and poetry, this time) to raw, sensuous, erotic descriptive tones in a manner that does not draw attention to his talent but instead propels his story along. And what a storyteller he is! Ruff moves so easily from the present to the past by a seamless use of flashbacks that it is sometimes difficult to know where we as readers are in the story. It would seem that TOSS WHIRL PASS is actually one day in the life of our narrator, Yale Battle, an Ivy-educated HIV+ poet/artist whose life and very being are still quivering from that terrifying moment we all refer to as 9/11. No particular time frames are mentioned but it FEELS as though that could have happened approximately two weeks before the opening of Yale's story. But then perhaps it is the author's intention in this paean to those countless men lost to the plague of AIDS to draw a parallel: despite the insidious onset of that disease with all of the physical signs Ruff so astutely describes in the course of this book, the end of life of the victim has the same momentous impact as that explosion of the twin towers. Through a series of carefully choreographed episodes (`choreographed' is an appropriate term here as Ruff names each of his chapters after a dance position, explaining the French terms in English in a way that foretells the content of the words to come), Yale tells us a bit about his childhood including his introduction to same sex activity with his friend Hillary who later claims to have been assaulted, to his move into adulthood and progression to Ivy League schools in pursuit of his life as a frustrated writer, finding a lone friend in college, moving to New York and encountering Angel, his Dominican friend who dies of AIDS, and his ultimately meeting the ideal man of his life - one Courtney Baines Arrington, a ballet dancer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company and a wannabe choreographer. Throughout the book there are the trials and pleasures of his relationship with the narcissistic Courtney and the discovery that Courtney is HIV+ while they work together to make a dance company for Courtney and encourage the development of Yale's writing gifts. The story begins with Yale seeking meds for their dying cat Zsa Zsa Gabor: when the pharmacy will not supply, Yale relies on his own supplier, the very young Solstice, who also happens to be bedding Yale's stuffy British neighbor's wife, and it is at this point that we realize that Yale has long been a drug addict. Since Courtney's death he has been increasing casual about his life (the descriptions of his physical encounters are of the quality of Henry Miller, Genet, Gide et al) and eventually (later on in the day thatWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.