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The Way of All Flesh

FAGGOTS A Novel By Larry Kramer; Grove Press: 366 pp., $14 paper

June 04, 2000|REYNOLDS PRICE | Reynolds Price is the author of numerous books, including the novel "Kate Vaiden," the memoir "A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing" and, most recently, a collection of essays, "Letter to a Man in the Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care?" His essay in somewhat different form will appear as the foreword to the new edition of Larry Kramer's "Faggots."

Failing to reform urban Western queer customs in the late 1970s, Kramer absorbed the abuse his vision received and when--all too quickly--his dread began to realize itself in an epidemic that has proved far more ghastly than any critic could have imagined, he turned his unsleeping insight and energy into powerful social action, into the creation of eminently practical means of combating both the plague and society's refusal to acknowledge the plain humanity of its victims. No prior satirist known to me has waded, blood-drenched, into such useful work. The fact that a mind with the observational and analytic powers of Kramer's became the terrible and largely successful foe of federal, religious and private sustainers of the viciously passive witness of disaster is still as astonishing as it is admirable.

All the same, even the most sympathetic reader may wonder if Kramer's public mission in the 1980s and '90s would have succeeded so well if the authorities whom he attacked had actually read "Faggots." Wouldn't the novel's characters have only confirmed the self-justifying stereotypes held by presidents, cabinet members, bishops, ministers and private citizens and sealed them tighter in their loathing and neglect? And who, reading Kramer, could have foreseen that the ego-rapt community which he portrayed could have--for the better part of two decades--so memorably converted itself into a force for the most humbling kinds of nursing care and deathbed vigils (is there a historical precedent for another group which transformed itself so quickly)? But all live satire provokes such dilemmas, and the crackling presence of so many dark questions in "Faggots" should keep it alive for a great deal longer. Certainly the community it attacked--and all other communities of mindless sexual adventure, regardless of gender or aim--could continue to read it with baleful laughter and enduring profit.

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