The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai 2018
This is a powerful and engrossing book that moves seamlessly between Chicago’s gay community in the midst of the AIDS catastrophe of 1985 and the present in Paris. The primary character is a gay 31 year old man, Yale Tishman, who we meet as he enters a ‘party’ to celebrate the life of a dear friend, Nico, who has died of AIDS. Nico’s sister, Fiona is at the party, and it is Fiona whom we meet 30 years later in Paris as she desperately tries to find her daughter and granddaughter who she is alienated from and hasn’t seen in years. Along the way we meet Yale’s partner, Charlie, his work colleagues at the Northwestern University art museum, and friends who one by one sicken and die as the Reagan administration fiddles while AIDS devastates entire communities. One such community, Boystown in Chicago, is vividly rendered and the multiple plot lines are woven together beautifully. I’ll avoid further plot description which might ruin the pleasure of reading about Yale, Charlie, Teddy, Justin, and their friends at this fraught moment in history, but do read this book. A notable quote is the following: “It’s always a matter , isn’t it, of waiting for the world to come unraveled? When things hold together, it’s always only temporary.” Certainly feels appropriate for this moment! This book is a great example of how well-written fiction transports you to another world presenting vivid characters who come to life and whom you miss when the book ends. A finalist for the Pulitzer and short-listed for the National Book Award, Makkai, a graduate of Middlebury, is also a finalist for this year’s Vermont Book Award.