It's almost fitting that I would discover Andrew Holleran's re-release of old short stories in a new anthology entitled Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited on a gloomy Saturday in late September.
It was an aimless day, not one plan scheduled and I found myself walking around the city, turning corners on a whim and shrugging at North and South. Therefore it was no surprise, nor plan, that I arrived at Barnes and Noble on 6th Avenue, running my fingers along the titles and authors in the Gay and Lesbian Fiction section.
My fingers traced upon the bindings of smooth paperbacks until it fell upon a Holleran title I did not recognize. I have every book of his and haven't heard of any new release so I jumped into the cover like a treasure hunter discovering an accidental chest. There it was - Copyright: 2008.
Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited is a re-release of Holleran's old short stories from his 1988 publication Ground Zero, repackaged with a newly written introduction, now twenty-plus years after the fact.
I bought the book without thinking twice and looked forward to, once again, being held in Holleran's poetically relentless grip, like a rib cage being crushed by the delicate fineness of a pair of silk white gloves.
Once outside I leaned against the brick and began reading this new introduction. By the time I turned the first page my soul had already drained itself of color and was left with nothing more than the gray of the pavement reflecting off the sky.
"Learning a book is out of print is a blow to an author. It's not that copies in print have been destroyed, but that demand for the book is so low the publisher cannot justify printing any more. When I went looking for a copy of Ground Zero last winter, I was lucky to find one in a college library in Washington, D.C., on a shelf of other books about AIDS. The "Date Due" slip told me the book had been checked out only twelve times in twenty-four years; and not at all from 1992 to 1998 or 1998 to 2006. This had to do with a professor teaching, then dropping, a course that required the text, I thought- what else keeps these books alive? The volumes on the shelf around mine looked equally untouched, as if they all been put to sleep, like the awful time itself...Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited.
...Yet it seems incredible that people still get infected with HIV. They say it's because people think AIDS is now a "manageable" disease; and few young gay men have seen anyone die of AIDS. But I think it's the same old story: the irrational power of sex, of people's search for a physical, emotional connection. So I suppose it should be no surprise that people go on getting infected, while books about AIDS sit mostly undisturbed on the shelf of the college library where I found Ground Zero. Even now I'm not sure what one should compare the disease that swept gay New York in the eighties to- the Spanish influenza of 1918?
...Still, say what you will, we have lost a whole generation of gay men, who might otherwise have been valuable mentors to their successors. Of course, gay life has evolved without those who died. One can even argue that the very assimilation that AIDS brought about seems to have caused the disintegration of the gay community, though surely that would have resulted anyway from the inevitable change in generations, not to mention new technology like the computer. Part of Survivor's Syndrome is to live in another era, when AIDS is simply part of the past, and for many young gay men, not even that. Yet something was lost..."