This poignant memoir documents one person's efforts to compress a lifetime of living, loving, and loss into a single decade, a decade that changed the way the world looked at sex, death, dying, and gay men. It talks about passion and devotion in a time when little was known and much was feared about AIDS, a time when powerful judgments were based on hardly more than vague hunches. Today, there are treatments, HIV tests, and a wide body of knowledge and experience concerning the epidemic. Senak charts these achievements step by step during his personal journey through the intersecting worlds of the dying and the living, and he creates a vivid tribute to the fallen.
A former director of legal services at the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) in New York City describes his experiences of love and loss over the course of the AIDS epidemic. In 1984, Senak left his Park Avenue investment lawyer's job to begin an increasingly absorbing career in legal counseling and services for the HIV-infected. What began as volunteer work writing deathbed wills soon burgeoned into a multitasked professional position with the GMHC, and later with the AIDS Project Los Angeles, that additionally involved AIDS advocacy and media appearances. In chapters titled by year - from 1981 to 1991, with an epilogue for 1997 - the book chronicles the author's experience of the social and personal impact of AIDS, and of the growth of AIDS social-service agencies into the large-scale (and large-budgeted) organizations that some of them have become. Included are reflections on HIV-testing, doctor-assisted suicide, and the role of the media and celebrities, such as Rock Hudson and Magic Johnson, in changing public attitudes toward AIDS. But the book is much more Senak's tribute to friends and lovers who have died of AIDS, most especially his longest-term lover, Joe. AIDS memorialists can all learn from that celebrated rememberer of tragic suffering and death, Elie Wiesel, whose Holocaust memoir, Night, models a compressed style of language that communicates more the more it recedes. Senak sets out to follow that tack when he resolves, in telling about his love for Joe, to be "clear and direct," but impressions of the people he loved, whether romantically or Platonically - including, besides Joe, his first lover, Todd; Rick, who helped him move from New York to Los Angeles; and actor Brad Davis, whose AIDS buddy he became - are muddied by repetition, anecdote, digression, analogy, and over-attention to his own mental reactions and states. In this AIDS memorial, the descriptions never quite transform into memorable presentations for the reader of the lost beloved. (Kirkus Reviews)