Sunday, August 23, 2015

Review: "The American People Vol. 1: Search for My Heart

I would first like to say, before I talk about Larry Kramer’s gargantuan first volume of his novel The American People, that I find him to be more of an activist than he is a writer. Also, he is an activist whose time, in my opinion, has certainly passed. More people today no about gay and lesbian issues than they did at the time when Kramer’s output was most fruitful, and while his work will always remain interesting (as this book is very, very interesting), I feel his need to be so volatile and enraged is quite unnecessary, and it isn’t so much a case of his cries falling on deaf ears so much as he is preaching to a choir, and everyone who has needed to hear his message, whether from him or someone else, has heard it. But I feel torn, because that same unnecessary rage brings us something so maddening, so involved and written with such heart and gusto it is hard not to stand up and cheer its publication, especially if you like your books long, complex and enveloping, like I do. But I will say that most people, even hardcore liberals who fight fervently for gay and lesbian rights will detest this book, as the reviews that I have read have likewise hated it. I won’t argue with their points: this is an extreme book that wears its insanity and its filthy heart on its sleeve. You will either love, like I did, or hate it with a passion, and that’s okay. I’m struggling to come up with a direct plot synopsis, but this book really doesn’t have one, so I will just describe to you how it is laid out. Basically, this book is a kind of mock historical text, reading like one of those tomes written by David McCullough, filled with fictionalized lives of some our founding fathers, all of which, in Kramer’s book, were secretly homosexual, and the AIDS virus has been around as long as time itself. It begins essentially at the beginning of time, near the Gulf of Mexico, where a community of monkeys passes, back and forth, a form of the AIDS virus through mutual sexual exploration, with one scene where a baby is killed by a well-endowed monkey that might make you laugh or vomit. It gets crazier from there: a tribe of Indians discover anal sex, a group of early settlers live happily in same-sex households until hate destroys it, and Abe Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth (and Booth’s crooked penis) meet long before that fateful night in The Ford Theatre. It goes all the way up to the 1950’s, and introduces a central family whose legacy of violence and secretive sexual depravity have something to do with AIDS, which is probably in the next book. This is a hard, exhausting read, much like 2666 and Infinite Jest, but like those books, it contains ideas, excitement and sadness that are well worth the hassle. At least it was for me. Whether you’re a Kramer fan or not, if you want a book that pushes you to the limit, give this giant book a shot.
Rating: 5/5

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