Alan Rose’s literary novel As If Death Summoned is about grief and community in the time of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The book’s unnamed narrator has returned to the US from Australia, where he spent a decade with his partner, Gray, who died of AIDS. Because of his volunteer coordinating experience, a representative from the health department asks him to form and run an HIV testing and counseling clinic in Portland, Oregon. He begins from scratch, recruiting and training volunteers, securing funding, and approaching community outreach specialists. With a rag tag team composed most of HIV-positive gay men, and while still processing Gray’s death, he navigates the drama, relationships, and brutal truths that confound and challenge him.
The narrative moves through time, in part focused on the HIV-testing organization in 1994, with interspersed scenes from the narrator’s life with Gray in Australia, as well as scenes from a hospital waiting room in February of 1995. The narrator’s mindset as he works through his grief is handled with depth.
The book is heavy on dialogue, and the ways in which its characters speak complement their actions, reinforcing the truths they say about each other: that the narrator is afraid to get too close to people; that a middle age, straight volunteer, John, will be an essential part of the team once he adjusts; that John’s son has “a good inner core.” The ways in which these characters shift and change for the better over the course of the novel elevates them from a cast of diverse people to a community of fully formed, dynamic individuals.
As heartwarming and hope-giving as it is heartbreaking, As If Death Summoned showcases the best and worst aspects of the fight against HIV.
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