THE GREAT BELIEV­ERS by Re­becca Makkai

DNA Magazine - - BOOK REVIEWS -

You may feel that you don’t re­ally want to read a 400+ page novel about the early years of the AIDS cri­sis in Chicago but, in fact, this book proves to be some­thing of a page-turner.

This is due to the vivid, com­plex char­ac­ters who quickly cap­ture the reader’s in­ter­est. The other great strength of the novel is that it doesn’t take the pre­dictable or sen­ti­men­tal nar­ra­tive path. Ex­pec­ta­tions are aroused but Makkai sur­prises us, and some­times to dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect. Af­ter all, this is a pe­riod when life for gay men was fraught with un­cer­tain­ties and was all too pre­car­i­ous.

The novel has two nar­ra­tive strands: one set in 1985 and based around Yale Gish­man as his cir­cle of friends be­gins to fall to the virus while a cache of 1920s paint­ings of­fer the prospect of a great tri­umph for his ca­reer at an art gallery.

The sec­ond strand cen­tres around a close friend of Yale’s, Fiona, who lost her brother to the virus and, 30 years later, has also lost her daugh­ter to a cult. Af­ter a sight­ing in Paris, Fiona trav­els there to track her down and re-es­tab­lish con­tact.

Sev­eral char­ac­ters strad­dle both nar­ra­tives. Some­times with this type of struc­ture, one sto­ry­line can end up be­ing more com­pelling than the other. Yet here, the chap­ters al­ter­nate and this lessens this prob­lem but also drives the nar­ra­tive to­wards a dou­ble cli­max. This is one of the best gay-themed nov­els pub­lished so far this year, with glow­ing en­dorse­ments from writ­ers Garth Green­well, Stephen McCauley and Rabih Alamed­dine.

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