Desert Isle Keeper
Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir
This is a love story written by a gay man, Paul Monette, about his lover and longtime companion, Roger Horowitz, who is dying of AIDS in the late 1980s. Paul himself is infected with HIV and will die of AIDS in 1995 which he will recount in the memoir which follows this one. For this very real memoir though, Paul is still in good health and able to care for Roger in their Los Angeles home. Paul is a screenwriter and novelist and Roger has been a lawyer with a major LA firm. They both went to school in the Ivy League. Most of their friends are also gay and from similar backgrounds.
This memoir reminds me of Romeo and Juliet. Both lovers will ultimately die but the force wrenching them apart is the AIDS epidemic, not their families. This story takes place during the first wave of the AIDS epidemic, the one where gays were particularly hard hit. This was because they were engaging in risky sexual behavior without knowing it was risky until the epidemic was upon them. Also, little could be done for the AIDS patient other than try the drug AZT on them, which didn’t do much.
So the burden falls upon Paul to care for Roger, to keep him going, even while he fails step by step from this disease. It is an overpowering story of love. Paul gives all of himself to Roger. On one level, he is facing Roger’s two year death which will be followed by his own illness and death. On an even more important level though, he is grappling with the day to day love he has for Roger and trying to make each day count for him. Paul’s own feelings as he goes through this are beautifully recounted. You almost feel as if you are Paul. I certainly did.
Paul Monette was a writer before the AIDS epidemic hit him and Roger. However, he was mainly known for rather commercial works in the mainstream, not terribly unique or memorable but which made him a good living. As is often the irony in art, Monette came into his own as a writer when confronted with AIDS. It freed him enormously to write about something at the very center of his own existence and love life. He became wholly interested in recounting feelings, emotions, love, commitment, death and dying. There are a number of writers who came into their own with the Vietnam war. That war became their voice whereas before they had lacked a central unifying vision. AIDS similarly unified Monette’s vision as a writer.
I read some of the comments at Amazon about this book and wasn’t really surprised to see that gay and straight people all over the world had written in about this book. They wrote from Israel, Hong Kong, Portugal, Botswana, and all over the United States. They all found it one of the most powerful, honest, emotionally charged books they had ever read. This is because the book is about love and, wow, did Paul Monette know how to love Roger Horowitz until “death we do part.”