Like People in History

Like People in History

Felice Picano's epicesque novel Like People in History is not a simple novel about HIV/AIDS. Well, not exactly. It's not simply a caregiving story, or simply a dying lover story. Instead, it is a novel about some individual stories of intertwined lives lived within the gay men's community over a period of thirty years, set against a backdrop of changing political conditions, with the coming epidemic foreshadowed throughout.What makes the book considerably less simple, besides the nonlinear storytelling style, usually not my cup of tea, but well enough done to not be distracting, is that the epidemic is at its worst by the time two thirds of the stories are told, yet the agony is so understated that this fact is almost easy to miss.

The narrator, who seemed to me to be deliberately portrayed as having an ambiguous HIV status throughout the book, remarks little on each event as it happens: the death of a lover, the death of a friend, the death of friend/relative with whom he has an ongoing and at times difficult, relationship, with little emotion. This certainly doesn't distract from the realism of the book, it just deepens the tragedy of it and, perhaps more accurately, the trauma of it. More than one soldier has talked about the moment in a battle when there is no more screaming. It seems like Picano's characters were caught in this state; almost in slow motion, enduring, fighting, protesting and in some cases even still loving and partying, while a tragedy unfolded around and even within them. It makes for a heart rending read because you never grow weary of the pathos because it is written so completely into the daily journals of the characters' lives.