Minnesota author revisits mid-1980s AIDS crisis in new novel


“The spots usually do not itch or cause other symptoms, can often be mistaken for bruising, sometimes appear as bumps, and may turn brown after a while,” according to the July 3, 1981 article. “Cancer often causes lymph nodes to swell, then kills by spreading throughout the body. “

It was one of the first mainstream reports on what would become HIV / AIDS, first reported a month earlier in the US Center for Disease Control’s weekly newsletter. Since the early 1980s, more than 700,000 people have died from HIV-related illnesses, according to the Kaiser Family Institute.

Minneapolis author Brian Malloy was there early on, fresh out of his teens and living in different places around the world: Minneapolis, Washington DC, Boston, Amsterdam. His friends were dying.

“HIV / AIDS defined my 20s and 30s,” he said. “So many people in my community have been affected. I lost a lot of good friends, many before they turned 30. “I feel like it has become a footnote in the story.”

That footnote sentiment was the seed of “After Francesco,” his new novel about a rapidly disappearing group of friends living in New York City in the 1980s. It deserved kudos – like a review. starred in the Library Journal, and it’s an Oprah Magazine’s pick for the best LGBTQ books of the year.

Malloy will read an excerpt from his book and follow with a Q&A and book signing at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Fitger’s Spirit of the North Theater. He will then lead the “Working on Your Novel” workshop, open to the public.

"Find François." Contribution / Brian Malloy

“Find Francesco.” Contribution / Brian Malloy

‘Find Francesco’

“Finding Francesco” opens with another funeral, the kind of gathering that has become ubiquitous among protagonist Kevin Doyle’s group of friends. This is described as an ‘orthodox’ AIDS burial – a ceremony in which the deceased’s family claim he died of cancer and do not recognize the man’s partner or his homosexual friends seated. at the back of the room.

Live Eddie, whose partner Dead Eddie is in the coffin, does not follow the rules. Dead Eddie’s family has this planned and brings in some bouncers and the scene turns into a melee.

It’s been two years, but Kevin is still reeling from the death of his partner Francesco, an artist. He drinks way too much and he does a terrible job at his terrible job – and then he doesn’t have a terrible job anymore, or the apartment full of Francesco’s murals, anymore.

Kevin returns to Minneapolis to live with his Aunt Nora, a chance to sober up and recover from the loss of his lover. It’s a time of transformation filled with the weaknesses of old friends, the balm of new friends and nods to the book How To Have Safe Sex In An Epidemic: One Approach.

Malloy’s story is a beautifully drawn portrayal of complicated relationships, great fear and loss, with moments of empowerment and hope. He goes from black humor and excesses to the great intimacy of caring for a human who is on the verge of death.

Art in times of crisis

At the time, there had been books like “Facing It: A Novel of AIDS” by Paul Reed and “The Body and Its Dangers and Other Stories” by Allen Barnett, but Malloy eventually said he quit. to read them.

“There was a lot of writing in the community in the ’80s and early’ 90s,” he said. Then I feel like there was a hiatus where people didn’t want to write about it anymore – or the people who wrote it died.

The film “How to Survive a Plague” tells the story of the early activists of ACT UP and TAG who worked to involve government officials and medical agencies in the AIDS crisis. They protested, they studied, they led efforts to find drugs to treat patients.

They also forwarded recorded footage of their efforts to journalist David France, one of the leading AIDS columnists in the United States.

Malloy and her husband watched the 2012 documentary a few years ago and the latter suggested they might have PTSD from that time.

“Everything came back,” Malloy said. “I hadn’t thought about it for over 20 years. I decided I needed to write about it.

Malloy drew some of the characters from his novel “The Year of Ice”, the early years of Kevin Doyle. In these pages, which take place in 1978, he is a high school student with a deceased mother, a distant father and a chatty aunt. Malloy said he chose to continue with this casting because he wanted the characters in “After Francesco” to have a full life before their diagnosis.

“HIV / AIDS was not what defined all of these people,” he said.

The privacy of the guard

There is a scene in the second half of “After Francesco” where Kevin has become one of the keepers of a close friend – a man once known for his “perfect and tantalizing rugby thighs” whose skin is now loose and slim. He has to change the man’s diaper, put on new sweatpants.

Malloy’s description is a crisp, detailed, and moving account of the process – a love scene that includes a basket lined with a Hefty bag. There is also shame, empathy, nostalgia and humor. Kevin sings Brady Bunch’s song “Time to Change” as he soothes his friend.

“I did it,” Malloy said. “There is a mechanic to that, when you are the guardian of an adult. You have to be really respectful and understand that it is, in some ways, a dance. You must treat them well and with respect, while bringing banality to them. ”

Malloy drew on other moments of muscle memory to recreate examples of activism that he and Kevin Doyle share. And while the writer and character have been hesitant to get tested for HIV, and there is a thematic similarity in what brings them to the clinic, the two get their big reveal in a different way.

Malloy was in Amsterdam and his father had recently passed away from a long debilitating illness. He didn’t want his family to relive this – so he planned to never return to the United States if he tested positive.

On his way to finding his results, he picked up two bottles of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a personal favorite. When the health official told him he was negative, he passed him one of the bottles.

“Here, take this,” he remembers saying.

In modern times

The CDC reported that in 2019, approximately 1,189,700 people had HIV and that 36,801 people living in the United States and the United States-dependent areas of the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam , Northern Mariana Islands and Palau are diagnosed annually.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota has seen an increase in HIV cases over the past three years. Typically, St. Louis County sees up to five new cases per year, and there were 13 between September 2019 and February 2021. The News Tribune reported in July that it appeared in people who were ‘inject drugs and their sexual partners.

Nowadays, there are antiretroviral treatments and pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily medicine that can prevent HIV infection. Malloy said he was concerned about the accessibility of these drugs and the complacency among young gay and bisexual men.

There is a generation gap, he said, between those who were alive to see the toll of HIV in their communities, and young people.

“Finding Francesco” received star reviews from Library Journal, and was a 2021 Buzz Book for Publishers Marketplace. Apple Books called it the Best of June 2021. It has elicited a variety of reactions from gay men, Malloy said, including some who are still on hiatus to revisit the past.

“I’m sorry, that sounds good,” he reported them saying, “but I’m not going to read it.”

If you are going to

What: Author conference and workshop with Brian Malloy

When: 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday

Or: Spirit of the North Theater, Fitger’s Complex, 600 E. Superior St., Duluth

Price: Post-Reading Workshop $ 10 for Lake Superior Writers members, $ 15 for non-members, at lakesuperiorwriters.org.


Delivered: “After François”

Author: Brian malloy

Editor: Kensington Books

Pages: 309


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