The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

So incredibly engaging–yes, it’s a book about the AIDS epidemic, but it’s so personal. It’s truly a story about Yale, and perhaps even more, about Fiona, and what this major historical (if ongoing) event did to them. It was obviously meticulously researched, but I never felt like he’d put details in there just because she knew them. I never detected an off note in the whole 400 pages, never a word choice that tripped me up. There were a lot of characters, but she made it easy to keep clear on who was who. The necessary questions were answered with minimal fuss (where are Yale’s parents?) and the whole thing maintains an engaging plot, both within and across storylines. I trust her–she knows things.

One other thing about this book–she’s talked some in interviews about the choice to give over a decent part of the book to the experience of a straight white woman wrapped up in all this. Sure, one could criticize that–but I see it as a good use of the Shreve principle — after the Faulkner character, a northerner whose experience of Mississippi lets a reader   understand in a way he couldn’t if he had no guide whose experience is perhaps more familiar. It takes real talent for a writer to capture both the inside and semi-outside perspectives of a culture at the same time, in the same book.

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