In the early 1980s, Andrew Holleran wrote a column called New York Notebook for the magazine Christopher Street. His subject, at first, was gay New York. By 1982, when the AIDS crisis hit the city, that became his subject—the disease, the fear, the sudden deflation and dissipation of an entire community.
Holleran’s columns were collected, in 1988, into Ground Zero, one of the early literary accounts of the impact of AIDS. Newly revised and expanded into Chronicle of a Plague, Revisited, the book is still a harrowing report from the trenches. Its overriding mood is one of frustration, impotence, and guilt. Holleran profiles friends as they fade away, ruminates on the collapse of the bath houses, bars, and discos that were the focal point of post-Stonewall New York, and considers the politics of being gay in the age of AIDS. He remembers the city after he’s moved to Florida and settled into a quiet, suburban, responsible adulthood.
Chronicle doesn’t offer any answers. In fact, its main theme is simply a poetic declaration of the dichotomies that define American gay culture—love and sex, intimacy and anonymity, domesticity and adventure, openness and fear. It’s hard to imagine Holleran’s luminescent prose as a regular monthly column; his descriptions of both the good times (“Atlantic City in 1970 was wonderfully seedy, in a physical, not moral, sense: crumbling, faded, forgotten; a ramshackle, salt-misted facade of huge hotels with grandiloquent European names... overlooking a brown beach and even browner surf.”) and the bad (“It still seems a reproach that a virus can return us from the 20th century to the Stone Age. Yet that is the revolution this thing has effected; that is the toppling that has occurred—the world turned upside down.”) are lyrical and poignant, and all marked by pain.