Reviewed by Nancy Ellegate
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]cclaimed author Dale Peck looks back on his young adulthood in Visions and Revisions. Living in New York City in the late eighties/early nineties, he was indeed, as his subtitle indicates, “coming of age in the age of AIDS.” During these years, when people sickened and died in large numbers without effective treatments, Peck was attending graduate school, writing, coming out as a gay man, and volunteering for ACT UP. His book on this time is a series of riffs, memories, and observations, often in melancholy tones. The severity and urgency of what was then termed the “AIDS Crisis” dominates as Peck touches on personal relationships, his activism, his sex life, and events and culture of the era. Peck also notes seminal articles and commentary important to the time along with some of the theoretical academic work that emerged on the existential implications of HIV.
Peck is an illuminating commentator, but the work can be frustrating at times. It is broken into longish untitled sections; issues flicker and swirl throughout the work, coming up briefly, recurring later. It is refreshing to see a look back that is not a conventional memoir dependent on a narrative arc. But too often Peck provides too little background, context, or description for a real purchase on particular subjects. A bit more thought to readers, especially those unfamiliar with this period, would have been welcome. These concerns aside, Peck has provided an intimate sense of a life and consciousness formed during years of epidemic and activism. The work ends with Peck moving to a more literary mode, from fluid, informative prose to more artful prose and one poem in “Thirteen Ecstasies of the Soul.” Short pieces affectingly detail a relationship, an illness, a death, and going on after this death.
Nancy Ellegate is a sometime book reviewer for A&U.