Running in Bed
by Jeffrey Sharlach
Two Harbors Press
Reviewed by Chuck Willman
Running in Bed—in a nutshell—is the tale of a nice Jewish boy moving to the big city (New York) in the 1970s to find freedom, excitement, himself, and love; finds all; and gets swept into the ravaging storm of AIDS via friends and lovers in a time when no one knew what was going on, or what to do about it. That’s the short version. But the story is much more complex than that. It is written as a first-person account of events that change a young man’s life forever.
Josh Silver, the main character, is brought up in Scarsdale, New York, dreaming of The Big Apple and all the possibilities it possesses. He moves, finds an apartment (back in the mid-seventies when you didn’t have to be a millionaire or work four jobs to pay the rent), and begins working for an advertising agency in a setting similar to Mad Men. (Everyone, except Josh, smokes, and the author makes it very clear throughout the book that cigarettes are bad, but pot is good. It almost seems like a running joke, but it was the seventies.)
Eventually Josh makes friends, and even vacations on Fire Island—the gay “playground” of the day—where he does find the love of his life, though the match isn’t exactly made in heaven. (And going into it further here would spoil much of the plot.)
The book, for me, had a tendency to drag a little in the first few short chapters until I realized the author was providing a peppering of important history lessons about gay life of the “free” days of the mid- to late seventies and early eighties. As someone who is now just over fifty and has been living with AIDS for nearly twenty-four years, remembering that period and my own experiences were both a pleasant and terrifying trip down memory lane. For anyone born after that time, the book is a valuable, vital chronicle of what being gay used to be like, with references to many of the pioneers and events of the Gay Rights Movement. I was personally grateful to the author for adding this information that often goes unmentioned and unacknowledged.
There are many books available which tell similar stories. But Mr. Sharlach effectively managed to create realistic characters in believable settings and clear language that never turned into fake characterizations. The book still contains everything that is human—love, lust (though never explicitly written), friendship, shame, betrayal, fear, anger, forgiveness, and loss—without reading like a soap opera.
I don’t think there can ever be enough written about this horrid disease which nearly wiped out an entire generation, and continues to rear its ugly, insidious head still. Running in Bed is a poignant coming-of-age story well worth reading.
Chuck Willman has had poems published in Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry, Nurturing Paws, Art & Understanding: 20th Anniversary Anthology, and Christopher Street magazine. Erotica has been published in the anthology Cruising, forthcoming in Big Man on Campus, and published in FirstHand, Manscape, and Guys magazines (under the pseudonym Ethan Cox). Chuck lives with his partner of twenty-three years in the Las Vegas area. Contact him at [email protected]