The Rest of It: Review

The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression and Then Some, 1976–1988
by Martin Duberman
Duke University Press

Reviewed by Hank Trout

Martin Duberman [A&U, March 2014], a genuine giant among LGBTQ academics and theorists, has written more than two dozen books, including biographies, memoirs, and novels, as well as editing several anthologies of his own and others’ essays on queer identity and history. His 1993 Stonewall remains, for this reader, the definitive account of the riots that sparked a revolution. His contributions to LGBTQ culture and history are manifold.

His latest book, The Rest of It, a memoir of the years 1976 to 1988, confirms Duberman’s status as one of our most brilliant and essential memoirists. This is clearly a skilled, dedicated historian’s memoir, as it minutely details the writer’s personal life while also grounding us in the political and social turmoil of the time. Unscathingly forthright about his own foibles and short-comings, as well as others’, the memoir recounts the twelve years after the death of Duberman’s much-revered mother, years that saw him tumble into unrelenting depression, drug abuse, and a wretched destructive relationship, followed by compulsive drug-fueled debauchery with hustlers, a near-fatal massive heart attack, rehab, and finally, grateful recovery.

The specter of AIDS haunts the entire second half of the memoir—and fuels many of the actions Duberman took in the 1980s. Chapter 12, “The Onset of AIDS,” constitutes a concise summary of the early responses, both nationally and in Duberman’s beloved New York City, to the pandemic. He examines the roots of early AIDS denial and the revoltingly ignorant attitudes of conservative politicians and medical personnel; the direct in-your-face actions of ACT UP; the internecine battles that bedeviled the Gay Men’s Health Crisis; and the tale-as-old-as-time flare-ups between the don’t-rock-the-boat approach of organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Fund, and the more radical tear-down-the-walls approach of groups like ACT UP—that long-standing clash between “assimilationists” and those who wanted to tear down institutions and rebuild from the ground up. He laments “[t]he nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing enough to help combat the AIDS crisis” in those very early years, consumed as he was with researching his biography of Paul Robeson, but as more and more men close to him became sick, “it became obvious where to direct more of my energy.”

As much as any other LGBTQ writer I am familiar with, Duberman personifies the adage that “the personal is political”; his writing brings both to vivid life. Like the rest of his books (I cannot recommend Stonewall too highly!), The Rest of It will engage and enrich readers with its brutally honest examination of one man’s life lived fully. It deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Hank Trout writes the For the Long Run column for A&U.