That’s What Friends Are For
by Kenneth Sean Campbell
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
LGBTQ people have families, of course. But for us, the families we create from among our friends are just as important as those from which we are issued. At no time was this truer than during the days of the early AIDS pandemic. People with AIDS were not only often rejected by their biological families, for both the disease and their orientation, they were rejected by much of the public and by a heartless administration. Faced with this rejection, this neglect, we banded together to take care of our own. In Kenneth Sean Campbell’s That’s What Friends Are For, a group of four friends—Jordan, Rush, Hugo, and Bliss—love and fight through what is undoubtedly the most seminal and challenging period of gay history.
In his foreword, Campbell writes about how personal this novel is to him, its events drawn from history and its characters, from his own life. The foundation of the book, and the device by which these four men come together is Alcoholics Anonymous. In the early eighties, his characters, in a seeming reaction to the excesses of gay life of the seventies, land on AA’s safe shores for help and comfort with their addictions. Campbell drives the plot of this novel and binds its narrative with AA. How the four friends cope with the challenges that lie ahead is very much rooted in the organization’s fellowship. This fills out the narrative beautifully and really is the glue that holds their story together because, for all four, there are rougher times yet to come. Each of the men takes the name within their group of one of the fictional characters of the eighties hit, The Golden Girls, and it was touching to remember what a cultural touchstone that series was for gay men during those often bleak years. This is a novel that can be called dramatic and sentimental, but this was a dramatic time and the novel’s sentiment is beautiful. That’s What Friends Are For is a poignant story set in one of the epicenters of the AIDS crisis, the beautiful city of San Francisco. It is a fitting memorial for so many who were gone far too soon.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he writes reviews for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.