Beyond the Mask: Spotlight

Beyond the Mask: The First Wave
by Ellen Matzer, RN, CCRN and Valery Hughes, FNP, RN
Fulton Books

The COVID-19 global pandemic is far from over, but in many parts of the United States life has more-or-less returned to normal, what it was like in the Before Times—before, that is, March 2020. In New York City, for example, some 80% of all residents have been fully vaccinated (although racial and geographic disparities persist). This should not make us forget the early, terrifying days of the pandemic. And if we remember the heroism of healthcare workers collectively, we are liable to forget that they are individuals as well.

Authors Valery Hughes, FNP, RN and Ellen Matzer, RN, CCRN. Together, they wrote Nurse on the Inside: Stories of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in NYC. Beyond the Mask is their latest.

In Beyond the Mask, two HIV/AIDS nurses, Ellen Matzer and Valery Hughes, have created a set of overlapping fictional narratives, set between January and May 2020, seen through the lives and experiences of six nurses and technicians. Maureen, Michael, Ethan, Sandy, Kyle,and Fran are a diverse set—in age and medical experience, certainly, but more importantly in their personal backgrounds and temperaments. What they have in common is the unprecedented suddenness of the pandemic’s assault—working within a creaky, unprepared, often callous healthcare system—while also facing their individual, personal challenges. Many COVID-19 novels have already appeared, by well-known writers. What Matzer and Hughes add to this burgeoning literature is their unique perspective as front-line workers and practicing nurses; they have created compelling fiction from the all-too-nonfictional tragedy they faced in the early months of the pandemic.
—Jay Vithalani


Jay Vithalani grew up in Mumbai, India. He studied English and philosophy at Amherst College and Harvard University, and has also done graduate work at the University of Iowa and Boston University. Vithalani is the co-author of a book of industrial history, Horizons: The Tata-India Century. He currently lives in New York City. Vithalani has been living with HIV since 2005. He is the Nonfiction Editor of A&U.