Feinberg, David R. “Eighty-sixed”. Grove Press, 2002.
A Moving Yet Funny Book
“Eighty-sixed” by David Feinberg takes a look at the changes in gay lifestyle which were brought about because of the AIDS epidemic. It takes place between 1980 and 1986 at the height of the catastrophe and reads like a daily log of what went on. Feinberg looks at pre-AIDS 1980 and then post-AIDS 1986 and shows us what happened to our lives. Our main character, B.J. Rosenthal has one concern—finding the right boyfriend and he looks by going from one man to another until 1986 when he realizes that his friends are dying and that there is great anxiety over AIDS. Unlike other novels of the “plague” this one has a great deal of humor which Feinberg mixes with pathos and what comes across is a very honest novel with references to pop-culture.
Rosenthal is a wonderful character who suffers from Jewish guilt and tries very hard to avoid both haircuts and bad sex. When he realizes that his world has changed and that his friends and lovers are getting sick and dying, he begins to panic. This is a painful story of realization at a terrible time and is entertaining and frightening at the same time. It is frank and has a sarcastic wit and little sentimentality or self-pity.
B.J. tells us of his tricks, his visits to bath houses and his partying in discos and as he engaged in sexual liaisons, I found myself worrying about him and when he describes his world in 1986, it is hard to hold back the tears. It is a moving portrait of those early, terror-filled days of AIDS. AIDS invaded the lives of all of us, gay and straight, and B.J. with his sarcastic and caustic wit manages to keep his sanity as people die all around him but he feels that life will go on. With each laugh there is a spark of something inside all of us that we manage to get in touch with—a kind of joy that is merged with pain—remembering the good times about those we loved and lost to the plague. Even if you have not lost someone to the disease, you feel the pain for the characters in this book. In effect, in reading “Eighty-sixed”, the reader confronts his own experience with HIV if whatever way it affected him.
Feinberg gives us a capsular look at a time that was and we hope will never be again. He is master at writing down the fear and the angst of the period. He gets the stereotypes down pat and he paints a portrait of gay life which is not always flattering but honest. He names places that no longer exist and writes about men that are gone. It is a book we should all read and remember.