Body Counts: An Important Memoir

By |2014-04-20T09:00:00-04:00April 20th, 2014|Michigan, News|

In the opening pages of Sean Strub’s Body Counts: A Memoir of Politics, Sex, AIDS and Survival, he thrusts the readers into the crucible of the controversial 1989 ACT UP protest at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Strub paints a picture that is historically accurate, and searing in its emotional honesty. It defines this fine book, where the personal is political and the political is personal.
The AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s is, for many, a memory – for more, an historical moment gone and of no concern. But Strub’s book brings this history back to us, in both the emotional and raw realities of the horrors that were those years, and at the same time captures the rallying of a community to fight for its own. It marks the very powerful, slightly hidden story of how a community was forged in the fires of adversity. At the end of the day, Strub reminds the readers that the AIDS epidemic was both a uniquely, powerfully personal and communal experience. A crisis writ large with the singular stories of thousands, told in the din of the crowd. He makes the history the personal and the personal history.
But lest anyone think this book is exclusively about the AIDS epidemic, this book is about so much more. Through his simple and elegant prose, Strub delivers us to a time before AIDS. A time before marriage equality. A time before the LGBT community was more than a whispered upon secret. He takes the reader on his own journey from the Iowa boy obsessed with politics, to an out gay man. His travels take the reader to the secret bars of the 70s queer culture in Washington DC, to the drug fueled den of Studio 54. Along the way, he introduces the reader to a colorful cast of people, and shows how life can accidentally place a person at the nexus of history.
While Strub is quite talented in unpacking much of the emotional constructions of his life, he falls short in only one area, but even then creates a human story worthy of inclusion. His reflections on the sexual abuse he endured at a Catholic boarding school is much more fragmented and much less anchored in the emotional reality of life. As a result, they have a dream like quality which ultimately serves to support the memories he shares, while at the same time anchoring the remembrances to his fog clouded battle with karposi sarcoma.
Strub’s book lays bare his emotions and connects them in time and place. It is a key document for the history of AIDS that until now, had yet to be written. It is also a key story in the history of the LGBT community which remains murky. His book is a story that simply, powerfully and elegantly shows us the power of queer lives, queer loves and queer losses in making a life.

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