The Short Review: Beautiful and necessary. If you liked A Little Life or The House of Impossible Beauties, you might like this.
The Long Review: I'm always weary of books dealing with the AIDS crisis. I read a popular book this year (I won't name, only for spoilers sake) where one of the main characters dies of AIDS, and was so disappointed with the way it handled the story-line (as well as the LGBT characters) that I gave it 2 stars. There's a part of me that gets tired when straight writers decide to write about the tragedies of the LGBT community because they don't always get it right, and worse than that, they perpetuate stereotypes. Luckily, after reading The Great Believers, I can say my apprehension was unwarranted. Rebecca Makkai has written such a beautiful, honest novel, and each moment feels authentic to an experience we don't hear enough about.
There's two timelines in this book; 1985 and 2015. The 1985 story follows Yale and his friends as they navigate their way through tragedy and the gay scene in Chicago. The 2015 story follows Fiona (one of Yale's friends) as she flies to Paris to find her daughter. Sometimes, with two competing narratives, I find one I'm more interested in and end up skimming through the other, less compelling section. With The Great Believers, this never happened to me. I found them equally compelling and so necessary to understanding the story as a whole. Fiona is dealing with life following the aftermath of losing most of her closest friends. Yale is living it. Seeing the way grief weaves in and out of their lives is so fascinating and important to understanding the overall journey.
The research for this book was so well done, not just as far as the experiences of the characters, but the timeline too. A friend of mine, Renee (@What_Renee_Reads on instagram) even mentioned guffawing over the mention of Columbia House, which is a detail so minor that the casual reader might not even pick up on it. That's a great sign when an author is sprinkling details that aren't obvious but feel totally integrated into the story. It makes it special for the eagle eyed reader who loves little gems like that.
The writing is lovely and never feels overwritten. I also haven't read a book in a long time that I was happy to read at a leisurely pace. It took me two weeks to read this 420 page book (I'd normally have finished in two or three days) but it was so lovely, I just couldn't rush. I feel like that's a testament to it's greatness. Great writing, pacing, characters...I could go on forever about how much I loved this book. I even gave it 5 'Sparkly' stars on instagram, and I rarely do that. So, if you haven't read this book, please do. If you have, keep scrolling so I can mention the few parts I enjoyed but didn't want to mention because of spoilers :)
On page 219, there's a moment where Fiona is talking about her daughter forgiving this man over her. You guys know what I'm talking about. But anyway, she basically says, maybe it was easier for my daughter to forgive an ex-lover than it was to forgive me. Well, let me just say from watching my Mom and my Granny, that was so real. My mom has never forgiven my Granny over anything, and yet she will shrug her shoulders at things men do all the time. I guess it's just because you'd hope to never have to forgive a parent for anything, even though we're all human. I just found that so interesting and it resonated with me because of watching my own family dynamic.
I think I cried more after I finished than when I was reading it. It didn't really hit me until after just how powerful this book was. The ending, with that video at the gallery opening...It took my breath away. I just thought it was such a lovely way to end the book and it didn't feel too tidy and yet it felt perfect. I don't know, I just loved it so much.
Was anyone else surprised by Charlie? Like, OMG man what are you doing?! Finding out all of those secrets stressed me out. I grew up in a family where people committed infidelity and so it sometimes stresses me out. But literally all of my biggest fears were in this book. But also, I think I realized that these were strong people to handle everything they dealt with. When people in books handle tough times, it reminds me that I can, too.
Anyway, thanks for checking out my review and I hope that you guys have a great day!! Have any thoughts, leave them down below or come visit my instagram @shelfbyshelf . I'd love to discuss it with you!