Halfway Home Essay - Critical Essays

Halfway Home

In his earlier writing on the AIDS crisis—BORROWED TIME: AN AIDS MEMOIR, the deeply affecting account of his lover’s death, and LOVE ALONE, the scalding set of elegiac poems memorializing that loss—Monette records the angry pain of dying from AIDS. In HALFWAY HOME he shifts his focus to the possibilities of living with AIDS.

Tom Shaheen is a former performance artists, infamous for his unbuttoned presentation of Miss Jesus, the Drag Messiah, a manic vehicle for scandalizing fundamentalist homophobes and exorcising the demons of his abusive Catholic childhood. Stricken with AIDS, he retires to an isolated beach house above Malibu to reflect on his failed romances, dead friends, and dysfunctional family. Together with the gently and unobtrusive Gray (whose peppery and wisely eccentric ninety-one-year-old Aunt Foo owns the beach house) and Mona, an anarchic lesbian theater manager, Tom figures to live out his remaining days descanting bitterly on the past. But that self-absorbed plan is radically altered by the sudden appearance of his hated older brother Brian, and by Brian’s icy wife Susan and bright but vulnerable son Daniel. The forced encounter with Brian, a verbally dismissive and physically abusive bully who embodied the ideal of swaggering self-confident masculinity that Tom both loathed and longed to achieve, begins as a nightmare journey through their old animosities. Yet when it becomes clear that Brian’s life is not the unbroken string of successes Tom had always imagined but rather a chaos of FBI investigations and mob threats, emotional betrayal and paralyzing family problems, Tom is cast in a new role as his brother’s helper. Pulled reluctantly back into the messy web of human relations, Tom not only helps Brian but also helps herself. He escapes from the hell of the past and discovers, to his amazement, the capacity to love—his brother, his nephew (who seems a younger version of himself), and Gray, the reticent, balding, fifty-year-old who offers Tom an initially unlikely but ultimately great and steadying love. Embracing a lover, a brother, and a wildly unconventional but bona fide family, Tom finds himself able to face, with passionate intensity, the terrifying reality of living moment by moment with AIDS.