(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Most of Adam Mars-Jones’s short stories deal with AIDS. The most striking feature about these stories is his humorous treatment of this tragic subject. In this respect he resembles the older American writer Edmund White, with whom he published an anthology of their stories about AIDS titled The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis. It is most helpful to read some of White’s stories in order to appreciate the courage implicit in the lighthearted, campy tone both employ in telling about death and suffering.

One critic called Mars-Jones’s fiction “discursive,” another way of saying that he rambles, digresses, and never seems to be aiming at any particular point. The point, then, of a Mars-Jones story is often contained more in his tone and in what he decides not to say. The sensitive reader will recognize that his narrators deliberately avoid the painful truth and instead talk about everything else under the sun, as people sometimes do when distracted by grief. It is as if they are desperately searching for other things to talk about, including memories of brighter days, in order to avoid facing the horror haunting their lives. The Times Literary Supplement reviewer Peter Parker wrote of Monopolies of Loss: “Without in any way mitigating the catastrophe of AIDS, these grim, funny, touching, eloquent and brave stories demonstrate that it is possible to salvage something of lasting value from the wreckage.”

Although Mars-Jones and White write about similar subjects, it should be noted that the characters in Mars-Jones’s stories belong to a lower social class. His characters are forced to earn a living at semiskilled jobs and often lead rather precarious existences, whereas White’s characters belong to an international gay society and are cultured, educated, and sophisticated.

The most comprehensive collection of Mars-Jones’s short stories is Monopolies of Loss. This volume contains nine stories, including the four published in The Darker Proof: Stories from a Crisis. Monopolies of Loss also contains an illuminating introduction, in which Mars-Jones explains his purpose and rationale in writing about AIDS. He realized that the scourge killing his friends had ironically provided him with timely, internationally significant subject matter. “Aids is a theme that won’t let go of me,” he wrote, “or else I won’t let go of it. It isn’t really a question of social responsibility. How often does a writer not have to go looking for a subject, but more or less have to barricade his door against it?”


“Slim” is one of several stories written in the first person by a fictitious narrator, an approach with which Mars-Jones became comfortable. (His novel The Waters of Thirst is an unbroken monologue by an adopted persona.) This narrative device was popularized by the Victorian poet Robert Browning, well known for such dramatic monologues as “My Last Duchess,” the device being very popular with contemporary fiction writers. “Slim” is a euphemism for “AIDS,” a word Mars-Jones, like Edmund...

(The entire section is 1297 words.)