Borrowed Time Analysis
Paul Monette focuses on the battle that he and Roger Horwitz fought to help Roger stay alive after he was diagnosed with AIDS. Although in some ways, the fight ended with Roger’s death in 1986 less than two years after he was diagnosed, it continues through this work. Monette takes the reader on a harrowing journey through the ignorance, prejudice, and reluctance that accompanied or precluded adequate treatment of the disease in the years after it first became known. He is up front about the issues of wealth that exacerbated the injustices that gay people faced. Among the related issues he discusses are the narrow availability of crucial medications in the United States and the slow pace of research and federal approval of medications, which led those who could afford it to seek treatment overseas or obtain unsanctioned drugs. At the same time, the well-to-do often lacked or were rejected for insurance and had to abandon lucrative jobs because of the quick acceleration into incapacity; AIDS, in that way, became not just a plague but a leveling mechanism.
While in most respects this is a memoir of a personal journey that Monette took with his partner, it is also a history of an era in US medical history. Monette does not pull his punches in assigning homophobia and racism as two primary reasons for what he lambasts as unpardonable foot-dragging. Because AIDS and other HIV/immune system illnesses at first seemed to be affecting only gay men, he points out, authorities were slow to identify it as a general public health crisis. By extension, as the effects on intravenous drug users were noticed, that aspect also did not speedily affect medical attitudes because of stereotypes about the race and class of users. Monette also explores the cruel irony that the early predominance of the disease generated within LGBT communities, as blame spread along with the disease itself.
Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir is one of the first books of its kind about the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) virus: a personal narrative that puts the disease in the context of everyday life. Such an account, while fully acknowledging the suffering and anger and loss of AIDS victims and their loved ones, helps to demystify the disease. Indeed, because of the dearth of information about AIDS and the urgent need for a forum to disseminate that information, Borrowed Time contains a relatively full discussion of statistics, drug information, symptomatology, doctors, and clinics. In this sense, as a book crammed with vital information about AIDS, Borrowed Time belongs in a category with several other groundbreaking AIDS-related texts, such as Randy Shilts’s And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987), Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (1985), William M. Hoffman’s As Is (1985), Emmanuel Dreuilhe’s Mortal Embrace: Living with AIDS (1988), and George Whitmore’s Someone Was Here (1988). Borrowed Time must be understood within the context of art from what Dreuilhe would call the front line.
Borrowed Time, like many early AIDS-related texts, has its moments of stridency and bitterness. It contains shocking evidence of the flagrant homophobia that has surrounded every aspect of responses to the disease—from the terrifying lack of government funding of research for the disease and care for the ill to the internalization of hatred of homosexuals by gay men themselves. As well, it records Monette and Roger Horwitz’s day-by-day battle with the virus, through pneumonia, near blindness, blindness, diarrhea, fevers, sweats, weakness, and moments of mental disorientation. It describes the battle for new drugs such as suramin and azidothymidine (AZT), a battle which involves drug smuggling from Mexico as well as ingenuity, connections, sheer willpower, and massive amounts of money. Untested, unapproved, and unfinished as they are, some drugs do more damage than good. Others, however, buy for Roger precious borrowed time.
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(The entire section is 2,178 words.)