Tim and Pete - James Rober Baker
With a book guaranteed to offend almost everyone at some point, you just know youíre onto a winner. I started off reading one book and found myself reading another, as the events plunge you into a chaotic world where you will come to question the fundamental definitions of right and wrong.
Tim, a pleasant guy in his middle to late thirties is grieving badly over the break up with his lover, Pete. Stranded one day near to Peteís home, no money and few clothes (and thatís another story entirely), Tim has no option but to look Pete up and ask for assistance. All well and good. Pete agrees (reluctantly) to help, and they set off to drive Tim home, via a few stops that Pete has to make. They donít stop until the end of the book as from that point on itís an insane road trip through the very heart of modern, AIDS-infected America. Tim and Pete share a bizarre sense of humour; their references range far and wide, and you have to be quick to keep up with them. They weave images out of the air, bonding with words more effectively than with their bodies, which have become untrustworthyóalthough both negative, they associate sex with death, and find it hard to recapture the innocence of their sexual youth.
Trying to help a fellow AA member who is lapsing, Pete takes Tim into the heart of darkness that exists behind the stereotypical gay lifestyle.
Rage is at the heart of this novel: rage for the dying, rage for the dead, rage for those who will die because not enough funding is being put into AIDS research. The humour becomes progressively darker until you find yourself reading something that isnít at all funny, but youíre still chuckling and casting guilty looks around you to see if the PC mafia are watching.
When youíre reading about someone contemplating flying an aircraft into a building crowded with people, youíre almost past the point where you can step aside and think: This is unconscionable. Youíre so angry, that you almost want to be flying that plane, too.
I think this novel works as a love story because of some of the wonderful scenes early on with Tim and Pete as they met again after such a bitter break up and are forced to spend this time together. Wonderful dialogue captures their pain very poignantly. It also works as a polemic on AIDS and the rightwing in America. Whether it does both of these as well as it could given the juxtaposition of two such different themes, Iím not so sure. As I said, it starts off as one story and becomes something quite different. Itís almost as if the author wrote the first half, put it to one side, got very angry and then wrote the second half.† As the author actually killed himself a little while after the novel came out, thereís some basis for such an interpretation. Or, and I rather like this theory, the whole novel is an allegory for AIDS: you think youíre living your life, being a good person, having fights with lovers, making up, travelling down lifeís road; then you get hit by AIDS and nothing, nothing, will ever be the same again. You have no control. Youíre plunged into the horror. Everything you took for granted gets swept away by this one unchangeable fact: youíre going to die and youíre going to die horribly.
If you read the novel in that light then to be honest, this is a work of genius.
A weird, chaotic, shocking, erotic novel that will be rather like eating marmite: itíll either make you gag and stop, or youíll munch on, eyes wide, slavering for more!†
Highly recommended, but not for the faint-hearted or the easily offended.
This one left me gob-smacked.† I loved it, so Iím going to highly recommend the novel, but itís arguably the most controversial book weíve read.† You might be offended by content thatís close to the edge.† Falls right over in the final pages.† Not because of sexually explicit material.† This one is overtly political.† Fuelled by rage.† And it hits hard.† Particularly in our present mood of paranoia about anything to do with terrorism and advocacy of violence as a means to an end.†
It could be seen as subversive, even dangerous.†† Provocative and incendiary, it launches a broadside against the right wing moral majority.† Yes, itís raunchy, satirical, comical and crazy, frequently laugh-out-loud hilarious; but itís blacker-than-black humour.† Songs called ďDate Night at DachauĒ and ďJesus Had a Hard-on (on the cross)Ē.† A proposed HIV humour-zine, ďDiseased Pariah NewsĒ. †ďDeath-camp LandĒ.†† See?† Not kidding.
The heart of the story is lost love.† Tim, a boyish 38, hasnít got over breaking up with Pete, 33 year old alcoholic musician, the year before.† Tim works in a film archive.† Pete is a garage mechanic.† Totally different, they were truly-madly-deeply in love.† They just couldnít live together.†† The book is set over Memorial Day weekend 1993.† When a grabby date wonít take no for an answer, Tim lands stranded without money, wearing shorts, sandals and sunglasses, in Laguna Beach, which just happens to be where Pete lives.† He calls round looking for help to get back home, really to get back together.† What follows begins as zany road movie with a cast of bizarre characters, as Tim & Pete bicker their way to Santa Monica, like Bonnie & Clyde, Thelma & Louise, Butch & Sundance.
Through anecdotal flashback the odyssey spans 70s gay lib through 80s/90s decimation by AIDS, as effective as genocide.† The era of excess epitomised by a sleazy former bath house used for hard anonymous sex where old desire oozes from walls & floors, boardwalk blow jobs that splatter car doors, casual encounters and a confusion of relationships.† Wistful recollections of pre-AIDS sexual abandon, gay men feeling good about themselves for the first time with the end of repression, indulging in a prolonged orgy that left many dead or dying.
The book starts to spark when Tim & Pete become entangled with a group of HIV positive anarchists whoíre mad and ainít gonna take it any more.† Eerily prescient pre 9/11, the novel describes what happens when frustration and hopelessness turn angry and deadly.† Men whoíve nothing left to lose strike a blow for their cause, attacking rightwing homophobia head on.† Peteís song about how America needs a Baader-Meinhof gang taken literally.
The reach of the novelís themes in our troubled and scared contemporary world makes the book apposite yet all the more difficult to deal with morally and ethically.† One character even fantasises about flying a plane into a church.† The anarchists target a service to be attended by Ronald & Nancy Reagan.† The plan is assassination, a mirror image to gay martyrdom in other books.† How can we sympathise with violent action- against those who hate gay men so much thereís a theory that hatred turned into a virus to rid the world of perceived perversion- when that sympathy condones terrorism that kills innocents?† Obviously we canít, but it made me understand how itís possible to accept the unthinkable if the cause is justifiable.† As the book says, AIDS kills the wrong people.† Maybe those men werenít exactly innocent given their lifestyle, but neither are hate-mongers and gay bashers.† Disturbingly, in light of the recent US presidential election,† those scary people have even more power today.
This, however, is fiction. Fantasy not anarchistís blueprint.† A what-if scenario about desperados crossing a line and refusing to play the good, passive victim any longer.† Yet I defy anyone to read it without feeling stirred to action against the moralist tide that increasingly threatens freedoms we take for granted.†† People who righteously believe AIDS was sent to rid the world of gay men, that the only good queer is a dead one.† America is a violent society.† People donít bat an eyelid at possession of firearms for self-defence, even routinely sleeping with guns under the pillow.† Yet man-to-man love is a threat to civilisation.
It is a powerful novel, unlike anything else Iíve read.† As a story of gay life and love in a time of death itís realistic and very moving.† Itís also very erotic, largely because Tim & Pete donít have present-day sex, so weíre left, like them, aching for release.† The writer has the courage of his convictions, giving us an ending that shocks and surprises, yet when you think about it is perfect under the circumstances, for a book thatís a clarion call to shake us from complacency.† Now even more than the retrospectively optimistic time of original publication when Clinton was in the White House. Soon we might not be allowed to read books like this, if the moral majority has its way.† And weíre NEVER going to see a film.† Gay sex and terrorism?†† Not gonna pack Ďem in at the Muliplexes.
Iíve gone on about politics and activism, but the story is about Tim & Pete not AIDS or anarchism.† Seriousness is sweetened with humour and delight.† The message that a committed loving relationship with joy and warmth is better than compulsive, lonely, casual sex shouts loud as any political agenda.† I got a kick from detailed description of† Southern California gay lifestyle and culture.
†Itís a timely read.† Itíll make you sit up.† Itíll make you think.† It should make you very uncomfortable.† But you wonít forget Tim & Pete.†††
Published by: Penguin Books Ltd IBSN: 0140234934
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