cover image The American People, Vol. 2: The Brutality of Fact

The American People, Vol. 2: The Brutality of Fact

Larry Kramer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (896p) ISBN 978-0-374-10413-9

Kramer’s sprawling, intermittently brilliant conclusion of his massive two-volume alternate history (after Search for My Heart) imagines battles within the government over drug testing that leads to an AIDS-like epidemic. From the 1950s through a satirical, nightmarish version of the 1980s ruled by Ronald Reagan stand-in President Ruester, Kramer’s characters work inside and outside the system. Strivinv to stop the spread of a deadly virus known as UC, secretly launched by the government to exterminate gay people in the U.S., are G-man David Jerusalem, who starts as an operative in “Hoover’s Homosexual Whorehouse,” a club run by Hoover to trap and blackmail homosexual spies; David’s brother, Daniel, a doctor who assassinates a Ruester appointee planning to oversee a massive quarantine; and screenwriter Fred Lemish, who collaborates with a young, gay protégé of Cary Grant before advocating for gay rights in the ’80s. In a style reminiscent of Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy, Kramer weaves news blurbs and references to real life celebrities with dozens of fictional characters, spinning rumors about the sexual preferences of such glitterati as Grant and Barbara Stanwyck into narrative threads that entangle with the rise of gay activism in response to government intransigence. This is a feast of relentless gibes and vitriol, shot through with savage humor and earnest passion. Kramer’s righteous rage makes for irresistible, provocative reading. (Jan.)