still dancing

Jameson Currier
Publisher: Lethe Press (December 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1590210484
ISBN-13: 978-1590210482

One of life’s pleasures, as any book lover can testify, is falling in love with a new author. Or, rather, the work of an author new to you. I recently discovered Jameson Currier and am head over heels in love with his writing. I have so far read only one book of his, Still Dancing, but have two others, Where the Rainbow Ends and Haunted Heart, waiting their turn. (I have so many good books waiting their turn I wish I were twins.)

There are twenty stories here, written over a time span of about 30 years. Not just any 30 years, but the three decades beginning with the mysterious and agonizing deaths of gay men in the mid-80’s to the present. Yes, these are AIDS stories. And yes, AIDS stories aren’t particularly popular now with either readers or writers. I suppose that’s because the average person thinks of AIDS as something in the past or something that is better ignored. Or perhaps in tough times maybe people just want escapism. I don’t know. But what I do know is that no one with a heart could read this collection and come away unmoved.

Jameson Currier is a master at the difficult art form of short fiction. Within the space of a few hundred or a few thousand words he can take out your heart and break it. I do not suggest that these are maudlin, pity-poor-us stories. Not at all. If they tell of death and dying, they tell equally of family, friends, lovers past and present, dead and living. The stories are gritty and honest, as real as IV tubes and funerals. Some also have a subtle meaning that doesn’t hit the reader until later. Currier’s stories don’t whitewash the physical ugliness of AIDS, or the pain, the fear, or the grief. Nor does he elevate the friends and caregivers to the status of saints who are never angry or impatient or resentful. The stories are elegant in their simplicity, and sublimely humane.

As I read the stories my favorites kept changing. “Still Dancing” was my favorite. No, “Ghosts” was my favorite. “Everybody is Always Somebody Else” was my favorite. Impossible choices. But I know I have to pick just a couple to draw attention to, so I chose “What They Carried” and “Winter Coats.”

“What They Carried” is deceptive. In less skilled hands it could have been a dreary laundry list of things taken to comfort a dying man: flowers, pajamas, books, etc. But because even the most mundane object carried to the fragile, beloved, and sometimes cantankerous Adam, are symbols not only of caring but also of helplessness, the story is unforgettable. The people in the story are not only carrying tokens of love to someone they are about to lose, but some of them wonder if they carry within their own bodies the deadly virus that will soon make of them objects of caring rather than givers. And some of them know.

“Winter Coats” is nothing short of charming, and that’s because Dennis, friend of the narrator, is charming. Dennis is handsome, talented, a dancer and actor, graceful, humorous, kind, and the embodiment of Je ne sais quoi. Shortly after burying his lover, for whom he was the devoted caregiver, Dennis, too, is losing his life to the virus. The narrator is Dennis’ friend of many years, and he is as much bemused by Dennis as anything else. At the end of the story, as if flipping the bird to frailty and his own mortality, Dennis can still spin a graceful, perfect double pirouette on a cold New York City street.

Jameson Currier is, simply, a remarkable writer who deserves to be read.