Walker, Philip Dean. “At Danceteria and Other Stories”, Squares & Rebels, 2016.
A Debut Collection of Seven Short Stories
I am always amazed by authors who can say a lot in a short period of time even though, I must admit, that I prefer long fiction to short stories but that is something personal with me. Against the background of the devastating AIDS epidemic, Philip Dean Walker gives us seven short stories in just 91 pages. We get a mix here that is diverse and that highlights the literary talent of the author. Celebrities are a major part of six of the stories and we meet them after they have died and are returned to life in new and unique settings. Just to give you an idea of what to expect, we meet Halston, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, Freddie Mercury, Sylvester, Keith Haring, Princess Diana, Rock Hudson and Jackie O and we do so at the most unlikely placers be it a leather bar or a drag show. Walker writes with camp but does not overdue it and the stories are all plausible and relatable (if we use our imaginations). While this collection could have been quite frivolous, Walker chose the AIDS epidemic as a background and we find the link between the story and the devastation of AIDS.
One of the stories, “The Boy Who Lived Next to the Boy Next Door” captures the confusion and panic that we all felt with the AIDS epidemic began. Our unnamed main character decides to refer to the epidemic as “Hot Guy Flu” and that is because those dying were all good-looking and sexy men. The result is that the average-looking guys moved up the ranks of desirability because they were not hot enough to become infected. You can imagine where that leads.
Because the book is short, it becomes a quick read and one that can be read over and over again and there is always something new to find.
Walker writes with a quick wit and irreverence and that makes me love him even more. Our past was beautiful one hand and terrifying on the other. It has taken us quite a long time to be able to laugh about AIDS and I am not sure that I am even ready to do so I tended to push the wit and humor aside and see the threat to our community. We did not yet use the word “queer” to describe ourselves and while some fulfilled the stereotype of the erotic and sex-crazy gay male, others certainly came nowhere close to doing so. What we really see in these stories about America in the 80s is that we did not know that we could be killed by just that—what we did not know. There is a sense of loneliness in the stories making us want to reach out to the characters and make them our own. Walker takes us on a journey that never disappoints and is important for us to read so that we can better understand ourselves. It is necessary to know our past if we want to have a better future and we must never forget that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Our behavior might be different than what us but we can remember or read about how it once was even when exaggerated here.