“The Unfinished” by Jay B. Laws— Looking Back

Laws, Jay B. “The Unfinished”, Alyson Books, 1993.

Looking Back

Amos Lassen

One day last week one of my Facebook friends sent me two names and asked me if I had ever heard of them. I had not asked if I should have to which the response was that the two were mystery writers that now dead, whose works have been somewhat lost to the general public and whose books are going out of print because of a lack of audience. He is considering trying to republish them and return them to our canon where they rightfully belong. He asked if I would have a look at one and I immediately agree because I am a firm believer that we stand on the shoulders that come before us, especially in literature. I sat down to spend some time with Jay B. Laws and “The Unfinished” and I was blown away.

Perhaps I should say outright that I am really not much of a mystery reader and usually the only mysteries that I read are those that are sent to me for review. Therefore I was a bit unsure as to how I would react to this book and that I was pulled in by the second sentence says a great deal.

It all begins when Jiggs, a deaf gay man rents a house that is host to “the unfinished”; spirits who are unable to rest and he must release three of them in order to  brings Jake, his friend, out of a coma that they are responsible for putting him in. So some of you are wondering why I called this a mystery when it really sounds more like science fiction. So I am not sure that I even want to attempt to answer that since the two genres fit so nicely together. In reading the book, the question should answer itself. I thought that the use of horror was very effective in showing the fear of life and death with AIDS.

With Jiggs at the center, we learn that not only is he hard of hearing but he is having a very difficult time dealing with the recent death of his parents and he decides to move into a long-vacant San Francisco apartment. He experiences several supernatural occurrences and learns that the apartment is haunted by the Unfinished who are spirits whose lives ended prematurely through either tragedy, violence or betrayal.  At first the spirits and Jiggs do not get along but they eventually become partners in helping each other deal with tragedy.  This we see through the visitations by three Dickensian ghosts with each giving an account of his death. One story is about a man dying from AIDS  who faces his own vanity when he realizes the terrible price of his wish to recapture his looks. Another story is about a car mechanic’s soul that is forced to think about what led to his murder.

I learned that Jay Laws wrote this as he, himself, was dying from AIDS and was looking for some way to find closure in his life before he found the ultimate closure in death.  He shows us what being gay during the epidemic that robbed us of so many (including Laws) was and when each day we faced might be our last. There is great heroism in that.  Laws writes with devastating beauty even though his story is not beautiful and his last days were certainly not beautiful. Yet there is something here in his work that must be preserved as part of our literary heritage.

It takes a special art to link together four stories which only share death in common and to do so with humor, fear and surprise is very special. Here is a book from our past that still cries out to be read.

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