Lisicky, Paul, “Later: My Life at the Edge of the World”, Graywolf Press , 2020.
Community, Identity and Sexuality
I have been reading Paul Lisicky since before I began reviewing. I suppose what drew me to him is that he is a gay Jewish man of my generation and some of his life experiences mirrored my own and that he was one of the few who dared to write down and share them with us. In “Later”, we read of community, identity, and sexuality at a time in which we were all very vulnerable. Lisicky came to Provincetown as a young writer after leaving his own history of family trauma. He felt that not only did he want to live in a place that was known for its inclusion, acceptance and art but also because he wanted to move from the past to the present in surroundings where he would be accepted for who he is. It was the 1990s during the AIDS crisis when all of us wanted to feel accepted and that we belonged somewhere. On one hand our community was being devastated by the terrible disease and on the other hand we came together attempting to outlive the horrors that were happening to gay men. Provincetown was our Garden of Eden but then it was being consumed by the AIDS crisis causing the structure of town life to change and we could not all help but wonder if the town with such a large gay population would survive.
We were all afraid back then. I was lucky enough to be living out of the country at the height of the AIDS epidemic but I was constantly receiving news of who was gone and during one visit to my hometown of New Orleans, I realized that all of the gay men I had been friendly with before I left America were gone. “Later” reminded me of that visit and it is hard to think about Provincetown knowing that there were so many gay people living and dying there. We were all worried that our time was coming. We could no longer take life as a given and in order to stay alive, we were forced to be vigilant of and attentive to everything we did.
I love how Lisicky “explores the body, queerness, love, illness, community, and belonging in “Later’.” He brings us to tears and to smiles and we each learn something about who we are and that it is truly miraculous that we are alive and can look back. Candor and tenderness come together as we read of the writer finding his place. I am amazed that his beautiful words made me realize that I have also found my place. It is through Lisicky’s words that I looked at life in ways I had forgotten and reminded me that we can never forget the epidemic that took so many beautiful people from us along with many of our own feelings of self-worth. He has written an elegy to a time that was and a nostalgic memoir of living through the period. It was a time that we want to forget but cannot allow ourselves to do so. In sharing his life with us, we see that Lisicky is part of the lives of those he knew and lost and of those who stayed alive.