Monthly Archives: November 2021

A Quilt for David – Steven Reigns (City Lights Booksellers & Publishers)

Steven Reigns, a poet and educator from Los Angeles, has authored an impressive curricula vitae: two collections of poetry (Inheritance and Your Dead Body Is My Welcome Mat), more than a dozen chapbooks; he also edited My Life in Poetry, a collection of the writings from his first autobiographical poetry workshop for LGBTQ seniors. To this list he now adds A Quilt for David, a collection of short poems and prose pieces that recounts the forgotten story of Dr. David Acer, a Gay dentist accused of infecting his patients with HIV, most notably Kimberley Bergalis.

Gay Men of a Certain Age may remember the bare bones of David’s story: an HIV positive Gay dentist, eight of his patients sued him for infecting them with the HIV virus, despite there being (still!) no reliable evidence of a dentist infecting a patient. During the hysteria of the late 1980s, when a diagnosis of HIV was almost an immediate death sentence (David himself died two years, ten months, and twenty-nine days after his diagnosis), there was no reliable treatment, but there was a lot of fear surrounding the disease, and misinformation about how it spread. (For example, it was claimed that AIDS could be spread through mosquito bites.) David was called a “murderer,” while his patients were “innocent victims.” Kimberley Bergalis, possibly the best known of his “innocent victims,” insisted on her virginity in court: she eventually had statues erected in her honor, a beach named after her, a cover article in People magazine; when she died, an article in the Palm Beach Post proclaimed (unironically) “Hundreds Mourn Bergalis: Fort Pierce Woman Was ‘Voice of All AIDS sufferers.’” David Acer, one such AIDS sufferer, died in a hospice four hours from his home, under an assumed name, unmourned.

A Quilt for David is replete with these contrasts. Perhaps the most dramatic contrast is that David himself has no quilt panel memorializing him in the NAMES Project (hence the title of this collection):

I’d sew a quilt for you.

I would grab a needle,

put the thread in my mouth,

moistening the fibers together.

I’d pierce into the eye.

I’d hem, backstitch, sidestitch

a remembrance of you.

I’d put your name in large letters

wanting no one to forget you died of it

too. I’d sew you into that larger quilt because

no one else has. I’d select patterns, design a quilt

representing your lifelong loves.

Kimberly has four panels, photos, and a large starfish.

Of course, David’s story is bound up with Kimberly’s, and Reigns weaves her story as well as the stories of Richard Driskill, Michael Buckley, Sherry Johnson, Lisa Shoemaker, John Yecs, Jr., and an unidentified man. A nine-page bibliography with ninety-seven entries attests to Reigns’ extensive research: much of what Reigns has unearthed runs counter to the long accepted narrative of the virginal Kimberly and the others, maliciously infected by David. Reigns wisely lets the facts speak for themselves, without poetic embellishment. David’s story, long untold, is retold simply, with stark power.   

Reigns has performed a valuable service, recovering the story of David Johnson Acer and reminding us all that often what is designated as “history” or “fact” or “truth” is only the narrative that gets repeated the most, and/or the narrative that typically serves the powerful majority.

Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske

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Tygers – J. Warren (Queer Mojo/Rebel Satori Press)

I’ve always found it interesting that the LGBTQI+ movement has never been sufficiently radicalized to resort to violence in an attempt to gain our legitimate rights. Outside of Pride marches, which these days have become subsidized and used by corporations to turn an almighty buck on the queer back, the closest we’ve come is the palpable anger briefly engendered by ACT UP in the late Eighties when the AIDS epidemic was at its most deadly. J. Warren’s Tygers, however, envisions a much different world. Or is it?

In Warren’s 2015, conservatism is running rampant enough to allow the enforced round-up of young gay men into camps designed to “cure” their homosexuality. Aaron White, a young gay man, is recruited into a radical terrorist cell by one Daniel Young, another young man with a penchant for U2 and a soft spot for Aaron. He introduces Aaron to Marcus, one of the terrorist leaders, Daniel, however, is rounded up by his church and sent to one of the camps, where he commits suicide. His death sparks Aaron to retaliate, and a suicide bomber is born.

Alternating between prose and prisoner interview transcripts, Tygers is suprisingly long on character for a book that opens with the suicide bombing of a wedding in a Catholic church, but the act is so heinous that we need to know who these people are. And Warren delivers on that in spades. By the time the narrative again reaches the point where the bombing occurs, we understand quite well how Aaron became a victim as well as a participant.

I also liked the juxtapositioning of the prose and transcript sections, the latter providing a pulling back of sorts from the characterization to allow the reader time to breathe and reflect while at the same time advancing the plot. The balance is tricky at best, but Warren pulls it off brilliantly–and, in doing so, also manages to paint a fairly detailed portrait of not only the prisoner (one of Aaron’s co-conspirators) but his captors.

Warren has also chosen to set this in a forseeable future (especially in light of the current political climate) rather than a more distant, science-fictiony time, which lends the story a credibility it wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s dystopian, yes, but its dystopia is that of today rather than tomorrow.

All said, Tygers is a terrific read, full of interesting characters, dark paths, and enough twists and turns to keep the most jaded reader turning pages.


© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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Unbreakable – Cari Hunter (Bold Strokes Books)

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Cari Hunter is relentless, which might just give her the title of her next book. Unbreakable hits the ground running and never looks back, but you already know that if you’re a fan. If you’re not or you haven’t read any of her work, you need to remedy that immediately. From her Dark Peak series to her standalones, you won’t be disappointed no matter which you choose.

As Dr. Grace Kendal leaves work for the day, she’s kidnapped by a badly wounded Elin Breckenridge, who was injured during a ransom dropoff for Elin’s kidnapped daughter, Amelia. But the origin of Elin’s injuries is of less concern to Grace than their severity. Grace manages to keep Elin alive, but as they bond, the larger problem of getting Amelia back looms. They have a satchel full of money and a dead man in their wake. Detective Sergeant Safia Faris finds the dead man, killed by an unknown assailant who also shot Elin during the drop, but what should be a simple case turns into something more complicated as she and her partner, Suds, chase after Grace and Elin, uncovering layers of complexity that build to a tense climax.

Hunter establishes the tension immediately–a trademark of hers–and then runs with it, dropping in bits of characterization here and there during dialogue and whenever she pauses to let the reader catch their breath. Once she has you caring about the pair of fugitives, you’re hooked in and totally unable to stop reading. Is this a formula? Yes, but Hunter is so skillful in executing it that you don’t even notice her manipulations and distractions.

She also has quite the way with character. Although Grace and Elin have the more obvious bond, I also enjoyed the interplay between DS Faris and Suds, who shatter the rules in order to let Grace and Elin play out their hand and catch the kidnapper. And the British-isms Hunter peppers throughout the book provide a solid sense of place without being burdensome or confusing.

Along with Cheryl Head and J.M. Redmann, Cari Hunter is one of my favorite mystery/thriller authors, and Unbreakable is a very solid notch in her column. It has action, heart, and suspense. Try reading a couple of chapters and going to bed. I dare you. Highly recommended.


© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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