2012 Challenges, Books

Book 104: People in Trouble – Sarah Schulman

So far of the books my boss lent me last September this is by far my favorite. Although I enjoyed Donoghue’s Hood and Schulman’s first novel After Delores was good, this one just stands out as a moving piece of the time and serves as a great commentary. This goes towards my Mount TBR Reading Challenge putting me at 11/25 (44%).

What was great about this novel was from the opening line you knew it was going to be about voyeurism (or I realize that looking back). Schulman opens her novel with one of the greatest opening lines I’ve read in a long time. If it’s from something else PLEASE let me know! She opens with, “It was the beginning of the end of the world but not everyone noticed right away.” and from that point on takes you on a fascinating journey threw the AIDS underground of New York City.

Told through the eyes of Kate, Molly and Peter, People in Trouble really takes you into the time when the various groups in NYC were acting out against ‘the man’ and ‘the machine’ because of the lack of accessible healthcare and available drugs. And yet AIDS is only another character in this story. Taking front and center is Kate who I’m assuming is going through some sort of mid-life crisis and has taken on Molly (a younger woman) as a lover in addition to her husband Pete. Throughout the story Kate, who I feel gets more and more annoying, explores her sexuality and how she presents herself to the world. I won’t spoil the ending but in the end Kate gets everything she’s wanted and seems to lose everything she has.

The two things I found most fascinating were learning about the various groups causing civil disobedience and the survivor’s guilt that at times seeped despairingly into the novel. I knew about groups like ACT-Up from a Politics of Sexuality class in undergrad, but I didn’t know what they did and if they did anything similar to what Schulman wrote about I can’t even imagine why they didn’t have more influence. The survivor’s guilt was a bit different. It only occasionally came up and that came from the voyeuristic telling of the People with Aids movement. Because none of the three main characters had AIDS nor were at an immediate risk of contracting HIV this idea of surviving while everyone else died around them crept into the story, but not often and not in an overwhelming light. It could’ve been a lot worse and I’ve read a lot worse.

Recommendation: Read it. Regardless of your interest in literature, it talks about a time that isn’t really talked about and focuses from an interesting perspective. Some of the sex scenes were a bit unnerving, but I’m a prude.

Opening Line: “It was the beginning of the end of the world but not everyone noticed right away.”

Closing Line: “Then everyone went to Saint Vincent’s because there was nothing more to say.” (Whited out.)

Additional Quotes from People in Trouble
“Maybe she could learn to act like Peter and exert silent control. Don’t ask for anything. Just expect it. For Peter this process came so naturally he could never be accused of malicious intent. That was his strategic advantage over her. It was called normal.” (37)

“You have to give them every excuse in the world so they can tell you what they did without admitting to being gay. I think we should change the name of this country to the United States of Denial. This epidemic will never be taken care of properly until people can be honest about sex. Not even what they desire just what they do. And you know, Molly, the world will have to stand on its head before the people who live in it will be honest about what they feel sexually.” (75)


6 thoughts on “Book 104: People in Trouble – Sarah Schulman”

  1. After having read as many Armistead Maupin books as my library has and living through the 1980s AIDS epidemic in Chicago to which I lost friends, I am eager to read this one, but my library doesn’t have it. I’m going to link up your post on Facebook to see if anyone I know can lend it to me. I’ll add it to my TBR stack — it might have to go on the top!


    1. Thanks for the comment! I can’t imagine living through that time period and so I might not be the greatest person to compare the books, but speaking to my boss who was in NY during that time period she said this book really hit home and made her understand about the protests at funeral and what it was they were trying to accomplish. I haven’t finished the entire Tales of the Cities series, I took a break about half way through, but I know AIDS takes more of a role in at least one of the later books.


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