The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (5 out of 5)

Every so often, a novel comes along that blows my mind. The last one that did (prior to this) was last July (‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng, if you wonder). This book by Rebecca Makkai? May just be the one for the first half of this year. For reasons I can’t cite outside of thorough character development and the tearing of eyes and heartstrings, I was very strongly reminded of a book I read many years ago (Eleanor Henderson’s book “Ten Thousand Saints”). I had read Rebecca’s previous two books and enjoyed them. This one blew them both out of the water. Reasons for this are multiple and it’s like trying to catch lightning in a bottle. Some books have IT. This is one.

Don’t run out and buy it just yet. It’s not due out until June 19, 2018. We can thank the folks at Viking, an affiliate of Penguin Random House Publishers. I thank Stefan for sending this to me.

Chicago in the 1980’s. I grew up in the west suburbs, so the times and locales resonate strongly with me. The AIDS crisis during that time. My Uncle John passed away from AIDS in the late 1980’s. Reading the hopes, dreams, love, & loss of the young men in this novel brought all of that back. It also made me miss him more, and it made me revisit the prejudices of those outside the gay community. The AIDS crisis in the 80’s was a frightening time for many, but most especially those who were gay and living with a ticking time bomb in their back pockets. No one can imagine the mindset of those young men and their loved ones, but Makkai can-and does- with aplomb, empathy, and righteous anger through the activists that she brings to our porch in this opus. She brings us Yale Tishman, an art gallery development director, may be on the heels of a huge expedition that could make his career. Problem is, Yale’s introspective nature is talking back to him regarding his relationship, and the grief he’s still fighting following the death of his friend Nico. Yale often feels like all he has is the friendship of Nico’s little sister Fiona.

We jump ahead 30 years, which finds Fiona flying to France, trying to find her estranged daughter Claire after she vanishes with her husband, supposedly having fled from a cult. Once in France, Fiona hires a private investigator to find her daughter, and she goes to stay with Richard, another of the circle of friends from Chicago. At this point in the story, we learn more about Yale and Fiona’s interlocked stories, and we also get closure to both. Yale and Fiona couldn’t be more different, but they have a tenuous connection through the auspices of time and tragedy. You almost feel the ending coming for both stories, but when it wraps up, you feel bereft. All of these shining stars have gone forth into another sky, as harsh and beautifully as they are written forth. Bravo in spades to Makkai for bringing me a book that I can champion the last half of 2018. I am looking forward to bringing new readers into this world.

~ by generationgbooks on March 14, 2018.

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