[Author’s Note: About a decade ago, I started work on a book about Paul Monette. I’ve interviewed more than a hundred of his friends and associates, and I’ve been given access to his as yet unpublished diaries. Finally, all these years later, the project is beginning to come to life. This essay uses his diaries and a couple of the interviews to revisit one of Monette’s most important books.]
“I DON’T KNOW if I will live to finish this. Doubtless there’s a streak of self-importance in such an assertion, but who’s counting? … All I know is this: the virus ticks in me.” When Paul Monette (1945–1995) wrote those words, the average life expectancy of someone diagnosed with AIDS was less than two years. His lover of more than a decade, Roger Horwitz (1941–1986), survived nineteen months. Relatively speaking, then, his melodramatic opening foray in the remarkable memoir Borrowed Time (1988)—one of the earliest and best books we have from inside a gay relationship devastated by AIDS—was an accurate assessment of reality. Monette lived another few years, when he did the most important writing of his career.