A beautiful book that seems so true to life and vibrant that it feels much more like a memoir than a novel, My Government Means to Kill Me is an incredible portrait of what it meant to be a participant, advocate, and activist in the 1980s gay community of New York City. Perhaps it isn’t surprising as the narrator of this novel, like Newson, grew up in Indianapolis and moved to New York, and ended up working at a hospice for patients with AIDS.
I found this to be a relentlessly moving novel with momentum and afterimage that is hard to shake. The protagonist, Trey Singleton, has one of those lives that mirrors the great bildungsroman pieces where the main character is front and center for some of the most iconic moments of a particular cultural movement. He goes from being young and shy to being a regular at a heavily attended bathhouse to being at the front and center of the AIDS crisis and a founding member of ACT UP. In a lot of ways, I absolutely love this book in the same ways that I love the stories of my youth that fall into similar thematic categories – RENT, My Own Private Idaho, A Home At The End of the World. It is a raw portrait of the world and the communities that I grew up in, but a window into the lives of others that I only experienced indirectly as an observer. Heck, the Trumps even get what’s coming to them in this piece. This novel is stark, handsome, and electric with the energy of the time.
Newson’s prose tells a story with a vibrancy that is unparalleled in its lucidity. This novel not only is an accurate portrait of the times and places but it is composed of the same cloth and woven with a dexterous hand of realism. It is difficult to have finished it and it not to be a nonfiction book – and I think that that is a testament to the adept handling of Newson and his brilliant storytelling. Where there is no question that Forrest Gump is too good to be true, Trey Singleton’s story is too good not to be, and that is the sign of a work that has been heavily steeped in craft, originality, and strength of the writing. I think this is a wildly underappreciated book, and I am relatively surprised that there aren’t more people discussing its incredible characterization, writing, and artistic hyperrealism about a time that is familiar to so many of us… I hope that as I recommend it to others, and to you, Rasheed Newson’s novel gets the attention it deserves. It’s truly remarkable.
Image: national museum of american history, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons