Winter Rain is a story of kindness, of grief, of a person’s not being able to tell for certain what he or she is or what has happened, and yet it’s a story of a person’s need to go on. This is a book about people who live tough lives. Respect has to be paid. It is a breathtaking book.
Alec Argento is in love with Michael, who has just found out that he is HIV positive. The President of the United States has just announced that at noon today the US will go to war against Iraq. Alec’s former lover, Amos, is in the hospital. Stephen, Alec’s son, is furious with his father and has left home because of an unexplained injury. Alec’s sister-in-law, Arabella, has left her husband. The novel opens with Alec coming up out of the subway and running across the street through the rain to the hospital where Amos is dying. There isn’t enough money to deal with what has to be dealt with, there’s isn’t enough time, and not enough stamina to deal with the traumas Alec and Michael and Stephen and Amos are faced with. It is the winter of 1991, the first Gulf War has been declared, AIDS is invariably a fatal disease, and the people in this small community around Alec Argento—they drink too much, they spend too much money, they betray each other constantly—cope as well as they can. This novel is about their struggle to endure, and while they may seem to have caused their own suffering, in many ways it may also be clear that they did not cause any of it. They look after themselves and each other when nobody else is looking out for them. This book is about the elusiveness of memory, about the impossibility of discovering exactly how they caused these disasters, and about the ambiguity of the message the world sends them. The image of the Kurds, helpless on their hillside, victims of the immense military conflict between the United States and of Saddam Hussein, appears sporadically on the TV sets, as the war is brought home to America. Tragedy strikes randomly all around them, like the bombs that America drops on the desert. Triumphant, delirious good fortune also strikes randomly on this little bunch, and it is unclear why any particular person gets good or bad news.
The spine of this novel is the limp body of Amos, dying of AIDS, but as his friends try to give him respect and caring during the time of his dying, they are also dealing with alcoholism and its effects, with black-outs and with stories of sexual abuse and repressed memory which seemed to sweep the country during those years. And in the background, there is always some TV set showing the horrific videos of the Gulf War and the bombing and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who surrendered rather than fight.