The book ‘Martin and John: A Novel’ by Dale Peck is one of the most interesting books in regard to AIDS literature in America. It was skillfully written making every opportunity to address the issues to do with AIDS. It was written with the protagonist being John. In the first set of story, John was the narrator who happened to be a hustler in 1982 in New York. He happened to fall in love with Martin who became ill with AIDS and dies after two years. Interlinked with these stories was the second set of stories also written by John after the death of his beloved Martin. The whole story revolved around a couple named John and Martin who turned out to be different characters.
It is evident that John knew that he was HIV-positive. Through his writing he accepted the perception that however short-lived his life was, it was at least examined and recorded in form of writing. In essence, it is a book about sex and love stories which had perpetuated AIDS as a disease featuring the lives of John and Martin (Peck 219). As such, the love affair between John and Martin was explored. The sets of stories found in this book talked about a love story of some sort or another. This is to suggest that the stories in the book carried the same theme that was reflected in different ways by the author.
Though it cannot well be explained what the book is all about, the book features gay men in most part of it. One may question the importance of this but the fact remains that those that could read it and carefully analyze the content, realized as well as discovered that there are great changes that have occurred in the modern world. The book was written by a young writer in his twenties in 1993 when AIDS crisis was at its height or rather peak. The nature of the stories presented in this book were sexually explicit since at this time, writing about copulation was not a big deal. This gave the author the audacity to write the book the way he wrote it. During this period, the city of New York presented every opportunity for every person whether gay or straight to fall in love in the evening as well as lose this love that same evening (Peck 138). Anyone who has ever been affected by HIV/AIDS will be profoundly disturbed, then horrified, and finally moved to tears reading this book.
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Arguably, the level of sexual immorality that is portrayed in this book was so high involving a gay relationship between John the narrator and Martin. When Martin was fucking him he says, ‘I scream again, beg him, “Fuck me till I”- I cut myself off’ (Peck 191). He adds, ‘I wanted to tell him fuck me till I bleed’ (191). This reflects the depth to which sex had affected the nation with gay culture being practiced. Before exploring into the whole story, John first started by introducing the reader to his family life whereby he came from school and found his mother soaked in her blood just after having miscarried (6). His attempt to draw the attention of his father only proved to be a futile exercise. Seemingly, the father assumed John knew what was happening. In this sense, his mother had miscarried but besides this fact, she had some sickness that made her so weak, thin and finally, it lead to her death.
When John’s mother died, his life suddenly changed. Previously, John confesses that his mother had once held him on her lap and said, ‘John, your father is killing me’ (Peck 6). In this context, his mother revealed some sort of complicity. Accordingly, his father who was a construction worker, sat John down and said, ‘John, all we can do is to wait for her to die’ (6). This surprised John as there was no one who was telling him the truth about his mother’s illness. She was sick, weak and according to the narrator, things used to fall off her hands, her handwriting revealed the progression of her illness and sometimes late at night, her voice was slurred.
Eventually, she died of this disease at the age of forty four years although the narrator states that it was as if she died at age thirty two (peck 8). From a broader point of view, the novel sheds light on AIDS as a tragedy that befell John. The prevalence of AIDS is therefore portrayed within the gay culture. From the novel, one can understand that John fell in love with Martin, a man who was dying of AIDS. Since sex with him was what kept them together, he became weak, thin and finally died of AIDS. John struggles to cope with life without his lover Martin. In one incident, John stated that after the death of his father, Martin was the only man he had sex with. In this connection, the demise of Martin as a result of AIDS was a big blow.
In this regard, after having Martin as a lover, John together with Martin went to Kansas whereby he finally died (Peck 165). After the death of Martin, John tried to cope with life without Martin. It was within this context that John wrote stories about himself and Martin in different scenarios; they were in need, and bereavement in some cases. Likewise, they were presented as a happy couple in New York in other incidents. Through these stories, though confusing, one was able to understand how AIDS as a tragedy affected the life of John. In the last pages of the second story he argued that whether the stories are true or not, they were what he started writing while he was young in order to divert his attention from the sounds of his father fucking his mother. He says that, ‘My mother moaned aloud, sometimes curses’ (69). As such, these were the noises that the narrator was complaining of, along with the odor of sex that he could not break (66).
Approaching Peck’s novel, John and Martin, it is a book that is meant to make the reader to examine the life of one person from different points of view. The narrator allowed the reader to imagine the multiple endings of the same life. The author of this book tried to redefine the person John and Martin to keep him eternally traveling. In a way through the writing he was able to undo the power of mortality. In the way the stories were framed, several characters met their deaths. In particular, the book addressed the growth of John from infancy to adulthood.
In the beginning it began with a baby crying in his mother’s arms and ends with an adult who is a gay man (Peck 3). The book is packed with stories regarding John being told in snippets of italicized prose. It has individual vignettes that mark John’s childhood, his abuse by his father, his leaving home, his love with Martin, and Martin’s death and apparently his own if it may be said.
Following these italicized stories, it is the explanation of the meaning of the vignettes through stories that comment on that life or may be, invert it in some way or another. In one way or another, the stories are a make up of John or his childhood memories. Notably, some of the stories are fantastic in the making like the one of Driftwood, about a boy who suddenly makes a technical appearance in the narrator’s barn and then suddenly disappears (Peck 57). There is also the Gilded Theater whereby the narrator who is a young boy jumps from the penthouse of a tall building and then lands without a scratch.
Following the words of John, the stories he told came from past memories or in some cases he made them up. Nonetheless, he associated the making up of the stories to what he used to tell himself in order to drown out the sounds of parents fighting or having sex. From another point of view, John claimed that the dead lover Martin, urged him to write down these stories. In quiet a unique way that cannot be understood, the author managed to bring the dead Martin back to life through these memories if they may be termed. There is John in every story, and he is approximately the same person. He is the waif, the abused, observer, innocent victim, complicit victim, just to mention but a few.
Surprisingly, it is the same John in the final long story “Fucking Martin”, who broke the proscenium to be identified openly with Dale. Remarkably, the whole story is about the same people with identity and experiences varying in different levels. Another important thing to note is that there is an old detail of the narrator, John, an adolescent boy in both cases. He was lying in the bed while lifting his legs to put his feet on the floor, then, seeing a desired, dangerous father-figure in the V of his legs: his real father in Blue Wet-paint Columns as well as his stepfather/lover Martin in transformations (Peck 22). Following this point, there is much that underpins the life of John
In another incident, John and Martin are attacked by three men. This happened as they were coming from the Opera while they were admiring the flowers in a certain shop. Accordingly, in the Gilded Theater, Martin and John who were lovers came home from a Nuyorican performance in some East village (Peck 183). On their way home they are attacked by five men. The identity and stories revolving John are so many along with experiences that brought confusion as well. It was clearly revealed in the novel that twice, John had sex with a woman called Susan; it is not clear whether this Susan is the same or not (214). This happened out in the country in Kansas. He confessed that he was only giving her a baby at her risk for AIDS.
An outstanding issue to note is that John had an abusive sex life with an old man once in Lee. This was italicized and then in real vignette, followed by, in the final long story in ‘Fucking Martin’ (Peck 211). Issues to do with imagery were incorporated at the beginning, John’s brother had drowned while in the hand and care of John. In the beginning of ocean too, there was a brief vignette. This concerned John, his mother Beatrice, and his father who were at the beach.
John was presented in this case to be sleeping but as he tried to wake up he is held down by his father in order that the father may continue with the business of masturbating his wife while John does not watch. In the story this is how it is elicited: In that second I see my father’s hand low on my mother’s abdomen and see that the bottom of her swimsuit is pushed down as well. Then I fall asleep again, and this time the water does invade my dreams, I am swimming, diving down, looking for the beginning of the ocean but soon realize have gone too far. At the end of this dream, John wakes up and the father comes in’ (Peck 35).
Following this point the vignette continues ‘just as I start squirming, my father’s hand flies up and he groans loudly, then, something comes to me from my dream, some half-human shape crawls out of the dark water and I realize that my father has been drowning my mother as well’ (Peck 35). Likewise it is repeated in the end of the ocean that, ‘I turned in my chair and put my hand, my big clumsy hand, on his chest. Each finger took a ran like shipwrecked swimmers clutching at life rafts, but my thumb danced over his heart, alone, uncertain. And then I gave in and moved close. I rested my ear against his chest, encircled him with my arms and lay like a swimmer who has at last reached the end of the ocean’ (142). From this point of view, one can notice some kind of repetitions that were portrayed which made up the voice of the narrative. At a close examination of this voice, one could attribute it to John but no one could really confine it to him.
Interchangeably, the book is filled with some moments of joy, though tiny but usually moments of pain. It is notable that the moments are so brief, so unrelated. When the act of sexual intercourse between John and Susan is brought into the context, it is seemingly more that it should be. This is to suggest that the writer or the author was trying to bring out an issue that there was a sexual desire that has been so prevalent during the era of AIDS. The issue to do with semen that is portrayed as the water of life seemed to be deadly both to the narrator and the writer as well (Peck 119). Just as the Psalmist reiterated, ‘How can I sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land?’, the author also wondered how to sing the song about sex while sex had become deadly due to AIDS as it was portrayed. This question was not strange to John also as it was evident in his thoughts after attending an AIDS funeral.
In this connection, it is in the story about” Always and forever” when he wondered about his love affair with Martin who was rich and still healthy. In essence, he thought that the affair with Martin had denied him life. In order to bring this point clear, he says, ‘sometimes I think we have been betrayed by our safe lifestyles, and have missed a time of easy, base, pure love, the period of our greatest freedom’ (Peck 159). From this point of view he thought of seeking for pure love, however, he could not get it without betraying the present time as he was already gay and infected with AIDS. There was an element of being remorseful about what had ever happened but the way to repair it while AIDS had already taken in was almost impossible. In consistent with this, he argued in the chapter ‘Given This And Everything’ that without measuring things how could you say what you'd lost? (60).This meant that the author was trying to show the meaning of reflecting to what had happened in the past in order to correct the present and the future. Outstandingly, the author possessed the gift of prose and delicate insight into the plight not only of those afflicted and affected by the ravages of AIDS.
The stories in this novel were quiet many as there was that one of ‘Transformations’. In this story, there was a sad story whereby the narrator was raped by his stepfather who seduced him. In this context, John was written a letter by the stepfather. Basically, he wrote to John and reminded him the time they had together. In fact, his stepfather reminded him that he could not forget John and his mother but it was unfortunately that he had to run for his own sake, John’s and the mother’s. According to John, the father had wanted them both though he could not achieve it at all just as he had told John in the kitchen (Peck 81).
In regard to this passage, despite the fact that it was musical and beautiful, it was hard to tell exactly the meaning of it if only there was more elaboration on the one who was speaking in it. Nonetheless, the information provided about him is so shallow that the meaning of these words cannot be grasped with the original meaning. From an analytical point of view, the language used in this case was very different from the one that had been used by other Johns in the story as whole. The second part of the set of stories seemed to be so much dominated by the plague of AIDS. Nonetheless, it could be related to the “Here is the Baby “in the first set of the stories whereby the issues of hunger, betrayal, and love had been brought into the context (Peck 3).
The book could be said to have been written subtly making the reader to get deeper and deeper in the mysteriousness of human beings. The author was able to bring out the destructive powers of sexual desire and the fact that although love was necessary, it had inevitable loss brought about by AIDS. The book in essence was composed of a vehement sequence of vignettes, which the reader steadily learned were the recollections of John, a gay man, as he tried to come to terms with the death of his lover, Martin, from AIDS. John struggled to keep the relationship with the man he loved, though he had been infected with AIDS. Martin, however, was bitter at the world for giving him the disease and at John for not having to suffer through his pains and mental anguish.
Some incidences simply told John's life: abused by his hostile father, his escape to New York and survival by becoming a hustler; his falling in love with Martin, and moving with him to Kansas, where Martin died. Alternating with this account are 'stories' written by John, in each of which different, sacred account of the narrator, named John and of a chameleonic character named Martin worked their way through states of need and bereavement along with surrender. Nevertheless, the book remained to be outstandingly interesting and one of the unique AIDS literature sources that marked the American AIDS literature. It was easy to read novel that was recommendable for reading to many who were interested in the subtle and fascinating style of writing by the author.
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