Five Reason Why You Should Read The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

1. The characters  Makkai's precision when crafting characters was incredibly impressive. The depth provided to the characters, whether the main ones, or not, was so appropriately distributed. As clich√© as it sounds, I really felt like I knew the protagonist, Yale, and I rooted for him in every way until the end of the novel. The more minor characters were so well-established, the seemingly passing comments on things like hair or word choice helping create such well-crafted figures. The cat was even important! Her ability to provoke empathy and intrigue left me never wanting this novel to end.

2. The subject matter At the heart of this book is the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted the gay community in the mid-1980s. I was a tiny little girl then and while I know the biological implications and the basics of the societal ramifications, I haven’t given the disease’s first decade or so an exceptional amount of thought. Makkai clearly did a lot of research, working hard to integrate multiple layers of the disease into her narrative, focusing on the psychology of those infected and their loved ones (fear, guilt, relief, paranoia, denial, anger), society’s response, and the physical impact on one’s body once the disease has been contracted.

3. The subplots Given that this is a book that surpasses the 400 page mark, there are definitely some subplots, all of which tie neatly together. Many of these related to relationships, like the art gallery intern Roman (a subplot that becomes critical), the terrorist bombing in France, and Yale’s professional issues. Nothing felt unimportant or unnecessary- her inclusion of each plot thread served a distinct purpose.

4. The setting (space and time)  I don’t necessarily find myself drawn towards books that split the narratives between two places in time, especially when the character focus changes. This book did exactly that, though, and while I enjoyed Yale’s section much more than Fiona’s (just because I LOVED him so much) I appreciated what she was doing by spreading the story out over several decades. I also appreciated what she did with the actual locations; she stayed away from San Francisco, the popular local of authors who deal with AIDS in the 1980s, and focused on Chicago instead, both the parts of town where Yale and his friends gravitated towards and also the collegiate setting. The more recent portions of the book were in Paris, including the time of the terrorist attack, an interesting parallel to show what was those in the 1980s feared, versus our current concerns.

5. The writing: While her prose is accessible, the way she finesses her language is impeccable. There aren’t long-meandering passages, while at the same time everything in the novel from the people, to the setting and the thematic implications are described in great detail. Her pacing is perfect, both in the sections in the 80s and then in 2015, with a few surprises and successful instances of foreshadowing included. I felt this book; I was emotionally invested. I cried. I smiled. I asked questions. I was angry. She had my heart tied around her pinky and it was because of her ability to write that tied us up into this reader/writer relationship.   

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