By Jessica Willingham
John Weir’s linked stories explore sexuality and separation through platonic love, activism, art, and death — in a time when gender was confined to “girl, boy, or faggot” and AIDS ravages a generation. Stories span the 70s, 80s, and 90s as an unnamed narrator navigates the long aftermath of an epidemic and tries to close the gap between loneliness and loss.
Weir’s big, witty voice carries through high school parties in rural New Jersey to porn theaters in Manhattan, political rallies, nursing homes, and funerals. His compassionate humor explores the aftermath of global crisis and nostalgia for different outcomes.
“My last name rhymes with ‘queer.’ Anyway, what’s in a name,” Weir writes. “So I’m twisted, thwarted and thwarting, fairy-like but fateful, not just silly but lethal, not just deadly but fated to die, kindling for fire, powerful and burning, but also inconsequential, dainty as threads pulled tight around delicate lace. And I’m the star. That’s what’s confusing.Trapped in their circle, surrounded and alone, I’m rejected and central, and here is the beginning of my lifelong inability to tell the difference between attention and pain.”
The opening story collection titled “AIDS Nostalgia” questions homophobia and masculinity. “I grew up thinking I would be a lonely woman who missed men,” Weir writes in “Kid A.” “I didn’t learn until later how lonely men are. Lonely for other men. Lonely because they’re supposed to be men.”
In “American Graffiti,” Weir’s searing observations on gender electrify the eras through film references, bringing them to life and focus.
“How I wanted to be Jane Fonda when I was twelve. I was in love with her self-consciousness. There was a space between her performance and herself. She didn’t consume her characters like Bette Davis devouring every part she played. Jane Fonda left a window open between her privacy and her sense of being seen. She knew who was watching: her directors and photographers, all men, with their penis cameras. I wanted her power to survive their gaze.”
Weir’s protagonist is often a voyeur to success, sex, and death — fully there but unable to share in it fully. But his characters are alive with intimacy and physicality, even when distance is the expectation for anonymous lovers or friends actively dying of AIDS. In “Neorealism at the Infiniplex,” the main character cares for an increasingly hateful friend in the late stage of the disease. Sometimes he outgrows a relationship, and sometimes he simply outlives it.
These eleven short stories are fast-paced with plenty of quick dialogue, pop culture, and political moments. Weir’s collection is a history lesson, a survival story, and a study on how to occupy the space between.
Full title: Your Nostalgia is Killing Me
Author name: John Weir
Publisher/Imprint: Red Hen Press
Pub date: April 26, 2022
Page count: 224pp
Ebook ISBN & Price: 978-1-63628-030-1 / $9.99
Tagline: In eleven linked stories, prize-winning novelist John Weir brings his wit and compassion to the question of how a gay white guy from New Jersey lived through fifty years of the twin crises of global AIDS and toxic masculinity in America.
Jessica Willingham is a Lighthouse Writers Workshop graduate and editor of The Weekly at Five South. Her work has appeared in Thought Erotic, Hare’s Paw, Superfroot, and is forthcoming in Hell is Real: A Midwest Gothic Anthology. She lives and writes in Oklahoma. You can find her @jesswcreative.