Rat Bohemia

I much prefer Sarah Schulman’s nonfiction work, like Gentrification of the Mind, but this was mentioned in a recent Jeremiah Moss article so I acquired a copy. I think the main problem is in switching up the narrator—each section whiplashes you into a different person’s viewpoint, which was jarring. It’s based in NYC in the 80s and 90s, and the characters watch each other die off from AIDS, helpless, while watching rats swarm.

Still, there were good bits worth quoting: “In the fifties, the Beats, those guys were so all-American. They could sit around and ponder aesthetic questions but a cup of coffee cost a nickel. Nowadays, with the economy the way it is, you can’t drop out or you’ll be homeless. You gotta function to be a boho. You have to meet the system head-on at least once in a while and that meeting is very brutal. Nowadays you have to pay a very high price to become a bohemian.”

And this is a hilarious description of San Francisco (from the David character—seemingly based on Wojnarowicz? He’s a writer who dies of AIDS and is in ACT UP):

“San Francisco… It’s so different. You walk out the door and there are three different kinds of trees, each with flowers of a different color. Yellow, red, white. Then there’s another tree with little hanging plants that look like a string of bells. But, actually, they’re petals. No rats, drug dealers or urine-soaked sidewalks in every neighborhood. It’s all confined to a few, so just by walking you can actually get away from it and have time to have feelings and other emotions. You know, Rita, living daily in very hostile circumstances isn’t good for us.”