“My Dead Book”: AIDS, Survival, and What That Means to Gen-Z

By Jude Jones

To mark World AIDS Day 2023, acting managing editor Jude Jones reviews American author Nate Lippens’s recent autofiction novel My Dead Book, a haunting testimony to working-class life through the AIDS crisis that seeks to establish an intergenerational dialogue between the crisis’s survivors and those who have come since, our queer micro-community’s millennials and Gen-Z who have grown up in a “post-AIDS” world, but who refuse to let themselves forget.

A queer thing happened to me while I was trying to write my review for this book: it disappeared. Swaddled safely in my bedroom somewhere between my Guibert and my Nelson, My Dead Book – Nate Lippens’s fragmentary kaleidoscope of semi-fictive memories and almost-autobiographical musings on working-class queer life in the American Midwest (a Midwest haunted by the twin spectres of Dahmer and the AIDS pandemic), resplendent with the red-ink scribbles and underlines I had dutifully added to it – had dissolved into windowsill dust and stagnant bedside air, heavy with a sense of morning-after. All my primary research had been useless. But, for a book that celebrates uselessness, to use Lippens’s own words, perhaps this was a fitting end, the only fitting end my own authorial process could reach.

“My Dead Book” by Nate Lippens (Pilot Press, 2021).

What I do have left, though, are a series of photographs I captured of the pages that jumped out above others. “I’m alive,” declares the very pixel-rendered last lines of the book’s very last page, one of the lucky survivors, “Of course, I’m alive.” It seems also taunting in this context, laughing at those dead pages that my iPhone camera failed to immortalise. This, though, is perfectly in-line with the caustic tone that I do remember permeating the rest of the book, penned by Lippens as he approached his fiftieth birthday as a rumination on what it means to have survived his youth, to have survived the AIDS crisis but to have to live with the ghosts of those who didn’t.

SMART. QUEER SMART.

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