The apparent "subject" of Reynolds Price's novel, The Promise of Rest, is HIV/AIDS, yet it is also a novel of family, marriage, father-son relationships, and friendship between men--in addition to one of caring, suffering, and the unspeakable pain of parents watching their child die. The novel opens with Wade Mayfield, a thirty-two year-old gay, white architect infected with AIDS reluctantly returning from New York City to his family home in North Carolina to live out his final months. Almost blind, unable to manage even with daily visits from caregivers, he allows his father Hutch to come to New York to close the apartment that he shared with his African-American lover, Wyatt, who infected Wade and committed suicide ten weeks prior to Wade's leaving.

Once home, the story becomes a long conversation between Wade and Hutch. Interspersed in that most loving, painful, sometimes joyful, intense conversation on the way to Wade's death is emotional haggling between Hutch and Ann, Wade's mother and Hutch's ex-wife, who feels denied a role in the care of her only child; the continuing conversation between Hutch and Straw, his best and oldest friend with whom he had a physically intimate relationship years before and with whom he is still strongly connected; the dailiness of students (Hutch is a literature professor); finding help with the caregiving; and trying to understand the story of Wade's life before he returned home that has potentially great bearing on the Mayfield family even after Wade's death. The novel closes with Wade's death and the days thereafter, a death that fulfilled Wade's "undaunted determination to die as himself."


Price's portrayal of Wade is skillful, along with the several caregivers, notably Jimmy Boat, a passionate, tireless, if-the-time-was-right scripture quoting volunteer who bathed, diapered, consoled, and loved men dying of AIDS all over New York. Several weaknesses in the book are apparent, however.

First, Ann, the mother/ex-wife is a very incomplete character. Readers are left wondering why Hutch felt he could exclude Ann from her own son's death (which he tried to do), and why Ann so wimpily complied until the end. Also, the repeated references in conversations between Hutch and his friend Straw to their former physical intimacy go nowhere and get a bit monotonous. Still, the book is well worth teaching for the remarkable portrayal of Wade and the manner in which he lived his death.



Place Published

New York



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