The Way We Live Now consists entirely of fragments of conversation among friends concerned about a friend with AIDS. They confer on the telephone, over coffee, in the halls of the hospital, about the patient and his illness. They speculate, prognosticate, share anxieties, trade innuendoes of guilt and blame, pool their medical knowledge, and criticize the medical establishment.

The patient never appears, and indeed, we never meet a fully-fledged character, but only hear the orchestra of voices that wryly and accurately reflect the mediated and fragmented character of modern community life. News travels among them like an electric current, carrying shock waves of fear and pain. Their pooling of medical lore results in an eclectic mix of remedies that reach from chicken soup to the patient's favorite jelly beans.

By the end, several of the characters, represented only by voices in the conversation, have had to come to terms not only with the impending loss of their friend, but with their own various and unsettling responses. The disease, clearly AIDS, is never mentioned by name.


The person at the center of the story serves as a mirror and sign of his friends' own vulnerability. They don't really know how to become a functioning healing and helping community, but figure it out as they go along. The dark side of this story is its exposure of the fallibility of friendship and good intentions; some friends just back off.

The heartening message is that communities of friendship, despite that fallibility, can be strong, flexible and resilient even as they construct themselves ad hoc and ex tempore in a time of crisis. The story suggests and demonstrates how conversation quite literally creates a community of healing. The whole of this network of friendship eventually becomes bigger than the sum of the parts.

Primary Source

The New Yorker


Condé Nast

Place Published

New York



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