Dying with Aids/Living with Aids, 1991-1992


76 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations
ISBN 0-919754-46-5
DDC 362.1'969792'0092






Reviewed by M. Morgan Holmes

M. Morgan Holmes teaches English at McGill University.


“I can’t really believe I’m dying. How can this be happening? It
doesn’t make sense.” Mark Leslie, the autobiographical subject of
Dying With AIDS/Living With AIDS, never does “make sense” of this
horror—and therein, I would argue, lies the principal virtue of this
unsettling book. The temptation when writing one’s life story is to
give it a false coherence, to make a saint’s tale out of mere human
existence. Alternately confused, plaintive, angry, melancholic, and
loving, Leslie strives, in his telling of life with AIDS from September
1991 to March 1992, to illuminate the distance between so-called reason
and coherence and the reality of a slow, painful death.

Physically constructed like a children’s book out of broad white
pages that flop open as they are turned, Dying With AIDS uncannily
invokes images of youth and innocence at the same time as it presents
the reader with the brutish facts of mortality. The cover itself
pictures a beaming young boy—probably Leslie—ensconced in a high
chair in a 1950s kitchen, about to blow out the candle on his first
birthday cake. Midway through the text, juxtaposed against that first
image of seemingly endless youth, is a representation of a 30-something
Leslie reclining on the sand of South Beach, Miami (a mecca of holiday
merriment), wearing a diaper for protection against near-incessant
diarrhea. Ironically entitled “My Calvin Klein Ad,” the image
unsettles the hypermasculine veneer of virility that accompanies
contemporary advertising as well as, more disturbingly, the symbolic
weight Western society places on the cult of eternal beauty and youth.

In some ways like the cult of graveyard writing that emerged out of the
social fragmentation of 18th-century England, Leslie’s seven-month
diary attests not only to personal suffering but also to the open
indifference of a supposedly sympathetic society. Being bluntly told
that he is running out of cash in Miami and therefore must move, and
being constantly buffeted by the destructive inefficiency of both the
Canadian and American medical authorities—these are just two of the
near-constant torments Leslie recounts. Yet, despite such rejections,
the combination of text (which reproduces the author’s own handwritten
scrawl) and intimate photographs forces readers to recognize Leslie’s
humanity, shocks them out of their complacency, and challenges them to
do whatever they can to put an end to AIDS and to ease suffering in
whatever form it is encountered.


Leslie, Mark., “Dying with Aids/Living with Aids, 1991-1992,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/13978.