Often, I find AIDS memoirs unreadable, because they are, mercifully, dated; and, frequently, their pages throb red with rage so overpowering that the reader finds himself lost in the ire and bereft of discovering meaningful characterization and insight. However, Pamele Inzerillo and Rocco Piacente's refreshing "The Half-mile Miracle" is quite different from most other AIDS memoirs. Written by Inzerillo based upon original journal entries and interviews with Piacente, this slim volume is a true, autobiographic narrative that sets forth the profound relationship that Rocco and his partner Fred Mutti shared in the late 1980's, a relationship that began gorgeously and retained its beauty even after Mutti was diagnosed with HIV and endured the ghastly downward fatal slope that was AIDS at the time. "The Half-mile Miracle" is detailed, carefully constructed, and highly evocative of place and time. It includes personal photographs of the subjects, their friends, and their families.
As is true of most other AIDS memoirs, as I have noted, there is also rage in this book. There has to be, for to have endured an AIDS tragedy such as this during that dark time was to have experienced a close approximation to hell. However, while other memoirs, particularly Paul Monette's superb but igneous "Borrowed Time," become frustratingly enmeshed in the indignity and sociological donnybrook of HIV/AIDS at that time, Inzerillo and Piacente calmly set forth the no-less harrowing story of Mutti's demise and the almost unbearable emotional and physical toll it took upon everyone involved, and the authors allow the reader to make his own judgments as to the social morality. There is, yes, a bit of the soapbox in this book, but it is minimal. The authors dwell not upon anger, but upon love; upon Piacente's consuming, and reciprocated, affection, adoration, and deep caring for Mutti; upon the unbreakable, unshakable, and unforgettable partnership they shared.
"The Half-mile Miracle" is emotionally wrenching, and it is beset by an inevitable sad ending. Yet, much more significantly, it is a hopeful book that is ultimately uplifting, as much a story of Mutti's vivid life and uncluttered attitude as of his horrific prolonged death, as much a story of Piacente's bewilderment and helplessness at the story's outset as of the strength, wisdom, and ability to forgive that he gained from the brutal experiences described in almost every chapter. In making this observation, I must stress that the authors do not dwell upon spurious nostalgia, nor do they forget the realities of what happened. All of the nasty details are present; this is not a story of faded horror and colorized roses. But present, too, is hope, cheerfulness, the importance of good character and positive attitude, faith in the future, belief that good in people will win the day. The title itself refers to an astonishing, perhaps literally miraculous, episode in which Mutti, deeply ill, embarks upon a vacation to Alaska with Piacente and is able to will himself out of a wheelchair to walk half a mile in the tundra. To understand that incident is to grasp what this book is all about.
If, say, Paul Monette and Larry Kramer -- authors whom I very much admire but in different ways -- are not to your liking in these current times of cocktail therapy, booming T-cell counts, and renewed lifespans, try Inzerillo and Piacente's book. It is distinctive. It is cathartic. It is expressive, animated, and populated by knowable people that become our friends. "The Half-mile Miracle" will not only command your interest but will teach some valuable life lessons that transcend the scope of HIV/AIDS. This humble, honest, beautifully written book is a meaningful contribution to gay literature; but, it is also a book that anyone will enjoy who can appreciate a life lesson in overcoming adversity with grace.