Dan is not happy about all he has left behind in Chicago, particularly since he is currently jobless and, other than his boyfriend, Mark, alone. But he is determined to make a go of it in Florida so that Mark has the new start he so desperately needs. That determination is part of the reason Dan finds himself driving to meet his new buddy, Adam. Adam has AIDS and Dan has signed on to volunteer with the Tampa AIDS alliance to be a friend to someone struggling with the disease. Adam is not quite what Dan pictured when the door opens to reveal a guy in drag, complete with pearls and afternoon drinks. Before Dan can blink, he is knee deep in mai tais and absolutely taken with the bravest man he is sure he will ever meet.
From Adam’s living room, to state prison, to a life that will force Dan to reassess everything about himself and discover new strengths that have been forged by the need to carry many unexpected and unwanted burdens, life will change in so many ways for Dan. He will say good bye to his buddy; dump a cheating, lying boyfriend; and slowly find solace and love in the arms of a man who struggles with the same feelings of guilt and grief Dan does himself. Life is all about fielding every curveball thrown at him and Dan digs deep to find the ways to handle each one and succeed.
A few years ago, author Rick R. Reed released a novel that was undoubtedly a bit autobiographical if the afterword of the book is anything to go by. It is also a story that remains rather timeless and while we hear less and less about the deaths related to AIDS, we are no closer to finding the cure that will eradicate the deadly virus that plagues the world. Reed’s novel, Caregiver, is not just a depiction of the life of a man who struggles with, and ultimately, succumbs to the disease, but a testimony to those friends, family, and partners who must watch their loved one travel the grim road the disease lays out before they pass away. The story deals with things like survivor’s guilt, fears of contracting the disease, the feelings of despair and anger over dealing the disease’s ravages on the body, and the stigma attached to having it. This is a brutally honest depiction of three men who find themselves thrown together and who must each deal with the fallout of living a life in a time when the drugs developed to combat HIV/AIDS are still fairly new, being gay is still not accepted by many, and fear is very real and daily companion.
As such, the different relationships in this novel are what really make this story shine. The love that develops between Adam and Dan as they become true buddies despite the short time they have together is both beautiful and heart-wrenching. Adam is a man with secrets—ones that will ultimately hasten his death and thrust his lover, Sullivan, and his friend, Dan, together. These two will fight their attraction to each other mostly because the idea that they can be happy together produces such guilt and unease that the urge to deny it wins out over any other feelings they have. Watching how the author develops their tentative relationship and allows time to heal both men rather than thrusting them into some rushed and less realistic love affair is yet another facet that makes this story so strong and believable.
It’s all about the journey Dan must take, the pain and loss he must endure, the maturing and changing he needs to go through in order to find the man he is destined to become—the one that can love and be loved while not sacrificing who he is or what he believes in. Dan will discover that he is worthy of a love that puts him first—one that he can trust and believe in. Sullivan will help Dan and himself understand that grief is a process, one that takes time and doesn’t mean that you forget the one you loved, but that living in the shadow of their memory doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from the possibility of ever loving again.
Caregiver is that unique novel whose main theme is timeless and still current despite the intervening years since its original release. It is a beautiful story of comfort, second chances, and survival. The story maps the growth of one man who will learn to value trust and honesty over taking the less painful route in life that has him living in fear of what may happen next to rock the false sense of security he so desperately craves. The novel is timeless and one that deserves every accolade and award it originally received.