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Fresh out of college, Peter moved to New York City in 1975. Wide-eyed and determined to make it as a poet, he and his boyfriend, Harold, moved into a place in Brooklyn, ready to face whatever hurdles came their way. Fast-forward to 2012, Peter is a bigwig at an advertising agency and Harold has long since died of AIDS, along with dozens more of their friends. The city has changed; Peter has changed, but he still longs for fulfillment, for family and for love. Is that too much to ask for at 59? In Now and Yesterday, Stephen Greco richly details gay life in New York City, providing a nuanced account of how it’s changed throughout the decades. And by splitting the narrative between the 28-year-old literary hopeful, Will, and the aging Peter, Greco explores generational issues often overlooked within this “Peter Pan” gay culture of ours.
Peter first met Will at a party his friend Jacob was throwing. Will was the bartender, and while Peter stood out for his looks and physique among an aging crowd of New York City gay socialites, the recognition was not mutual. A relatively successful journalist back in San Francisco, Will learned quickly that this eastern metropolis was not an easy place to make one’s way. There were the challenges of establishing oneself on a career path, of manoeuvring through a cityscape built upon the foundations of drugs, sex, and money. Peter, too, had had to learn to navigate the scene, and while there were certainly differences, the struggle to remain true to oneself amidst a sea of superficiality was central to both of their concerns.
When Jacob recommends Will for a party Peter is throwing, the two meet properly, and a friendship begins to grow that surprised them both. Yet as feelings unfurl and make themselves known, the specifics of their circumstance begin to confuse. Peter isn’t looking to be a “daddy,” and he doesn’t want to just fool around. His feelings for Will are deep and ever growing, but he fears making a move. Is he too old for Will to see him as sexual, as desirable? The longer we live, the more learn to endure, but one is never too old to be afraid. The fear of being kindly rejected because of his age, the shame of having to watch Will squirm as he explains he’d rather be friends, prevents Peter from expressing his true feelings. As young as Peter may feel, their generational differences stand out stark against an otherwise placid background
New York is a haven of gay culture and society–and it has been for a long time–but it’s easy for this present generation to forget that these streets were once a battleground. The same density of people that allowed the gay arts to flourish ensured that AIDS would ravish a generation. Those who lived though it, like Peter, carry the loss they experienced with them. Death, which made itself known in such a dramatic way, is always just beneath the surface. And especially as his fellow survivors begin to age, death returns in new and frightening manifestations. Jacob who, like Peter, survived his partner’s death, is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. To have been conscious of one’s own mortality for decades breeds a unique approach to life–and the closer they move towards death, the more nuanced their understanding becomes.
The weight of his past is something that Will can see in Peter, but not fully understand. It’s a burden that Peter doesn’t realize is inhibiting his future. By allowing the spectre of Harold to remain so absolutely, he ensures that there isn’t space for anyone to truly fill the void he left. It took many years, and the love of a guy as special as Will, to show him that he needed to move on from his loss, not merely survive it.
At its heart, this is a novel about love. By focusing largely on the insecurities of Peter, Greco allows his internal dialogue, which does come off as slightly sophomoric at times, to highlight the universality of our approaches to romance. Increased age does not carry with it a lessened desire for companionship. At 59, Peter doesn’t want to settle for a boy-toy– he’s still after the romance of his life. Greco’s novel shares the important message that even within a community that idealizes youth, it’s never too late to find true happiness, and it’s not wrong to want it.
Now And Yesterday richly details the cultural evolution and history of New York’s gay scene and its attention to the AIDS crisis, in particular, makes it an important addition to the canon of gay literature. The fact that the history of HIV isn’t included in most school curricula, coupled with the generational barriers that the gay community has yet to properly dismantle, makes this a uniquely accessible and relevant piece of work that educates as much as it enchants.
Now and Yesterday
By Stephen Greco
Paperback, 9781617730603, 444 pp.