Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir

ISBN: 0156005816
ISBN 13: 9780156005814
By: Paul Monette

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About this book

This "tender and lyrical" memoir (New York Times Book Review) remains one of the most compelling documents of the AIDS era-"searing, shattering, ultimately hope inspiring account of a great love story" (San Francisco Examiner). A National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and the winner of the PEN Center West literary award.

Reader's Thoughts


this book was incredibly sad and powerful. Paul Monette is an incredible writer – he has a way with words and writes with such sensitivity and power. In Borrowed Time we read the story of a man who watches his partner die slowly from AIDS. All the while knowing that he himself has tested positive for the virus and his own days are numbered. The story captures what it was like to be gay man in the early 80s – watching so many of your friends and loved ones die and suffer. it also captured the frustration of being unable to find the right medications, since so many were caught up in clinical trials, and anguish of the lack of coverage of the disease. People were dying left and right in the world seem to be ignoring it. What a terrible time –It is devastating to think about.through the book, we realize the gay people are no different from straight people – they love their friends and family members and partners just as much. It's easy to put yourself into the story and imagine what it would be like to live through everything that Monette lives through Many times, the book brought tears to my eyes.


This is a hard read. It's about a tough subject matter, and it's also now a book that is of a somewhat historical nature. I loved it and found it touching and it was enlightening in that it really gives an accurate and detailed portrayal of a gay relationship, the begining of the AIDS crisis and what it was like then to try and survive the disease. The author is now himself passed in 1995- it is amazing to have this account of one couple's fight at a time when social services were non-existant and the stigma about HIV was perhaps at it's height. Still the couple is quite lucky to have two sets of surviving and enlightened parents and family and friends to rely on. i can't imagine the person, and there were are are many, who had no support system at at time like this. The writer also admits freely they were privileged to have connections to drugs and doctors and resources because of their friendships and their positions. Which again, makes it all more clear why even today we need to have social services available for those who are not that lucky. My only complaints about this book was the level of detail about things like what they were reading and the smart-snobery of the couple-but that is just a matter of my taste, and really also helps flesh out who they were- intellectuals, educated at harvard and yale, and living in a insular world they had created with intelligent and creative friends. Overall- if you are looking for a history of the epidemic told through memoir this is as good as it gets. The shock is not so much about what they endured for me, but what people living with HIV are still enduring over 20 years later.


Not a book for the faint of heart. This is a lyrical, heartbreaking and powerful look at one couple's battle and one half's eventual demise from AIDS as it was just coming into the national conscious. The amount of suffering and loss Paul and Roger experienced both personally and among friends and family during the early-mid 80s is astounding, especially when it's remembered that at the time, this was still a disease that was not acknowledged by the government. My office was heavily involved with reporting of the first AIDS cases (though I was only a child when all this was happening), so it was interesting to read the stories presented in this memoir and relate them back to tales that I've heard from my co-workers from that time. Even though this is one man's account of the suffering, he did an excellent job of describing the dichotomy of terror and "head in the sand" mentality that could be seen in the gay community and eventually on the national stage. Be sure to have tissues handy, if not during the book, definitely at the end.


Any gay man today who has any shred of honesty or happiness in their life today, owes it to themselves and those before them to read this book. We are extremely fortunate to be who we are WHEN we are - because if we had randomly been born 20 years prior, our lives as gay men would have been a terrifying, defeating nightmare. This book is hopeful, delicate, human. Filled with rage and with grace - it is an important reminder to me, in my life, how lucky I am.

Jordan Gregory

Even though I know now that the drug had turned on Roger, I still can't understand how we could have had no warning. Hope had left us so unprepared. We had grown so grateful for little things. Out of nowhere you go from light to dark, from winning to losing, go to sleep murmuring thanks and wake to an endless siren. The honeymoon was over, that much was clear. Now we would learn to borrow time in earnest, day by day, making what brief stays we could against the downward spiral from which all our wasted brothers did not return. (183)As Paul Monette's partner of ten years, Roger Horwitz, declines in health from the AIDS virus, all of his friends tell him to do what no one else is doing in the early '80s: write about it. And so after Roger's death two years later, Monette begins the painful journey of remembrance, tracing the warning signs, treatments, and tragedies that marked Roger's final months. As with his other memoir, Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story, Monette writes about homosexual issues to bring them out of the closet (sorry, had to do it, ba dum chhhhh). Here, "God's Wrath" on America's sinners is instead treated as the tragedy that it was/is, and imbued with the sweetness of Monette and Roger's relationship. It's an incredibly brave move, especially considering the turmoil it caused for Monette: remembering Roger's first treatments that turned out to be only poisonous, the treatments that turned on him halfway through, Roger's blindness, and Monette's own burgeoning struggle with AIDS. I admire the man, and the couple, even more now for their honesty, bravery, and love. The problem here, and the only reason this book gets three stars, is a lingering cowardice. Brave as it is, Monette seems to go to great lengths to hide behind extraneous details, and so buries the emotions of his most tumultuous experiences. In Becoming a Man, Monette confesses to waxing poetic when he's uncomfortable, and it's plainly evidenced in Borrowed Time. He introduces too many friends and loved ones, popping in to show their concern and support for Roger. There are so many, that they seem to blur together into a veritable cyclone of homosexuals (Hurricane Cher, if you will), touching down in the memoir sporadically, and distracting me. In retrospect, I suppose this establishes a sense of community, this outpouring of support in a historical time of darkness. And yes, okay, Monette's celebrity connections are kinda fun, irrelevant as they are: lunch with Whoopi Goldberg to discuss a movie that never happened, talks with the cast and crew of Scarface over Monette's novelization, and a few eminent literary figures like Marjorie Perloff (totes cited her in essays before) make appearances.One other teensy-weensy point of contention: Monette refers to Roger as his "friend" throughout this book. Irritating. Even Monette's explanation, that Roger cannot be confined to the label of lover or the bourgeois labels of husband or partner, just seemed pretentious and counterintuitive. It felt at odds with his objectives, of honoring Roger, of exposing AIDS for what it is, and for bolstering homosexual love. I see your reason, Monette, but I disagree. Beyond my bitching and moaning, however, Monette's first memoir has proven to be just as moving as his later works, and leaves me excited to dive into his essays, Last Watch of the Night: Essays Too Personal and Otherwise. Buy this title from Powell's Books.


I loved anything Paul Monette wrote during his short lifetime, but Borrowed Time was so deeply personal, so painful, and so sadly mournful that I always come back to this one for a reread. As a nurse who cared for AIDS patients during the 80s and at the height of the experience,too many times I saw Paul's story in my patients and my friends. The chilling pages where Roger begins to become ill to the final pages of his death left me reminded of my own experiences with lost friends. Sadly, Paul Monette's experience (and his own eventual death from HIV a few years later) are reflected in the experiences of millions of us. Imagine two infected men taking care of each other - both sick, both frightened, but both strong in their desire to live while they still could.Maybe you had to be old enough to have lived through the 80s and the early years of the epidemic to fully appreciate how frightening those years were. Monette wrote of the experience and his many losses with such simple dignity and such love that it brought tears to my eyes.There is a renewal of interest in what is now called "The Early Years" of AIDS and the death of a generation of innocent victims -- victims of the disease, of apathy, of political apathy and murder. Regardless of your own perceptions of the AIDS experience, this book is not to be missed if you want to know how it really was during a decade when there was no hope.


I bought this from a search I ran on for memiors concerning AIDS.Wow. The writing was poignant and full of raw truth. It was not over indulgent in the writing, which is so easy for a talented author to do in a memior. As one would expect, it was loaded with sadness, but there were so many instances of light moments and memories that balanced the emotional tone of the work. It didn't push away heterosexual readers or people who haven't faced AIDS head on. I know it's hokey, but I felt as if I knew Paul and Roger both, and I felt some grief knowing that one died when I was in middle school and the other when I was in kindergarten. And the memoir captured the fright of the early days of the AIDS pandemic. I never knew until I read this. The details rocked me. I remember thinking to myself on how I wouldn't be able to recall such details about my life or my husband's life for such a book. I admire Monette's ability to comb it all together so beautifully.I think people should read this book. It delves into what love, real love, is, and it taps into the tunnels of fear we all have on the subject of losing our partners. It makes me appreciate my life and all that is still possible in it. It makes me angry at those who called it a "gay cancer" and thought it was God taking out the trash. How could they think that about people? What I like most is all that this book has stirred up in me. I revel in the awareness it's given me. The author wrote other books, but I don't know if I will read them.


Perhaps the most poignant, soul-stirring, achingly beautiful piece of writing I have read. It is so humbling to realize that if I had been born twenty years earlier, I would probably have had to watch many friends and lovers pass away -- if, that is, I had survived myself. Monette's depiction of the ravages of HIV cuts straight to the soul. And more than a polemic account of the Reagan administration's criminal, abhorrent neglect (for that, of course, it would be hard if not impossible to outdo Randy Shilts), it is a compelling and heartbreakingly tender love story. Monette's partner and best friend, Roger Horwitz, had to suffer a most undignified end, but in this superbly crafted, loving eulogy, his memory is exalted and imbued with utmost dignity. It is truly remarkable how little Monette focuses on his own HIV diagnosis; his slowly but surely failing health is a mere afterthought when the love of his life is in danger. I am usually able to intellectualize what I am reading, to separate myself from the text and to pause when the going gets rough. With this book, I was paralyzed with dread and could not tear my eyes away, and during the last chapters I literally wept. This is a sobering portrait of the horrors of the disease, relegated to the back pages until it had reached pandemic proportions, and still allowed to run rampant by profit-driven pharmaceutical companies today. It is one of the most horrific scourges our species has faced. This book takes us away from the figures and statistics that are too big to comprehend, and shows us what happens to individual lives caught up in the tide of war against an invisible and insidious enemy. It is stunning, harrowing, by turns lyrical and unbearable, and absolutely unforgettable.


When I first began reading this book, I though "oh God, is this memoir going to be this depressing the whole way through?" It was.. but it got increasingly better. I initially felt it was overly cerebral for an AIDS memoir (that sounds terrible..) and a tad over-dramatic, but it comes together gracefully, powerfully, and lovingly. I felt there was a certain level of self-martyrdom in Paul's account of Roger's illness, but became convinced it was a memoir written purely for the honor of Roger's memory when Monette ended the novel without addressing his own issues with the virus. I'd only recommend this to certain people. The ones who are compassionate and patient.


I couldn’t believe this was the very first memoir about living with (and in this case, dying from) AIDS. It is also the definitive memoir on the subject. I truly believe this should be mandatory reading for high schoolers, as any sexuality is only implicit and the perspective is invaluable. Monette eloquently pinpoints the effects of homophobia on the out-of-control AIDS crisis in the 1980s, showing how ignoring the problem and pretending it is restricted to an underclass of society can damage every part of that society. This memoir is sophisticated yet unpretentious, tragic but not self-pitying. Simply put: incredible.


What a marvelous book this was in its day. I am sure that if one looked they could find a better one. He was so brave to let us all look at his life and illness. I have lost so many friends and this book helped me in so many ways to help adjust to all the death around me. I would recommend this book to anyone who has lost/losing a love one to this disease even if it isnt immenent.


For so many, the AIDS crisis and epidemic has become a footnote in gay history. Thank God, folks are living mostly normal lives today. But what Monette's writing so eloquently reveals is the way the community fought, struggled and in the end – suffered.What was also so beautiful was that this was as much a story about the incredible love between Paul and Roger....In fact, that may have been – at the core – its most central message.

Sarah Jane

How can I not give this book 5 stars? This is probably the most well-written memoir I have ever encountered. It reads like the most painful of poems, and I was entranced and horrified and saddened all at the same time.

Christopher Parsons

What a painful, heartbreaking, beautiful book. Monette's poetic description of his partner's death from AIDS is a life changing read. Once you've finished weeping, check out his book of poetry called "Love Alone: 18 Elegies for Rog" which will give you more perspective on their relationship.


One important use of this uncomfortable and heartbreaking book is to reminds us of how callous and unconscionable Reagan's/his administration's reaction to the burgeoning AIDS crisis was. That said, this book is a difficult read and hard to judge purely on literary/enjoyment grounds. It's a bit maudlin in spots, but what would you expect. Sometimes I daydream about what Paul Monette's blog would be like.

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