Society just doesn’t want to expose what’s under its covers. In the United States, people are especially afraid of people who are different than themselves. Fear is transmitted from the institutional power structures that govern and the application of these power structures is brutal and destructive.
Rebecca Makkai does so much more than break the boundaries in her novel The Great Believers. Makkai’s novel is set primarily in Chicago and Paris as her two main characters Yale and Fiona traverse the strings of their hearts and challenge their minds to consider and reconsider what reality offers and how to keep that reality or reject it. Yale, an early-thirties gay man, faces a business challenge, a challenge to his marriage, and a challenge to his beliefs simultaneously. The reader is drawn close to Yale, at first feeling put off a bit by his attitude and tenacity and then enraptured by his tenderness and love.
Meanwhile, Makkai’s other main character Fiona is off on her own adventure. Having to leave behind parents who barely come to her brother’s funeral when he dies of AIDS, Fiona finds herself immersed in a man’s land, a gay man’s land, and she worships this life. However, Fiona’s own personal relationships build and then decay and readers likely feel that they should offer Fiona a shoulder, whichever one Yale is not using.
Many people may be skeptical when they read the inset of the book. They may feel somewhat repulsed and tell themselves they don’t want to read a book about gays, regardless of how endearing it might be. What’s so magical though is Makkai’s ability to weave the story in a way that makes the reader see the characters as people, the way she wants readers to see them.
Yale and Fiona aren’t different from us, they actually are us. If we don’t believe it, we will after our adventure through this novel. Set aside blocks of time to read because once you embark, you won’t want to leave.
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