Robert Glück's 'About Ed'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Tuesday December 5, 2023
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Author Robert Glück
Author Robert Glück

Captivating and bittersweet, local San Francisco poet and author Robert Glück has written a poignant and multifaceted tribute to his friend and distinguished painter Ed Aulerich-Sugai, whom he first met in 1970 as they became lovers and life partners.

In the mid-1980s, Ed eloquently clarified his intentions for his relationship with the author during a gay couples' workshop as "for Bob to be a home I can always return to." Though their love is portrayed as unevenly distributed and conveyed, it's a beautifully complex and resonant union as the couple moves through the magical early days of adoration and sexual exploration to bittersweet endings when Ed experienced drenching night sweats and the "shattering fatigue" and "internal collapsing" of an incurable infection.

Even Ed's appointment to get his HIV test results is fraught with tension and disappointment after the author remarks how surprised he would be if his partner's tests came back negative.

Aulerich-Sugai died of AIDS in 1994, but throughout the ordeal of his decline, Glück recorded their conversations, knowing they would form priceless memories in the years following his death. For some, it might seem quite macabre to record the musings of a dying man (or to get into bed with his corpse, and then wash it), but Glück cherished every single moment he spent with his former lover. That included memorializing his voice, his body, and his thoughts on tape and even attempting to improve his friendship with his lover, post-mortem.

The book encapsulates their loving relationship through copious notes, conversations, and in extensive passages from Ed's dream diaries which are essentially abstract musings set to paper.

The story of their friendship is not without its arguments, serious fights, jealousies, and disagreements, which only makes their union more human and realistic.

In the beginning of the book, Glück reflects that it's taken him two decades to complete it, which might explain the fragmented nature of the chapters and the frenetic way the prose zigzags from interpersonal memory to event to dreamscape to sex vision to contemplation. It's a jumble of techniques requiring readers pay close attention to in order to truly appreciate what Glück is attempting to convey here.

Extensively digressive and frequently transgressive, the prose and the purpose branches outward in stunning but often dizzying ways. Readers who are expecting a straight-forward memoriam to a dying lover at the horrifying beginning years of the AIDS era may become disillusioned.

The book frequently meanders off the expected path and into the misty territories of dreamscapes and the deaths of other friends and lovers, hookups with Ed's "greasy little beatnik" neighbor among countless others, and all those lost to the pitch-black oblivion of AIDS in the 1980s.

Though there are issues with a lack of linear progression and streamlined expression, the intensity and passion of the pair's relationship is undeniable and absolutely deserves this kind of literary honorarium. The narrative is constantly in motion, continually and often poetically fortified with the hued essences of sex, death, grief, friendship, human yearning, and, of course, the kind of enduring love that transcends any type of illness.

This is a literary memorial to savor and contemplate, even as it frustrates and challenges the reader to appreciate its exquisite hybrid of genres.

'About Ed' by Robert Glück ; New York Review Books, $18.95

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