Originally published December 2018
Should you read “The Great Believers?”
Short answer: Yes.
Short, but longer answer: I cried ugly through the last 30 pages. My God, yes, read this.
“The Great Believers” is above all else, a love story about the closest of friendships. At its core sits Fiona, a young, determined woman adopted as a sister by her brother’s close-knit circle of gay friends in mid-80s Chicago.
Fast-forwarding, then rewinding, between then and a near-present Chicago and Evanston and Paris, Fiona is the thread that holds these two stories together. And while she is front and center in 2015, it’s one of her brothers’s friends, Yale Tishman, that is the focus of 1985 Chicago and Evanston.
I’ve mentioned gay, and I’ve mentioned mid-80s, so it does not take a rocket scientist to conclude that a number of the mid-80s characters don’t live to see 2015. It would be the emotionally conservative reader that would put some walls up early and read this novel from a strictly observatory point of view. But to do that would mean missing out on the pure joy that is an intense emotional connection to a superbly crafted story about love in all its forms, the most central of which is friendship.
This is one of those reads that will have you reaching back into your memory to just sit in those moments with friends that are no longer part of your daily routine. Ones that helped define that person you are now. Those that had a huge impact, even if they were a part of your life for a very short time. No one escapes adolescence and young adulthood without a few scars, and the toll it takes on these amazing characters is ravaging. I wanted to sink into the book and just cling to Yale. CLING.
And like any good book, there’s also nods to forgiveness and redemption. And it was Julian’s (Julian! Of all people!) line toward the end, speaking to Fiona and Claire, that just slayed me:
“If we could just be on earth at the same place and same time as everyone we loved, if we could be born together and die together, it would be so simple. And it’s not. But listen: You two are on the planet at the same time. You’re in the same place now. That’s a miracle. I just want to say that.”
I am a puddle. A weeping puddle. Stop what you are doing and get this book now if you haven’t already.