Chasing a hot young man through the sexual liberation and debauchery of pre-AIDS New York, Andrew Holleran’s iconic gay novel Dancer From the Dance hit shelves in 1978. Now, 25 years into the epidemic, Holleran’s Grief (Hyperion; $19.95) stars an unnamed narrator who has watched his friends die of AIDS. While this next installment may seem sadly logical—“It’s the bookend to Dancer,” says Holleran—the narrator’s grief counselor, Abraham Lincoln’s widow, doesn’t. Having found a book of letters that Mary Todd Lincoln wrote after her husband’s death, the gay narrator, who never specifies his HIV status, spends the novella comparing her grief and inability to move on to his own. (He’s just lost his mom too.)

In vivid, melancholic sentences, Holleran, who is HIV negative, suggests that just as people in America may want to forget positive people and HIV, Mrs. Lincoln became another living reminder of an inconvenient national tragedy. “Modern American culture is all about trying to bulldoze over something and move on blindly,” says Holleran, 61. “But people are still dying of AIDS, and people are still dealing with the deaths of those who have already died.”  

The work is the latest entry in a grief literature boomlet, led by The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s journal of her husband’s death from a heart attack and her daughter’s ultimately fatal illness. But Holleran’s source material had a resonance all its own. “We will never know,” he says, “how my generation of gay men would have evolved without AIDS.”