Review: From Particles and Disputations: Writings for Jeff by Philip D. Luing

Since the 80s when AIDS became rampant, its face has not changed.  Its name, though not as raging in the headlines these days, has not been forgotten.  What is different is each individual life it claims and the story of that life.

Philip Luing’s book, From Particles and Disputations, is the story of one of those lives lost – a celebration of Jeffrey Francis John Lalonde who succumbed to AIDS in 1994, twelve years after he met Philip.  During their relationship, Philip liked to write down his thoughts and record their memories in brief passages and verse. This book is a collection of his writings. As Philip states in the Forward: “one of my greatest comforts was to sort through and organized a drawer full of mere lines drawn on frail paper – birthday cards, holiday greeting, anniversary remembrances, various notes I’d written, a few he’d written me. Jeffery wasn’t much of a writer. He had a gift for spontaneously saying what he was thinking, then showing by his action what he meant by it.”

It’s always fun to discover new love, both in real life and on the written page. That sense of happiness shines through in the earlier passages when the couples’ love is fresh and exciting. As the years progress, the relationship ages but we still see that magic in Philip’s words.

The timeline of the book focuses mainly on birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and their anniversary. While this pattern becomes very repetitive, the words are new each time and give the reader hope that both men were very happy in their relationship. Of course every relationship has its dark moments, and the reader already knows the shadow that was cast on this couple early on, but theirs is a story of love and I was glad to see the focus on that.

The verses I liked best were the ones that fell in between special occasions. Here, we see a more secretive and intimate side of Philip as he sometimes questions the rights and wrongs of their relationship, like in this verse:

You will not always find me in our hide-and-seek, not when I am the seeker and look for you in lonely corners only to discover other hidden things. I do not mean to lose you, but if I did not sometimes lose myself, how would I find anything? There’s a vagabond’s soul within this homebody with who you’ve mated, a soul that does not always recall the most expeditious path home, and that is why sometimes I am lonely , even in your arms.

Or in this entry Philip writes from a hotel room while Jeff is celebrating his 30th birthday with his family:

It’s fitting he should be with his family, his parents, sisters, and nieces. I, however, am not fitting here, am not at home in this situation. Circumstances, i.e. the discomfiture of those related by blood, dictate that I not join him at the family get-together’s he’s attending.

I know that feeling all too well – one’s family may have accepted what you are, but they still cannot come to terms with who you are and who you share your life with. The struggle that exists from having to choose between one’s family and the one we share our life with, when they cannot coexist is the hardest of all. Notice also that Philip calls Jeff “he” in this passage instead of addressing him as “you,” making it a verse Philip has written for himself.

At times, the longer passages sound more like poems though they are not written in a stanza or verse format like the more obvious poems also included. There are also frequently misspelled or misused words, possibly preserving the writing in its original form or lending itself to poetic license. While I didn’t mind this so much, I think some brief asides where Philip offers some explanation or flushed out the story a bit more would have helped piece the passages and verses together, ultimately creating a clearer story for the reader.

There is a short appendix in the back of the book presenting a brief chronology of events in the couple’s life. I enjoyed reading this and then going back to the dates in the book and rereading some of the corresponding passages. Perhaps incorporating the appendix into the body of the book would help paint that clearer picture.

There is a picture of the couple at the very beginning, and another picture at the end taken on the day Philip sprinkled Jeff’s ashes in the ocean.  Since this is such a short book (80 pages of text), I would have loved to have seen a few more snapshots throughout.

Ultimately, this is a love story – one story finding its end all too soon, but finding its memory preserved in a book like this. And there’s something to be said for that, because while Philip and Jeff’s story may not be unique to us, it was their story and it takes a lot of heart and a lot of courage for one to open up and share that with the world.



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