GARDENING IN CLAY: Reflections on AIDS by Ronald O. Valdiserri. (Cornell University Press: $18; 107 pp.) “Illness is the result of many different elements--natural phenomena, social influences, individual behavior--acting together synergistically. HIV is often the end result of a long chain of events, some of which . . . may appear trivial or even unrelated to the eventual outcome.” So writes Ronald Valdiserri in “Gardening in Clay,” a collection of essays about HIV that has, as one of its central points, the idea that AIDS can be blamed, at least partly, on society.
Valdiserri, a physician who lost his twin brother to the disease, has a starched, methodical style that effectively communicates information but falls short in the realm of feeling. This is too bad since the most original and thought-provoking essays, by far, are the few where Valdiserri is able to really give of his private self. There is a moving description of his friend Martin who didn’t tell anyone he had the disease, and the title piece--Valdiserri’s humble account of trying to create a garden with inferior soil, is a true stunner.
Whose fault is AIDS? What should be done in terms of prevention and education? “Gardening in Clay” honestly addresses these questions, and more, but in spite of numerous anecdotes and commentaries, many readers may come away feeling some connection was missed in this sad, enigmatic book.