Picks and Pans Review: Landscape Without Gravity

updated 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/29/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Barbara Lazear Ascher

At 31, Bobby Ascher died of AIDS. His sister, Barbara, 12 years his senior, was like a second mother to him. Landscape Without Gravity is the poignant story of her grief.

Ascher focuses less on Bobby or on AIDS—which she describes as a kind of hero's journey—than on grief itself. If only she didn't resort so much to metaphor! She describes mourning in terms of sailing against strong winds, exploring like Lewis and Clark lost in a frigid clime, being alone on a raft, and a hermit crab searching for a new shell. But when she writes about the "wild thing" who was Bobby, she is engrossing and very moving.

Bobby told tall tales, loved to perform and had a passion for life that couldn't be contained in their reserved New England household. In New Orleans he found his niche and his permanent lover, George. As bartender in a gay bar, he had a nightly audience who loved him for his wit, beauty and essential goodness. When he died they closed the street for a jazz funeral.

Ascher, who had never witnessed overt grieving in her stoic family, digs deep with a host of "if onlys"—the biggest being if only she'd known how sick Bobby was. In the 2½ months from diagnosis until his death, she regularly spoke to him on the phone, making plans for visits. He sounded great, but she couldn't see what he had become; and because George and Bobby were in denial themselves, she never suspected the truth.

Ascher's painful observations are often sparked with wit: "It's odd how you can cry and mourn and still fail to accept that the one whose loss you grieve is gone forever.... Face it, since he died he hasn't called or written once." When she's good, she's very good, But Landscape may be most appreciated by readers who are themselves dealing with grief. (Delphinium, $20)

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