"April Fool's Day" by Bryce Courtenay (1993)
"Damon turned to me. 'Dad, I told him you'd be coming tonight, that you'd hug him, that you'd be his dad as much as he wanted.' Damon looked up at me, his eyes swollen from crying, suddenly he buried his head into my chest. 'But you got here too late,' he sobbed."
Bryce Courtenay was a South African-born Australian author. He passed away in 2012. He is best remembered for his novel The Power of One, which was adapted into a movie in 1992.*
I haven't read The Power of One, but it's got to be an easier read than April Fool's Day. April Fool's Day is the story of the author's son Damon, a hemophiliac who died a slow and painful death after acquiring the AIDS virus during a routine blood transfusion. The title refers to the day on which Damon died.
And Jesus Christ, I'd be hard pressed to find a more depressing book that this one. Even Angela's Ashes, which I also read not long ago, has at least a bit of black humor to relieve it. April Fool's Day has none of that, and what we are instead treated to is a long, laborious description of Damon's misfortunes from beginning to end. Even the happy parts are sad, because you know from the very first chapter that Damon's going to die.
Not that my saying this book is "sad" is a valid criticism. Plenty of great books are sad. The Gulag Archipelago, for one. 1984 for another. Many giants of literature wrote some truly sad shit, but this takes nothing away from what they wrote.
No, my one, real complaint about April Fool's Day is that it's kind of a mess. The author himself admits at several points that he may have been too close to the subject matter, and I can heartily confirm that yes, he was. He's never quite sure if he wants this book to be a loving memorial to his son or an indictment of the Australian medical establishment. The book exhibits mood swings (changes in tone) as violent as the people it attempts to describe, and the changes between different people's points of view doesn't help matters any. I have no doubt that Bryce Courtenay could have written a great book to memorialize his son, but this isn't it. He was simply too close to the events he was describing, and too close to the people he put into the book.
If Bryce Courtenay hadn't already been a well-known author in 1993, I doubt this book would have been published. Its publication can also be credited to the AIDS crisis, which was still very present in everyone's mind that year. Freddy Mercury, one of AIDS' most famous victims, died just two years before, in 1991. Due to this and other factors Courtenay's publisher probably saw a market for April Fool's Day, but it's clear from the finished product that they were in too much of a rush to release it.
"Teacher Man" and "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt (2005 and 1996)
"The Clan of the Cave Bear" by Jean M. Auel (1980)
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson (1971)
"The Dharma Bums" by Jack Kerouac (1958)
*If you're like me this will sound really familiar but you won't be able to place it. The Power of One is the "South African boxing movie" in which a white South African brings the races together through boxing (or something.) Morgan Freeman's in it for about a second.