MiniReview: "Acqua Calda" by Keith McDermott

The setting is beautiful Italy, that country that is so beloved of gay men. More particularly, Sicily.  Doesn't this cover make you want to jump right in (to either the water or the book)? 

What is it?

A novel by American writer Keith McDermott, first published in 2004.


What’s it about?

Gerald is an actor in New York, living with AIDS. At the start of the novel, his health is relatively stable, but he’s made his peace with death and is ready for it when it comes. But then he gets a phone call from Bill, a friend who is an avant-garde theatre director working in Europe, who invites him to be in his new show, in Sicily. Despite his reservations about the state of his health, Gerald decides to give it a go.


He chooses life over death.

Yes. And what better place for a gay man to be alive than in the sun of Italy! We love Italy, don’t we? So he goes there, and the book recounts the rehearsals for the show, the inevitable backstage bickering and love affairs, and so on.


I’m guessing Gerald finds some love?

He does, but sex doesn’t really play a huge role in this novel, as compared with most gay writing. In the end, it’s really about mortality and the importance of living whilst one is alive.


I’ve never heard of Keith McDermott.

I hadn’t either. I decided to read this book when I saw it on several lists of Best Gay Novels.


Oh! Is it that good?!

No, I don’t think it’s a great novel. McDermott is really an actor, first and foremost, and as far as I can discern, this is his only novel. And it’s a fine novel! It’s entertaining, original, and ultimately thought-provoking. Some of the writing is a bit forced, but it’s agreeable reading. And gay audiences will be interested in the way the novel captures a very particular time (the action is set in 1995) when AIDS was about to become something other than a death sentence, following major drug treatment breakthroughs. And Gerald is, achingly, balanced right on that wire. Will he make it to the other side?



One. This is not a great novel, but it’s a highly entertaining one. Especially if, like so many gay men, you love theatre. And Italy. (And Italians.) And drama. 

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