Are writers shirking their responsibility?

Elise T. Chisolm

July 21, 1992|By Elise T. Chisolm

Texas writer Larry McMurtry is one of my favorite authors. I just finished his latest book, "Evening Star," which is a sequel to his best seller "Terms of Endearment."

I had a hard time wading through the new novel. It seemed tired, half-hearted. It did not get good reviews. Still, I have always stood up for McMurtry, a Pulitzer Prize winner who draws wonderfully sharp characterizations.

"Evening Star" is mostly about the wacky, self-indulgent Aurora Greenway, played in the "Terms of Endearment" film by Shirley MacLaine.

But after a few days of the novel, I realized something else was bothering me. Aurora is old now, and so are her friends and her dysfunctional family. And they all have one thing in common -- they practice random, recreational heterosexual sex. One-night stands are the norm.

There is no mention of condoms throughout the book, safe sex or fear of AIDS. There is no mention of abstinence, either.

Am I sounding like Dan Quayle raging over Murphy Brown getting pregnant out of wedlock from a one-night stand with her ex-husband?

No, I'm not talking family values here -- they went down the American drain long ago. I'm talking medical menace -- heterosexual unsafe sex and the threat of AIDS.

Last week I read another best seller, "Sleeping Beauty," by the popular fiction writer Judith Michael.

This book has a powerful story line, and I couldn't put it down. But here again, after I finished, I realized all the men have one-night stands and quickie sexual encounters. And there is no mention of the use of condoms or precaution.

Don't novelists of the '90s have some responsibility to the readers?

Or perhaps I just expect more of books than I do of television. The "Golden Girls" never seem worried about safe sex. The writers of the new sitcom "Grapevine" -- a twentysomething portrayal of kids doing it any time, anywhere with anyone -- don't seem worried about safe sex, either.

Somehow I expect modern fiction writers to acknowledge the fact that AIDS is an epidemic. Then I remember statistics that we -- and I guess that "we" includes a lot of writers -- think AIDS happens to other people.

In the latest statistics from the Centers of Disease Control in Atlanta, an estimated 230,179 Americans have AIDS and about 1 million are infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. By the year 2000, worldwide, 24 million adults and several million children may have developed AIDS.

And 75 percent of all AIDS cases worldwide can be traced to heterosexual intercourse. Shouldn't that scare us? Heterosexual transmission of the disease is spreading more rapidly than previously thought.

Maybe I am expecting too much from writers, but I'd like to believe that in the future, safe sex will be practiced in fictional sexual encounters. And maybe that will have some influence on reality.

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