February 2018 – Now Everyone Will Know by Maggie Kneip
blog by Cindy Bushey
Memoirs have long been a popular choice for book clubs, in no small part for introducing readers to lives radically different from their own. Zion’s readers experienced just such an introduction when they read February’s choice Now Everyone Will Know by Maggie Kneip. At the conclusion of a memoir, readers generally have been left with an appreciation of why the author penned the work as well as an appreciation of what the author endured and how it affected the remainder of the person’s life. Certainly, we felt that way after other memoirs. Ms. Kneip’s work, however, primarily left us with many questions all centered around the word “why”.
First, we were transported back to the late 1980’s in New York City’s publishing world where Maggie met her husband, John Andrew. He was an editor at a major newspaper; she worked in public relations. Tellingly, she mentions that John was “a master at dispensing just enough information to make a story sing.” He evidently carried that reticence into what seemed a storybook courtship and marriage, followed by two children. This beautiful relationship crumbled like a sandcastle when hit with an ocean wave, a few weeks after their second child was born. John was seriously, terminally ill and it was AIDs. Maggie’s reactions, the reactions of her and John’s parents, John’s colleagues, his illness and death, and the decisions of whom to tell and how much form the basis for the rest of the book.
It was a different time, and our readers were required to view it through the lens then available, not through the lens of 2018. In the 1980’s, AIDs was a death sentence with no effective treatment. Anyone associated with it could be ostracized if not physically harassed. John’s illness predated tennis great Arthur Ashe’s infection from a blood transfusion and was way ahead of Magic Johnson’s announcement. Maggie had to deal with John’s refusal to admit the bisexual relationship that caused his infection, his refusal to say he was sorry – even going so far as to question whether SHE had given AIDs to him, worry about how John’s employer, colleagues, and friends would treat him, would his insurance cover his treatment and/or hospitalization, how her employer would treat her, how she was going to work with two children under the age of three, how she would take care of John, and whether she and the children were also sick. The stress was phenomenal. She put one foot in front of the other, had support from family and other people, made some good and bad choices, and managed to arrange John’s care and ultimately bury him, work, raise her children, and move on while essentially closing the book on that part of her life. All in all, an admirable phoenix story of rising from the ashes and recreating a new life.
However, our readers questioned the author’s motivation and the truth of some parts of her story. Why did she wait over twenty years to write this account? Was it cathartic or was it done with an eye to simply making money off the story? It was chosen as our February selection after a reader saw the author on a morning news show. What kind of marriage did she have, and why were two people in the communications field so unable to talk to each other about the important things? Why would John’s revelation of herpes before their marriage not have raised a flag in her mind along with his “muscle magazines”, and his swim club buddies with their speedos and overly familiar gestures of appreciation? Her inclusion of different love notes from John as chapter headings were jarring for our readers. Did he truly love her? Did he use her as a shield to keep his relationships from becoming common knowledge? Why, after dealing with the heartbreak, anger, and distress caused by a sexually transmitted disease was Maggie so ready to jump back in bed with another partner? What about her relationship with Dave who became a stand-in father for her children?
Empathy for John was almost nonexistent among us and fluctuated from page to page for Maggie. Certainly, many of our readers could not relate to the urban lifestyle in this book where the author seemed intent on dropping names, whether they were big universities, newspapers, banks, stores, or celebrities. Her need to make a point of being important because she attended, worked for, used, or knew the aforementioned places and people did not sit well with us. While the memoir is certainly from her point of view, we did not expect it to be so self-focused that family members would go nameless while fashion attire took a front seat. We also wondered at her inability to understand why her children were so disinterested in their father once they were in high school and college. The children lost their father before memories had time to form, she packed away all reminders of him, and she never spoke about him. Suddenly, when her daughter graduates from John’s alma mater, Ms. Kneip thinks there is a cosmic significance and cannot fathom why her daughter sees no connection. This caused us to question whether she ever explored her children’s viewpoint; we hoped she did before she decided to write a tell-all memoir. Even the title grated a bit, since she told more than a few people the real reason for John’s illness and death. For someone who wanted to keep everything quiet, she trumpeted the information to some of her friends and acquaintances. Most importantly, we questioned her motivations.
Our readers were grateful on a number of levels that we were looking at this story from the vantage point of 2018. There is less secrecy and more acceptance concerning heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Aids is no longer a death sentence but a chronic condition kept in check with medicines. And yet, we had some concern over the eagerness of people to share EVERYTHING via social media. Privacy can seem a quaint notion rather than a dignified response. We also learned some statistics that gave us pause. All types of sexually transmitted diseases are on an upswing. People who survived the 1980s and 1990s and learned the value of protection, caution, and precautions have grown older. The younger generation is more content to rely on antibiotics and other medicines to cure all types of conditions like gonorrhea and chlamydia. There is a danger in that response since antibiotic-resistant bacteria are also on the upswing.
Perhaps the defining emotion this fast reading yet unsettling memoir left with us was gratitude for the resiliency of the human spirit. Regardless of how two-dimensional many of her characters appeared, and how many questions we had about her motivations, Maggie found help when she needed it and from unlikely sources. That is something that resonated with all of Zion’s readers and had nine of our readers giving the story one thumb up, one reader voting a knuckle, three remaining neutral, and one giving it one thumb down. In March, we leave memoirs behind and return to fiction, reading Dandelion Summer by Lisa Wingate.