BOOKS: TO DIE FOR

AN AIDS NOVEL THAT LAUGHS THROUGH THE PAIN

An AIDS novel that has the titanic as a central metaphor is a bit obvious. Which is what Allan Gurganus clearly intends. Nothing about Plays Well with Others (Knopf; 353 pages; $25) is coy, demure or otherwise closeted. In fact, the author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All now tells more than many readers, gay or straight, may have the patience to hear.

Richard Hartley Mims Jr., the novel's HIV-negative narrator, can't stop prematurely expostulating about his talented Greenwich Village friends who began dying from AIDS in the early '80s. Robert, an Iowa Adonis, squeezes a legendary social life and...

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