Memoir of a positoid

By By Christopher Wallace

By Christopher Wallace

Shawn DeckerMy Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure Penguin Publishing$9.95, paperback

Of the more prominent memoirs published in the past few decades by young aspiring writers-Prozac Nation and Girl, Interrupted, for example, and, um, A Million Little Pieces-many contain hyper-real, gut-wrenching accounts of the horrible things that some people go through.

The more sensitive readers may find themselves curled up and sobbing on the bathroom floor after only a few chapters, seemingly auditioning for the part of the author in the soon-to-be-released feature film.

Other writers, such as David Sedaris and Augustin Burroughs, write about the terrible things they’ve experienced in terribly funny ways. Enter Shawn Decker, another young writer with an unusual life story. Rather than reading like the screenplay of Tom Hanks’ “Philadelphia,” Decker’s memoir about living with AIDS, titled, My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure, is written in a way that almost makes you wish that you had grown up HIV positive, too.

For Decker, there is no such thing as a serious illness. He was born a hemophiliac and, thanks to tainted blood transfusions, he contracted hepatitis B and C and HIV before age 11. Since then, the HIV virus has been a tag-a-long companion, an obstacle, and most importantly, a backstage pass. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and sympathetic security guards, Decker met his favorite band, Depeche Mode, at age 14, and before that, at age 12, his favorite pro wrestler, Ric Flair.

Instead of dying before graduating from high school as doctors had predicted, Decker continued living the life of a normal “positoid”-his term for someone with AIDS-in rural Virginia. He began writing about living with the virus in 1996, starting his own Web site, www.mypetvirus.com, a phrase he lifted from Kurt Cobain lyrics.

Decker met other positoids online, formed friendships and started writing for POZ magazine, attracting attention and gaining notoriety as a fresh, droll voice in the AIDS community. Eventually, he began travelling the country, educating people about living with HIV. My Pet Virus: The True Story of a Rebel Without a Cure is his first book.

Overall, the writing is glib and Decker’s sense of humor manifests itself on almost every page-a mixture of wry puns and observations-but it lacks vitality and runs a bit thin as the narrative nears the end, satiating the reader rather than instilling a craving for more. My Pet Virus is an interesting story told by a mediocre storyteller. What it lacks in brilliance, however, it makes up in accessibility and relevance.