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I would love to come down decisively one way or the other about Pedro & Me, either joining in the cacophony of praise that graces the back cover (“powerful and captivating” says Publisher’s Weekly; “impossibly brave” says Kirkus Reviews) or deriding it as ham-fisted, mawkish tripe overburdened with sentimental feel-goodisms that offer little in the way of insight.
Alas, I can do neither. Pedro is a book that sits firmly on the middle of the fence. It’s neither so awful that it deserves naught but scorn, nor is it really worthy of those effusive comments on the back cover. It has moments of tenderness and honesty, but it also obvious and clumsy at times and Winick’s verbal and visual tics seem to keep true greatness at bay.
For those who may be unaware, Pedro and Me is Winick’s memoir of his friendship with AIDS activist Pedro Zamora.The pair were roommates on the third season of the MTV reality show The Real World back when the idea of throwing a group of people from different ethnicities and culture together in a room and filming them interacting with each other was considered novel (for those of you keeping score, that would be 1993).
Anyway, Zamora, who was also HIV Positive at the time the show was being filmed, passed away shortly after the show finished filming. Zamora’s influence thanks to the show was pretty widespread, not just in terms of AIDS education but in terms of gay rights as well, as he and his partner, Sean Sasser, were married on the show.
So Winick’s book, which was originally released in 2000 (this is a new edition, in case you were wondering why I was reviewing something that came out nearly a decade ago) was clearly intended as a tribute to his friend, whom he understandably regarded as a role model, due to his perseverance and forbearance while suffering from the disease.
There’s also a strong temptation to lionize Pedro to the point of sainthood, and while Winick doesn’t dive in headfirst, he doesn’t exactly shy away from the opportunity either. Winick’s portrayal of Zamora is so fundamentally decent and heroic that the reader begins to wonder what’s been left out. Did he never get angry or lash out anyone? Was he completely devoid of bad habits? I have no doubt he was an nice and admirable human being, but I’m not sure the ultimate picture we get is a fully rounded one.
The other big problem with the work is that Winick won’t get out of the way. For a book about his friend, he spends an awful lot of time talking about himself. To an extent, that’s understandable — I imagine he felt his celebrity from the TV show required him to provide a bit of background about himself. Also, framing the book from his own perspective gives the reader a “way in” as they can likely relate to Judd’s experiences a bit easier than they can to Pedro’s.
But when I say “get out of the way” I mean more that Judd won’t stop narrating. He often feels the need to comment on sequences that really don’t need the extra verbiage. This leads to groan-inducing passages like “I think the experience of watching two people fall in love is like seeing a snowfall.” He should have trusted the silences a bit more.
I don’t mean to beat up on the book though. There are some really good sequences here, enough to make me reconsider my initial impression of Winick’s abilities (which, admittedly, were only formed after reading a handful of issues of Outsiders and Green Arrow). Moments like the one where Pedro has a bout of late night sweats have an earned intimacy and I particularly enjoyed his initial recap of Pedro’s turbulent childhood, especially a multi-panel sequence showing the young boy running back and forth through his mother’s skirt. Rather clever, that.
So at the end of the day, I can neither praise nor damn Pedro & Me but merely give it a mediocre passing grade. It should have been better, but then again it could have been a lot worse.