Virtual Love

Institute History


Virtual Love is the true story of National Book Award winner Paul Monette's harrowing friendship with Tony Johnson, a charismatic 15 year old who contacts Paul by writing him a fan letter. Paul's boyfriend, Winston Wilde, encourages Paul to respond. Paul calls Tony and finds him so disarming, so spirited, that soon, they're talking on the phone every night for hours. Paul learns from Tony that he had been abused physically and sexually by his parents, and was rescued by his new "mom" Vicki, a social worker, who adopted him. Tony, who contracted AIDS as a result of his abuse is now living at Vicki's home in Union City, New Jersey where his health is deteriorating rapidly

Paul is moved by Tony's story and encourages him to write about it. To everyone’s surprise, Tony's memoir A Rock and a Hard Place, is published and becomes a best seller. People all over the world become obsessed with Tony and his tale of suffering and redemption.

Through letters, phone calls, and the Internet, Tony befriends a wide array of people from Oprah Winfrey and Mr. Rogers to Armistead Maupin and Mickey Mantle. No one whose life he touches is unaffected—most of all Paul. Tony becomes one of the most important people in his life, and as Tony’s pull becomes stronger, Winston feels Paul slipping away from him in more ways than one. When Paul eventually wants to meet Tony, things become even more strained. Vicki always has a good reason why Tony can't see him, or anyone. In his desperation to believe in Tony, Paul dismisses Winston's observation that Vicki and Tony's voices sound similar on the phone. Soon the accusations of a hoax grow louder, but so does the fierce chorus of Tony's supporters.

Eventually, Paul and Winston must face not only the obvious question—does Tony actually exist?—but also a more troublesome one: why does Paul need him to?

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