Booktalkin’: GOD SAYS NO, By James Hannaham
July 20, 2009
It’s pretty much impossible for me to talk about this book without showing the cover–I mean, look at it. When I first got this book from my boss I think I spent at least fifteen minutes just looking at the cover before I even started to read it: The emotion of everyone pulling on the man on the cross, the backdrop of a nondescript strip mall, tinker bell and a pair of mickey mouse ears pulling him a certain way, the pained expression on the crucified man’s face. It’s like a dream in truest sense.
You can probably get a gist of the story from this picture, actually, but even so, the general idea: The story is about (and told from the perspective of) Gary Gray, a devout and god-fearing Christian, and how he struggles with being gay throughout his life: In college, as a married man and a father, as a Christian who dreams of being a preacher.
Might sound a little bit cliche or simplistic at first–the bare concept might be, maybe. But Gary Gray’s development and internal strife is incredibly insightful, beautiful, and heartbreaking all at once. His struggle with the concept of love and with Christianity itself is one of my favorite parts: He marries his first girlfriend and has a child with her, hoping that loving her will absolve him of his homosexuality. Instead, he ends up struggling with it throughout the next three years–at work with his co-workers, in public restrooms and Atlanta parks at night, in gay bars and with gay lovers. All the while he can’t figure himself out–He loves his wife but can’t be aroused by her as the Bible says he should be, and what does arouse him makes him both incredibly happy and yet pained in every fiber of his being for disobeying God.
Another favorite part was Gary’s inner thoughts and how they played out into his actions. It’s kind of hard not to spoil the book and give out an example, but the best way I can put it is how realistically his impassioned decisions are made. It really shows his internal struggle between the different kinds of love and passion, how he constantly straddles himself between making his decisions based on his Christian beliefs and his caged and often wild desires driven by emotion–Like Gary trying to stop a man he’s attracted to from speaking blasphemy by pressing his lips down on his. (Another good example quote, though this is me roughly remembering it so it isn’t quite exact: “It was like someone tied up my emotions to four different horses and fired a pistol.” Man.)
There are some beautiful quotes, too: the first line of the novel, “Russ broke my Jesus, and I was mad,” made me just sit there and think a minute. This Jesus actually ends up being a really neat running metaphor–Russ is Gary’s first homosexual attraction, and you later find out that the Jesus (which is a little statue) lost a part “right at the rib cage.” Mm. There’s also this wonderful Disney World quote that I should’ve marked and now have lost, which went something like “Disney World was the place where we could always be happy. Instead of making our home a happy place, we just went somewhere that was happy already.” Granted, there’s also a fair amount of truthful but still pretty overdone paradoxes, like “I thought Jesus loved everyone?” and “God made me this way, too,” but even when the philosophy becomes a bit stale, the perspective of Gary Gray sells it all the same.
In retrospect, the weirdest part, and the most peaceful, is that the book never really takes a firm stance in the debate that rages in Gary’s head through the entire story. Maybe that’s for the best–it’d be untrue to the character to have the issue simply resolve itself, although the book ends with enough hope to consider it at least somewhat happy. Even so, the story as a whole is heartbreaking–I’ve tried to sum it up in an original way, but every time I come back to the last line of the back cover: God Says no “gives a riveting picture of how a life like [Gary’s] can be lived, and how it can’t.”
[So, um… was this entertaining and/or interesting? I wanted to try doing a book talk of some sort but I wasn’t sure how it’d pan out. Too much summary? Not enough? Shorter, maybe? More/less of my own insight? Honest comments on this topic are very appreciated.]