Book Review - Outwrite says yes to God Says No

Author James Hannaham examines the psychological tension of being both deeply Christian and homosexual

Sunday June 14, 2009 11:00 am EDT

James Hannaham’s God Says No details the life and transformations of Gary Gray, an overweight young black man who wants to believe. Inspired by the fire-and-brimstone sermons of his youth, Gary attends Central  Florida Christian College with the dream of one day preaching on the radio. It turns out Gary isn’t much of a student, and he finds himself easily distracted – mostly by the attractive, fit body of his male roommate.

Gary tries to do what he thinks is right (he marries and impregnates a sweet, doe-eyed co-ed), but continues to be “distracted.” Gary learns to find other men in bathrooms or public parks and, despite struggling to reconcile it with his faith, makes a habit of cruising for what he calls “guy stuff.” Eventually, Gary tries to live an openly gay life in Atlanta, which works about as well as the pray-the-gay-away ministry he tries next. God Says No explores the tension embodied by a person who deeply longs for both his Christian faith and sexual desires. The book earnestly considers Gary’s struggles without sounding condescending.

As a story about a young black guy coming to terms with sexuality and spirituality, the novel clearly echoes author James Baldwin. But God Says No alludes to something more materially contemporary than the world of letters. While pathologically repressed people such as Sen. Larry Craig often become rhetorical pawns in the culture wars, few attempts have been made to understand the psychology behind such a lifestyle. Hannaham’s story is clearly critical of a closed-minded, dishonest suburbia, but the author’s controlled prose keeps the critique from turning into a soapbox.

Gary narrates the novel with a naïve positivity and delivers offbeat observations about his world. Faced with a hallucinatory vision of the savior after a train wreck, Gary says, “When He lifted up His hand in the classic Jesus gesture, I thought, Darned if this fellow doesn’t have the best posture of anybody I’ve ever met.” Gary’s kind of inviting innocence keeps the story at a steady pace, though this certainly isn’t a novel to breeze through. As much as Gary attempts to please those around him, he’s met with constant disrespect and lack of understanding from everyone in his life, fellow Christians and bathroom cruisers alike. Understanding a life like Gary’s isn’t easy, but God Says No gets fascinatingly close.

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