God Says No (Review)

James Hannaham - McSweeney's

James Hannaham’s God Says No might be slightly more interesting if it were a work of nonfiction. The fact that it’s not — the fact that Hannaham enjoyed full creative authority in detailing his main character’s struggle with homosexuality — renders the book not merely irrelevant as social commentary but plain boring to boot. Arguably, indecision and inner turmoil are the hallmark characteristics of Gary Gray, a middle-aged black man striving to reconcile his same-sex urges against a married, Christian reality. But Hannaham’s inability to come to any noteworthy conclusion is not limited to the character’s development — it’s plainly visible throughout the narration. Hannaham maintains such a flaccid and meandering voice that even Gary’s forbidden sexual encounters feel generic. Hope surfaces for both the book and its bumbling, passive hero when Gary makes the bold decision to fake his own death and relocate as an openly gay man. It soon becomes clear, though, that the new Gary Gray (or August Valentine, as he’s renamed) is even more tedious than the old one. August abruptly abandons his previously all-consuming religious dilemma in favor of detailing a dull relationship with Miquel, the first guy he meets in a gay bar. Hannaham does manage occasionally to evoke sympathy for the wayward Gary, but it piggybacks on the universal understanding that it would suck not to be able to have sex with the person(s) of one’s choosing. Gary’s tired story rambles on, as his lie is exposed and he agrees to counseling at a pray-the-gay-away compound, where Hannaham misses even more opportunities for thought-provoking observation. A long time book critic, Hannaham’s first effort frequently calls to mind a “those who can…” adage. Grade: D

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