God Says No

11/02/2009 4:00 AM |

By James Hannraham
Available Now

Growing up, Gary Gray aspired to become a preacher and set out to live an exemplary moral life. The rules were simple: Love God, get married, have kids, and lead a parish. But that was before he laid eyes on his hunky roommate at Florida Christian College. While the feeling wasn’t mutual, Gary’s panic over his same-sex attraction sent him reeling and without much thought, he convinces himself that a close female friend is his soul mate. One unprotected sexual encounter later, Annie finds herself pregnant, and before the pair know what’s hit them, they’ve dropped out of school, gotten married, and are raising a daughter.

Not surprisingly, both Annie and Gary are miserable. While Gary enjoys Annie’s company, he has absolutely no interest in sleeping with her, and Annie is becoming increasingly sick of their platonic liaison. She doesn’t want a roommate, and can’t imagine why his libido is so low. For his part, Gary can’t tell her, since he fears condemnation for this detestable sin. Still, no matter what he does to suppress his desires, his lust for men is irrepressible. In fact, despite turning himself inside-out to stifle his impulses, they grow stronger; eventually, Gary starts having random, if guilt-laden, sexual encounters in men’s bathrooms and public parks. Annie, meanwhile, is trying everything she can think of to entice her disinterested mate. And nothing works.

Then Gary switches jobs and finds periodic respite from his tormented home life thanks to job-related travel. At first it’s fun, allowing him to have discreet rendezvous far from Annie’s watchful eye. But what about the commandment against adultery, he wonders? Visions of hellfire rip at his conscience and render him conflicted and hopeless.

Things get so bad that Gary attempts suicide, and fails. Indeed, his desperation is so enormous that he is willing to try anything, including a far-fetched plan to fake his death. It’s preposterous—but it works—and once his demise is orchestrated, he reinvents himself as one August Valentine and moves to Atlanta. The plan goes smoothly, until a freak run-in with a past acquaintance shatters the deception. Annie soon learns of Gary’s ruse and after a battle royale between the spouses, a contrite Gary agrees to enter a year-long Christian recovery program for homosexuals and addicts. As you’d expect, Gary finds recovery impossible.

God Says No explores the homophobia promulgated by mainstream Christianity and addresses the ubiquitous negativity that surrounds most discussions of homosexuality within church circles. The religious recovery movement is presented as well-meaning, but pointless, and everyone involved—whether queers or the people striving to cure them—seem damned whether they do or don’t. It’s wretched.

Although the novel is often funny, Hannraham’s writing is never more than adequate, and he routinely elevates message over craft. Nonetheless, it’s an important epistle, making God Says No a worthwhile, and sometimes piercing, look at the damage wrought by Fundamentalist dogma.