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Review: Well With my Soul by Gregory G. Allen

April 16, 2012

Well With my Soul coverTitle: Well With my Soul
Author: Allen, Gregory G.
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fiction, Religion, GLBTQ
Publisher / Year: ASD Publishing / 2011
Source: From the publisher for review.
Rating: -indie lit shortlist book-
Why I Read It: Indie Lit shortlist read.
Date Read: 07/02/12

The two main characters in this story are Jacob, a gay male model turned preacher, and his older brother Noah. Noah is bitter from growing up in the shadow of his brother, who was always the favorite of his mother, despite anything he was doing to support the family after his father’s death. When Jacob moves to New York to start his modelling career, Noah is left at home. Eventually he moves as well, and the two brothers go through the acts of being family while never knowing quite what to make of the other or how to interact. The way this relationship was portrayed felt very real and was well-written.

To be honest I was really surprised while reading this to imagine that anyone had submitted it to the indie lit GLBTQ category. This is a book about a gay male model who, after hitting rock bottom via drugs and partying, turns to religion. He renounces being gay, claiming that god has made him straight, and then becomes a preacher for years. The entire book made me incredibly uncomfortable and I’m not sure if that was how I was meant to feel, or not. I believe, from an interview I read, that the author was interested in examining the idea of ‘praying the gay away’ but personally I don’t believe this book succeeded in his goal. Instead the book came across as largely homophobic and it was only one character and his opinions who held the book from really descending to that level.

Through this book Allen brings up topics such as partying, sexual risks and adventures, and living and dying with AIDS, in addition to the religion aspect. I felt that the other aspects were better done, especially the AIDS. Jacob was an interesting character and it was easy to see throughout that he wasn’t really changing or growing as he was claiming to be. The way that he moved through life was interesting and definitely highlighted the importance of truly understanding what motivates people before becoming a big part of their life.

In the end I am rather conflicted over this story. It was interesting to read about how one man could go so far off the path of his own life and happiness, but it was also difficult to read. Jacob is incredibly sexist and the book is peppered with quotes about how he had to keep his wife in her place, the proper place for a woman being the home, feeling like a “real man” when he kisses a woman, and more.  Noah as well makes a few comments along these lines. Jacob also makes comments such as “It’s environment, or a traumatic experience.” (page 316) in reference to a question as to why he is gay.

I’m interested in hearing further opinions on this. Did others find it problematic and possibly even upsetting / triggering, or did you appreciate the way the religion / gay divide was explored?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2012 11:14 am

    I also think this sounds quite homophobic and a little weird. There is no way that being gay can just be prayed away. It doesn’t happen, and frankly, it’s a little upsetting that the author chose to go this route. I am not sure if I would read this book, but I would be interested in seeing some of the other reactions to it. Very provocative book, and great review today, Amy!

    • April 25, 2012 5:01 pm

      Thanks zibilee. I, too, am interested in hearing more perspectives and reactions to the book. I mean, interesting to read about the concept but the way it was done just left me feeling… eh.

  2. buriedinprint permalink
    April 16, 2012 8:58 pm

    Yikes. Talk about complicated territory. I’ll be interested to hear if others who have read it have any ideas for you. It’s one thing to examine the idea of it, which could make for a fascinating work, but quite another to advocate the idea of it, which is a book that I wouldn’t want to read either.

    • April 25, 2012 5:01 pm

      Yes and it was a fine line, BIP, I felt, that the author teetered on!

  3. April 17, 2012 9:51 am

    “Praying the gay away” while reprehensible, is a fact of homophobes’ lives. Therefore, this book simply explored an aspect of that through his character, Jacob. But this book was so much more than that. It’s a story that explores the self-hatred that some gays go through either because they are surrounded by people who they allow to make them feel “less than” or it’s self imposed because they’ve done so much “partying” that they can’t face or live with the consequences of their debauchery.

    This book didn’t make me feel uncomfortable, nor do I try to second guess how this author should have written what was in his head. Allen wrote what he wrote because it was a story he felt needed telling. Period. You know, like most authors write what the write because they want to share a story.

    The great thing about being a human being is we have the right to read or not read things, just as the authors have the right to write stories or not write them.

    Personally, I loved the character development and the dialogue. The fact that I came away hating and then pitying Jacob is testament to the fact that Allen created a “real” character and not just some caricature.

    I wholeheartedly recommend WELL WITH MY SOUL!

    • April 25, 2012 5:03 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts adauphin04. I think maybe the self-hatred is what makes the book in part so difficult to read. Definitely good that the author examined a topic like this, but unfortunately just didn’t work as well for me. Perhaps because I’m more outside the community it makes me more uncomfortable reading any kind of support – even from a novel simply exploring the idea – for such a reprehensible idea? I don’t know.

  4. April 17, 2012 9:59 am

    To qualify what I’m about to say I just need to share with you that I moved to NYC in 1975 (where I still live) and contracted the HIV virus very, very early on. My lover was one of the first to die in 1980. Throughout the 1980s and 90s I buried all but one of my many friends. In 1990 I began meds and for some incredible reason, I’m still alive and healthy. So on many levels I related to this novel.

    I have read so much about HIV, AIDS and the stories intertwined with the virus and the disease that I found Greg Allen’s approach fresh, unique and yes shocking. But shocking in an honest and good way.

    In no way shape or form is the work homophobic. It’s real. I know so many people who took wild, crazy routes as this disease was destroying everyone around me. Many planned suicides where friends participated. Yes, it’s gruesome but true. Some went away – like a wounded animal and died somewhere out of town. Some literally went crazy with fear before the virus consumed them. And several that I know, did turn to religion. If you, for a moment, forget that self-destructive Jacob was gay, and focus on the fact that he was an addict, he exchanged one drug (actual drugs) for another (religion). This is so common with addiction and sometimes with the healing process. Not that I’m implying that Jacob “heals” within the arc of the story. And of course you can’t “pray away the gay”. The message I took from this harsh morality tale is – be yourself – the self you were born to be.

    To create, share and demonstrate the horrifying world we lived in took guts and creatiivity. No, Allen didn’t take the safe route. And yes, it should push your buttons. But please keep an open mind and heart and appreciate the fact that he didn’t tell another version of the same story.

    It’s a tough read – and I liked that. It really got me thinking. And I like that better.

    • Magnify permalink
      April 17, 2012 11:33 am

      Well said! I wholeheartedly agree and appreciate the civil and respectful conversation.

    • April 18, 2012 7:11 am

      Thanks for this Arthur. I love your honesty.

      • April 18, 2012 9:10 am

        Arthur, you are brave. I lost two dear cousins to HIV/AIDS, the lsecond one only last month. What is more, three of my aunties have also sucumbed to the virus. I think the fact that you are well and healthy all these years is testimony to your determination to live and to accept who you are. Congratulations and thank you for sharing.

    • April 25, 2012 5:05 pm

      Yes, Arthur – throughout the religion was so much of an addiction that it was scary and that was what, I think, made it so uncomfortable for me to read. The ways in which his self-hatred was recognized as legitimate and people weren’t there to help him away from it.

      Thank you for your honestly and for sharing your thoughts and opinions. You’re right that the story gets you thinking. It’s one that, despite my issues with, I’ll be thinking about in the future. Ultimately didn’t work well for me but then, no book will be loved for all. I’m glad that it was one that you enjoyed. Thanks again for the discussion.

  5. April 17, 2012 10:17 am

    I think a book covering this topic MUST evoke an emotional response and any exploration that did not leave the reader troubled would be a major failure on part of the author. If we are only reading books that fit into our own world view of how things should be, then that is our failure. You cannot fight the vileness of exgay therapy or the pray away the gay fallacy without fully understanding it from all perspectives, even those we disagree with; especially those.

    • April 25, 2012 5:06 pm

      True point Brandon, I also think that if everyone loves a book, the author is also failing!

  6. Rick Flynn permalink
    April 17, 2012 11:14 am

    I have to agree with some of the others. Because it was an uncomfortable read, I loved it. I didn’t love it in a warm fuzzy way, but in an honest way. I was glad that someone told the truth. I’ve read novels where the gay characters are all perfect and beautiful and I just can’t relate. Gay men are just as flawed and make just as many bad choices as anyone else. That’s human and makes for great fiction as well. I disagree that showing a character consider “praying away the gay” is homophobic. I think creating cookie cutter, perfect gay characters is more homophobic. It shows that we’re afraid of the flaws that lie beneath the surface and that they somehow make us more bad or wrong than other people with the same flaws. I salute Gregory Allen for having the courage be honest and make us uncomfortable.

    • April 25, 2012 5:07 pm

      Sometimes the uncomfortable books that tear us apart really are the best books Rick, aren’t they? For me those books explore different topics, but I can see why this one would mean so much to others. Thanks for your comment.

  7. April 18, 2012 7:07 am

    The premise also got me thinking that this might just have a gay character. I love the conversation that this is generating.

    • April 25, 2012 5:08 pm

      Yes, the book is about a gay man Nana. Glad you are enjoying the discussion.

Please share your thoughts, discussion always welcome!

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