Review: Well With my Soul by Gregory G. Allen
Title: 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?