Review of God Says No by James Hannaham (McSweeney’s)
Gary Gray is gay, in spite of his best efforts. The main character of James Hannaham’s debut novel, God Says No, Gray is a charmingly self-deluded, overweight black man who believes that Jesus has stopped talking to him. In his hopeless efforts to rid himself of “sinful” homosexual urges, Gray recalls his favorite fire-and-brimstone preachers of his rural-Southern youth, gets married, has a child, and spends time in an ex-gay camp. He even fakes his own death in order to live as a gay man, ostensibly to exhaust his homosexuality before returning to his family as a heterosexual. “Damn,” says his brother Joe at one point. “I must say, I’ve never known anybody who could fool themselves as good as you.”The book’s premise may seem outrageous and sacrilegious at first blush, but Hannaham respects his characters, steering clear of cheap polemics about how religion stifles humanity and instead painting faith as an important part of the characters’ personalities and lives. Gray’s deeply religious wife is endearing, and even the members of the ex-gay camp feel three-dimensional. Gray eventually realizes that he can’t escape his wife, his child, or his religion any more than he can escape the fact that he is gay.