Wm says: Ben Christensen was kind enough to submit this review, which takes a look at another entry in the interesting sub-genre of “Mormon literature that is also gay literature.” And what’s really interesting is that he does so by comparing it to John Bennion’s novel Falling Toward Heaven, which is about sexuality, but that of the hetero- variety.
Ben Christensen used to blog atÂ the Fobcave. Now he lurks on other people’s blogs. And submits the occasional guest post, apparently.
Title:Â The Abominable Gayman
Author: Johnny Townsend
Reviewed by Ben Christensen
Note: Ben received a free review copy of this book from the author.
â€œI used to think,â€ says Elder Anderson, the narrator and protagonist ofÂ The Abominable Gayman, â€œthat the goal of perfection meant we all had to become the same, but here in Italy, Iâ€™d seen new flowers, tasted different foods, spoken a different language, and I realized that the best, most perfect rose could never inspire the exact same feelings as a perfect hedge of five-pointed star jasmine.â€ Elder Anderson, you see, is a gay Mormon serving a mission in Rome, and is only starting to consider the possibility that perhaps becoming straight is not a necessary step on his path to perfection. In the process of figuring out where this collection of short stories fits in gay Mormon literatureâ€”whether nearer Jonathan Langfordâ€™sÂ No Going Back or Tony Kushnerâ€™sÂ Angels in Americaâ€”I realized it doesnâ€™t necessarily fit among other gay Mormon-themed literature. But it is definitely Mormon literature. The most appropriate comparison, I believe, is to John Bennionâ€™sÂ Falling Toward Heaven. BothÂ Falling andÂ Gayman tell the story of a young man who, by normal Mormon standards, is doing everything wrong, yet somehow finds himself stumbling into a better understanding of himself and a closer relationship with God.
Another commonality Bennionâ€™s and Townsendâ€™s works have is in their themes of love and sex.Â Falling Toward Heaven starts with Elder Howard Rockwood breaking one of the biggest taboos a missionary can break: before going home, he has sex with a woman he had met in one of his areas. Presumably no relationship founded in such sin could become more than thatâ€”at least thatâ€™s what Howardâ€™s family seems to thinkâ€”but Howard and Allisonâ€™s initial sexual encounter develops into an enduring relationship. Elder Anderson, on the other hand, doesnâ€™t ever break that rule, but he does spend much of his time obsessing about sex. He fantasizes about men constantly, and hates himself for it. At one point he compares himself to a married man who had asked him for a blowjob: â€œDid I want to lead a pitiful, shameful life like Brother Mangiapia did, propositioning strangers in a dusty, dark room?â€ For Elder Anderson, homosexuality is filthy and disgusting, clandestine encounters and illicit affairs. Later, when Anderson meets a gay couple, he realizes there can be more: â€œThese men apparently had talking, friendship,Â and sex.â€ Both Elder Rockwood and Elder Anderson gain a complete picture of love only after they get beyond the taboo of sex.
Some of the strongest segments ofÂ Falling Toward Heaven are those in which the roaming third-person narrator hovers over Allison. Bennion switches between the male and female points of view flawlessly, developing a fuller representation of the relationship between Allison and Howard. InÂ The Abominable Gayman, Townsend sticks with a single first-person narrator, but nonetheless the strongest parts are those in which Elder Anderson gets outside of his own head and speculates on the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of those around him. One story in particular, â€œA Wife of Whoredoms,â€ stands out as one in which the narrator moves beyond self-pity and obsession with his own concerns to consider others. The story focuses on his relationships with sister missionaries and female members of the branch heâ€™s serving in, and throughout he ponders the idea of marrying heterosexually.Â Â He thinks of Sister De Feo, and how if he had to marry a woman, she wouldnâ€™t be a bad choice. Then he stops himself: â€œâ€˜Had to marry,â€™ I thought with a shudder. What an insult to any woman to phrase it like that.â€ In this moment of clarity, Elder Anderson thinks beyond what he needs to do to save his own soul, to how such actions would affect others. If only all twenty-year-old men showed such maturity.
John Bennion once told me his theory on why the television seriesÂ The Simpsons is so successful: not just because of its hard-edged humor, but because of its sweet aftertaste. Each episode ends on a sweet note, with the family back together and things as they should be. Bennion follows this model inFalling Toward Heaven, putting his characters through hell and then ending at a nice spot, Howard and Allison cuddled up and pondering their future.Â The Abominable Gayman also follows this model, perhaps to an extreme. Speaking of his struggles as a gay Mormon missionary, Elder Anderson says at one point, â€œThe constant awareness of my completely alien nature was like a continual oppressive weight, suffocating me.â€ This is an apt description of the first ten stories of the book. Honestly, there are moments that are painful to read, steeped as we become in Elder Andersonâ€™s self-hatred and the constant onslaught of homophobia from his fellow missionaries. In the second half of the book, though, Anderson slowly emerges from the muck of self-pity. He has a companion who genuinely loves him, and before long he begins to love himself. The final story, â€œTransfer Cookies,â€ ends just likeÂ Falling Toward Heaven or an episode ofÂ The Simpsonsâ€”on a sweet note. The sense of relief as Anderson comes to terms with himself and with God makes the tension of the earlier stories worth it. And if that isnâ€™t the pinnacle of Mormon literature, I donâ€™t know what is: Without knowing misery, Elder Anderson wouldnâ€™t know joy. And so Elder Anderson fell, that Elder Anderson might be, and Elder Anderson is, that he might have joy.
Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc.
Genre: Collection of Short Stories
Year Published: 2010 (many stories collected therein were previously published between 1991 and 2009)
Number of Pages: vii; 409
Binding: Trade Paperback
Available fromÂ BookLocker.com and other sources.