Just Call Me Greg (Book Review)

I got Just Call Me Greg by Jeff Laver on a bit of a lark from the Kindle store. It had decent reviews, although the summary makes it sound more scandalous than it actually is: “A tale of forbidden homosexual love in the patriarchal and sometimes secretive world of Mormonism. A world where things are not always as they seem and the smiles sometimes mask great pain.” That titillating description might lead one to expect prurient descriptions of temple ceremonies, but in fact there are few references to the temple at all. Also, no prurient descriptions of sex … so if your motivations are prurient, you will be nigh well disappointed.

The book had a lot less Mormonism that I would have hoped, as the main character leaves the church pretty early on and (unfortunately for my reading purposes) the book didn’t go deeply into the character’s spiritual or doctrinal struggles. In fact, the author skips over or summarizes huge moments in character development throughout the book. (For example, we get what appears to be a a detailed summary of Greg’s childhood and adolescence, including a chaste crush on a best friend and some inexplicably long descriptions of road trips. Overall, the impression we get is that his homosexuality feels to him mostly to be in the abstract. But then suddenly find out in his  pre-mission interview with the bishop that he’s fooled around with at least a couple different boys. Ummm … Isn’t that kind of important for us to have found out at the time that it happened?)

As a story, the novel is pretty frustrating. (SPOILERS AHEAD) The bulk of its pages are spent recounting the mundane details of a romantic friendship between Greg and a nice Mormon boy named Rick who is unable to accept his own homosexuality. (At least, that’s what Greg surmises; Rick never says he’s gay or that he’s in love with Greg, but they flirt and Rick often goes hot and cold in a way that can easily be read as “interested, but scared.”) Things never work out with Rick, who eventually marries a woman he’s not in love with.

But things do work out for Greg, despite his naive insistence on avoiding dating because it might lead to having sex outside of an eternal romantic commitment. (Um, how do you expect to find your eternal love if you don’t meet other gay guys? I know that when I was Greg’s age I thought I was supposed to be able to jump straight into finding my life partner even though I had never experience the adolescent travails of dating; and I also know this attitude is common among young repressed queer folk; but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.)

After getting over his broken heart, Greg meets a nice returned missionary named Evan. This should be the highlight of the book, but instead their story gets told in a rush right at the novel’s end. (We don’t even meet Evan until 93% of the way into the book.) They fall in love over the course of a few days and soon decide to move in together. In the epilogue we learn that they live happily ever after as Episcopalians in Salt Lake City. Yay, I guess. It was hard to feel much of anything, because I felt like I didn’t really know anything about Evan except that he was a wholesome gay Mormon boy.

TL;DR: The story wasn’t my cup of tea, but from an anthropological it wasn’t a waste of time. There were some nice Mormony gems. Here are ones I took note of, in rough order of appearance:

  • lots of references to Gethsemane as the place of atonement rather than the crucifixion
  • “Do you think [homosexuality] will be a problem in the future?” asked the Bishop. //”No,” Greg said truthfully. He was confident it was a passion that had been extinguished forever.
  • “He had been told that God chastens those he loves, and Greg wondered if this chastening meant that he was one of God’s strongest servants.”
  • “We have to face our trials and overcome opposition. That’s how we progress, but after we’ve done everything we can do, isn’t God supposed to come through in the end?”
  • “Whenever the passions of love or lust flickered within, he quickly stifled them, and asked God’s forgiveness.” (There is something particularly abhorrent to me the [usually religious] idea that love is a thing that needs to be forgiven.)
  • “There was no need to talk about his problem. Greg was embarrassed by it, and besides, what good would it do? The Bishop couldn’t tell him anything he didn’t already know. This was one of those inner struggles where a man was alone with his God.”
  • Dark humor of jaded missionaries, saying things like “If I had as much time left on my mission as you do, I’d slit my wrists.”
  • The frequent gay missionary story theme of getting hit on by a male investigator happens in this one, too.  As usually happens in these stories, the missionary rejects the overtures partly out of duty and partly out of panic.
  • “Just as the Protestant belief in the ‘priesthood of all believers’ rejected Catholic limitations on the lay person’s access to God and the Bible, I reject Mormon limitations on my access to God. I’m tired of hearing church leaders say that while I am entitled to personal revelation, it must not contradict their revelation for me or the church as a whole. THey say if it does, then my personal inspiration comes from the wrong source. Who are they to control what  I think and feel, or what God says to me? That kind of an ‘I can communicate with God on your behalf’ attitude seems dangerous to me. If not physically dangerous, then certainly spiritually dangerous.”
  • “When I was nineteen, I thought I had the answers. Now I have questions. The answers I had can’t solve the problems I’ve had over the last several years.”
  • “I convinced myself that [God] was telling me the church was true. As I look back, he never said that exactly; just things like, that he loved me and that I was worthy to go on a mission.”
  • “He wanted to have the Mormon version of a bachelor party. There would be no strippers, liquor or dirty movies.” They end up playing basketball, chugging near-beer, and giving gag gifts.
  • So, so many references by the ex-Mormon main character to “immortal love,” “eternal, romantic love” (my emphasis) and to personalities being eternal — because you can take a gay guy out of Mormonism, but you apparently can’t take the Mormonism out of the gay guy.
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