3 out of 4 stars
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If God Is Not for Me, Then He Must Be Against Me! by DeShaun Johnson is a short but intensely gripping story. Although it’s comparatively brief at forty-two pages, the plot arch is complete and leaves the reader with both a sense of satisfaction and of anticipation.
Because the book is so firmly rooted in contemporary social issues, and the author’s voice resonates so realistically through the main character, I found myself questioning at first whether the book was a work of fiction or nonfiction. However, as events unfold in the story, it becomes clear that we are looking through the eyes of a clearly nonfictional, but extremely realistic, character.
The story centers on two gay men who are enlisted in the military. When the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy comes into effect, it seems as they have it all. They can enjoy rewarding careers while pursuing their personal romantic relationship, so long as they're discrete. Life seems perfect until one of the two begins taking their church attendance and the related teachings more seriously. The subject grows to become a huge rift between the two, leading to a horrific confrontation. The resolution of the conflict, and the book overall, is a surprising and thought-provoking turn.
I very much admire the author's craftsmanship and skill when it comes to telling a tale. His treatment of graphic violence I found particularly notable. Too often, stories feature graphic violence clumsily or gratuitously. In this case, the unfolding of events so captures the imagination that, as a reader, I felt the unreality that the characters themselves were feeling. The violence is graphic, but all the more effective because of its pivotal role in the unfolding of the story. I even found myself wincing, physically, when the main character/narrator missteps and wrenches his ankle. The author demonstrates an excellent capability of utilizing violence within and as an integral part of the story without it being superfluous. This is important because the violence is a keystone to the final revelation of the story when we - and the main character himself - come to a complete realization of the truth of the matter.
There is very little that I can find fault with in this work. However, I was dismayed to note a few editorial errors. There were two occurrences where the wrong word or wrong form of a word was used. For example, in one place, the author uses the word “shuttering” when the appropriate word would have been “shuddering,” and I could not make a case for the pun-style play on meaning I would expect from this author. In another example, an individual character is referred to as “the most beloved men” instead of the most beloved man.
It's really a shame because the author is extremely clever at weaving unexpected imagery through the text of the writing. This both gives insight into the thinking of the main character and elicits varied imagery in the mind of the reader. His use, also, of ASCII created emoticons is part of this tapestry. What at first impressed me as a disjunct with his fluid writing soon became additional evidence of the mindset of the main character. This made it all the more jarring when I'd be stopped by an unexpected word, and try to sort out the meaning, only to realize it was simply a mistake. Because of editorial errors, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
If God Is Not for Me, Then He Must Be Against Me!
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