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The Cross in the Closet: A Review

By now, many of you have heard of Timothy Kurek, the former Liberty University student who decided to out himself to friends and family and church. Kurek is straight, by the way, but he wanted to spend a year "in the shoes" of LGBT folks after a friend was kicked out of her house for confessing to her parents that she was a lesbian. He enlisted the help of a couple friends, including a faux boyfriend, and an aunt. No one else knew his confession was a sham. Since the release of his book, The Cross in the Closet,he's been written up in The Guardian and featured on ABC News

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Kurek's story is genuinely compelling, and readers (well, most, but more on that later) will tend to root for him. The Guardian talks about a book in the tradition of Black Like Me, and that's probably going too far unless they simply meant it's a memoir about living like "the other." There are some flaws in this book, and it seems some editing would have helped tremendously. 300+ pages simply weren't necessary to tell the story. There is so much anguished hand-wringing and theologizing that I found it difficult to endure in parts. As a reader, I wanted to hear about the interactions with his new world and the responses from the denizens of his old world more than I wanted to hear his ofttimes excruciating inner monlogue. To be fair, there are times that his interior conversation is excellent. For example...

There is a scene in the book where Kurek enters a gay dance club for the first time. He is set upon by a shirtless man with glittered torso who drags him on the dance floor and proceeds to dirty dance with him. Kurek is mortified to the point he shames the man. His inner monlogue at that point is outstanding.

Finally he looks down, and I take the brief moment to run from the club. I am overcome with regret, and as I walk to my car I resolve to change. If I am going to do this, to really do this, I cannot merely mask the judgment inside of me—I will have to leave it at the door. I will save the judgment for myself, and try from now on to meet these people on their turf, with an open mind and heart. --pg. 37

Here he gets to the issue quickly, without excess words. His insight about going beyond "masking judgment" is helpful to writer and reader alike. I wanted more of that sort of concise insight, not paragraphs of "how I let my judgment go and learned to love gay people."

He also makes use of an externalized metaphor, and this not being an episode of "Scrubs," I found it more annoying than helpful. He sees his internal Pharisee sitting next to him, and he engages the Pharisee in dialog or they exchange barbs, mockery, etc., throughout the book. I'd compare it to Dexter and his dad or brother, but those guys were dead. The problem isn't just the externalized metaphor; it's that he's already writing pages and pages of internal dialog about his struggle, and then he adds his conversations with the Pharisee, which are, well, internal dialogs, thereby extending the amount of anguished hand-wringing.

Last criticism. (I think.) Audience. I always wonder whom Christian authors are addressing. Ingrained in them is this notion that all books must be at least partly evangelistic, even novels, which, as we've all experienced, leads to shitty novels. Kurek writes as if he's addressing fellow Christians who don't fully understand the experience of the LGBT community vis-a-vis their interactions with fundangelicals. It's a noble cause, and I say that with no sarcasm. However, if Kurek wants his fellow Liberty-ites and his Nashville Baptists to hear what he's saying, suggesting "Your god is a dick," is probably going to lead to the closing of the book, (I did completely agree with the sentiment in the context, but I'm not a Christian.) if they even get past his first two uses of "bullshit." Profanity as indicator of hip, understanding Christianity is a bad idea if one wants to reach conservative Christians. (It's virtually the same impulse that leads Kurek and others to mention beers by name in their stories. Just say, "I drank a beer." If you mean to indicate a Portlandesque liberal, say, "I drank a microbrew." That will suffice. Hipsterisms are the death of good writing.) 

Those are the main criticisms, and a couple are just minor grievances. Overall, the story is compelling, the characters well-drawn, and the encounters richly narrated. I did think calling Westboro Baptist members Christians stretches the defintion far beyond the breaking point, but Kurek was attempting to eschew judgment and make a bigger tent, for which he should also be commended. The sections where he deals with his mother are genuinely moving, especially when he reads her journal and discovers what she's not saying aloud. Ultimately, Kurek maintains his commitment to evangelical Christianity, but he allows that LGBT deserve equal rights and are committed to God in ways fundangelicals refuse to understand. Many of us who already believed that (or believed it didn't matter because of our atheologies) welcome him to the light. I hope the book allows both LGBT folks insights into the interior working of theological deconstruction (something the character Will does very well in the book), as well as affords fundangelicals the opportunity to see the damage they've done to the LGBT community.

Disclosure Notice: I received a free, electronic copy of the book from Speakeasy in exchange for this review.

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