Review: No Going Back

NoGoingBack-LgA while ago I finished reading Jonathan Langford’s new novel, No Going Back, which is a coming-of-age story about a fifteen-year-old protagonist, Paul Ficklin, who is Mormon and who is attracted to boys. I was actually debating about whether or not I was going to read this novel when I heard Jonathan was writing it, because homosexuality is an issue that hits really close to home for me. When I got the chance to read Langford’s novel, though, I felt like I should. I had to take a couple of emotional breaks in the middle, but I got through it, and I’m glad I did.

I have some limited experience when it comes to reading gay Mormon narratives. I used to follow a lot of MoHo (Mormon homosexual) blogs, I’ve read most of the personal essays on Affirmation’s website, I’ve listened to Melissa Leilani Larson’s play “Little Happy Secrets” and some talks by Carol Lynn Pearson, etc. I wouldn’t say my consumption of gay Mormon writing has been comprehensive by any means, but my education in this genre is probably higher than your average Mormon. One of the things that always concerned me when reading these narratives was the lack of any kind of well-balanced position from a faithful Latter-day Saint perspective. Very few of the voices I read said anything really helpful for Latter-day Saints who are same-sex attracted and want to keep their covenants. Most things written on this subject tend to say one of two things: (a) “Keeping your covenants isn’t possible, so give up now” or (b) “You have to keep your covenants, but we can’t really tell you how to do that in practical terms.” That’s what’s so remarkable to me about No Going Back–Jonathan Langford knows exactly how to address this issue in practical terms. Paul is hit with most of the things a Mormon kid struggling with homosexuality would be hit with nowadays: coming out to his best friend and his family, confessing sins to his bishop, becoming depressed, getting disowned, questioning his faith, and challenging popular notions about sexuality. The journeys that his mother and his bishop take in supporting Paul through everything are also particularly illuminating and helpful. I agree with Linda Hunter Adams that this novel should be required reading for Mormon religious leaders.

With all of the practical advice, though, what impressed me even more about the story was the charity and compassion with which Langford portrays his protagonist and his other characters. He does this by being honest. Jonathan doesn’t gloss over the difficult, emotionally dissonant position Paul is in. He doesn’t pretend like it’s a struggle that has easy answers. He doesn’t vilify the students in the Gay Straight Alliance at Paul’s school, and neither does he portray the youth in Paul’s ward as being saintly (both communities in Jonathan’s novel end up causing Paul a lot of grief). But Jonathan also respects Paul by not pretending that his struggle can’t on some level be resolved in a way that brings internal peace. He presents Paul with the option of finding joy in keeping his covenants with God. To even say that that’s a possibility is a pretty unpopular statement to make in modern mainstream American culture. To say that that’s an option but also show how uniquely difficult and messy that looks when practically applied is not a very popular thing to do in Mormon culture. I know that it’s kind of cliché to use the term “brave” when describing a work, but in the case of No Going Back, the word applies in a very literal way. It’s not easy to write about something so controversial in an honest way–in a way that will risk your reputation in your own tight-knit religious community as well as in the larger American community. That puts Jonathan in a position very similar to Paul Ficklin’s. Thanks for taking that risk, Jonathan, and giving Mormonism something that will help a lot of people who are struggling.

“Bread of Affliction” and Cultural Self-Consciousness

Note: “Bread of Affliction” is being judged this week for the American College Theatre Festival. It’s playing this Saturday, 7:30-8:15 p.m., in the JFSB Little Theater (Room B192) at Brigham Young University. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and admission is free. They need a good audience, so if you live in the area, consider taking this excellent opportunity to see the play.

The BYU Experimental Theatre Company was invited to write a play for the Society of Jewish-American and Holocaust Literature, which held its national symposium in Salt Lake City in September. “Bread of Affliction,” written by Matthew Greene, was the end product of the invitation, and a very entertaining one, to be sure. The play is about a Jewish professor and his Gentile wife who are planning to have Passover with the professor’s family. While the professor lectures at a university, his wife is at home with his family, who are preparing the Passover feast and telling Jewish jokes. Much of the tension in the play comes from the professor’s disapproval of his family’s Jewish jokes, which, he feels, make light of a very serious, sensitive subject.

According to Matthew Greene and director Landon Wheeler, the play began first as a concept (finding humor in the face of persecution and suffering) that was built around an amalgamation of Jewish jokes that they pulled from a variety of sources. The concept was simple but effective, and Matthew did a good job of weaving the jokes into the narrative. I enjoyed the performance quite a bit. One of the things that interested me in particular about the play was its reception. From all accounts, the play was received very well at the Society of Jewish-American and Holocaust Literature symposium, and some of the most shocking jokes got the most laughs. When shown to BYU and Provo audiences, however, the reactions were a little reticent. Non-Jewish audience members weren’t sure if they should be laughing at Jewish jokes, several of which referenced the Holocaust and anti-Semitic stereotypes in rather bitingly ironic terms. Most seemed to lighten up after a while, though, once they got used to the style of humor and realized it was okay to laugh. Continue reading ““Bread of Affliction” and Cultural Self-Consciousness”