Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: Good-bye, I love you

I recently heard about a book called "Goodbye, I love you". As you know, I've been reading everything I can get my hands on that relates in any way to marriage, to love, to the right to marry.

This book combined all three, with a pretty significant twist.

The book centers on a couple, Carol Lynn and Gerald Pearson. They are a married Mormon couple, and Gerald is gay. He has been aware of his homosexuality since childhood, but has fought it for years because of the way that his religion, his world really, treats homosexuals.

On day, roughly a decade in to their marriage, Gerald decides that he has had enough, that he cannot continue to live in denial. So Carol Lynn and Gerald separate, with a surprising level of civility and continued respect. Carol Lynn is heart broken because while her husband couldn't share the emotion, she was truly in love with him. Even still, she is compassionate. She has known of Gerald's struggle for years (although the extent of which she learns gradually) and while she accepts that she may not have the relationship with him that she hopes, she believes that this doesn't mean that they can't have a successful friendship and coparent their children.

Much of the book centers on the reaction of their circle of friends to the news that Gerald is gay (their circle is composed of predominantly Mormons). The Mormon religion disagrees with the gay lifestyle (actually, more accurately they disagree with being gay), but Carol Lynn says "Compassion, love helpfulness. That's what it was all about. CHARITY NEVER FAILETH. That was our motto. What did it mean? Compassion. But not for wickedness. Not for the very lowest of the low. Not for... homosexuals" (77). Even Carol Lynn has problems with homosexuality, particularly in the beginning. Problems with accepting this situation, and problems believing that Gerald is acceptable as he is.

When told that he and his lifestyle are "wrong", Gerald says: "WRONG!... I have taken that word and used it like a whip on myself. I have flagellated myself with that word until I'm bloody. But it does not change things. I have fasted, I have prayed.... And it does not change things. If my homosexuality is wrong, then I am wrong, the fact of my being is wrong. Because that's what I am!" (92)

Eventually, Carol Lynn came to a realization, a light-bulb moment: "Our community viewed homosexuality as evil and disgusting.... In all the praying I had done, I had felt strongly that Gerald was as much loved of God as I was" (115). And furthermore, she felt that if God could accept and love Gerald as he is, why couldn't she? Or her children? Or the church?

Sadly, Gerald is diagnosed with AIDS. (When he was diagnosed, someone said "AIDS? What's that?" (181) which goes to show the time period that this was all happening). His health rapidly declines, and he dies.

It was an interesting book to read. I hard a really hard time relating to a lot of it, which I can attribute in part to the substantial religious and political differences, but not entirely. I had a hard time with the character of Gerald, with the man he was. Eventually, years after realizing he was gay and making the choice to hide it, he finally decided that the could not continue his denial. That was so frustrating to me. Ever day that he hid it, every day that he fought it, he built a new life for himself with children, with a wife. His ongoing denial just made it more and more of a challenge for his family, the family that he, frankly, deceived for years.

In my opinion, the most poignant moment in the book occurred on page 221, as Gerald was dying. Carol Lynn was offered help by some prominent and high-ranking members of her Church. After initially declining, she ultimately said that, yes, she would love help with some yard work. She assumed they would delegate the chore to children. Between tasks around her house, caring for her dying ex-husband, she looked outside and the Church elders were doing the work themselves. She said, "If there were no takers, there could be no givers. I had been a giver before and I would be a giver again. It was my turn to be a taker, and I was glad to do it".

Overall, it was an interesting read, but definitely not "airplane reading". (Airplane reading is my guideline for a truly good book - would I be able to get lost in this book for a few hours if my flight is delayed?) I wouldn't call it a page turner, but it was a deep, thinking book. If you are interested in reading the first 60 pages, you can do so here.

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