So Amanda and I collect offensive books. OK, that came out wrong. We collect books which are products of their time, which now seem offensive because the world has (in my view) improved, especially with regards to gender, sexuality, and racial relations. Because we have a bookshelf full of titles like The Secret Power of Femininity, The How to Catch a Man Handbook, or Dare to Be True Adventure Series: A Prophet in Palmyra (a choose your own adventure style book based on the founding of the gospel in which even mundane choices lead to either eternal, unmitigated happiness or sure eternal damnation) our friends are wont to chip in to the collection when they find more that would fit the theme. Recently, our friend Alea shipped us My Darling From the Lions by Janice Barrett Graham. I'd been hearing about this book for months; Ms. Graham's out-spokenness and proud-to-be-not-PC attitude had caused even Deseret Book to shy away from her manuscript. I had read some of her blog posts at her website and was flabbergasted by her lack of respect, her dogmatic view that everything is either a black or white issue, and her revelry in saying things "the world" disagrees with. I decided to read enough of her book that I could at least post the most offensive parts for all of you to enjoy. As it turned out, however, I managed to stomach the whole thing (there are some advantages to 4 hours on a train or bus every day) and was surprised that there were a lot of redeeming things to say about the book. There are, however, more than a few glaring flaws as well.
Simply put, the narrator (and author) is insufferable, dramatic, over-wrought, and quite probably manic-depressive. The entries--the book is a series of cobbled-together journal entries spanning a number of years--alternate between drastic lows and extreme, maudlin highs. As if the whiplash of the narrative weren't already enough, Ms. Graham sees fit to ascribe each new high or low to some new-found blessing of the Spirit or to the buffetings of Satan, she sees herself as a pawn in some epic game of chess. Such moralizing made me suspicious that she had been writing her journals with an outside observer in mind from the very beginning; no experience or emotion can remain uninflected or unanalyzed, lest her posterity read her journal and not be certain that greater forces were at play in her day-to-day life. Even near the beginning of the book, it is painfully clear that many of Ms. Graham's difficulties are often the direct result of the decisions she is making, her very unhealthy attitudes towards the gospel, and her painfully obvious emotional problems. I was very often moved to compassion for her, not only because her problems were so often beyond her power to solve them, but because her own instability inevitably exacerbated the already difficult times her family goes through.
For those of you who have never heard of the book, it documents the story of Daniel Graham's struggles with homosexuality. His experimentation with pornography and live homosexual encounters are only disclosed well after they have taken place, and in dramatic and painful ways. Although I was moved with compassion towards Daniel, who obviously regretted his behavior and wanted to change, Ms. Graham's reactions to the experiences were disturbing and very off-putting. In the moments where you would most assume Daniel would need the most comfort and love, his mother was frantically blaming everyone in her life for allowing this horrible thing to happen, was shockingly disappointed with Daniel, and at times could not even bring herself to talk to him. The good will and empathy I felt for Daniel's struggles were blunted by my horror at Ms. Graham's untoward attitudes toward her own son.
If any of you do read this book, I think that you will be surprised at how absolute and pat her answers are to every struggle. She is constantly reading or listening to a book from Deseret Book which offers her a panacea to solving her gospel difficulties. She does seem to gain some amount of comfort from her books and tapes, but it makes me a bit nervous just how much faith and time she puts in to gospel commentaries and pop-psychology. She delivers her own conclusions in the same absolutist tones as the morals in her books are delivered to her; given how many of Deseret Book's products she endorses in her book, and how well her work would have fit in with so many of their products, it must have stung to have them reject her manuscript.
Daniel is eventually "cured" of his homosexuality. He is disappointed that he can't go on a mission because of his sins, but he seems to be happy enough to be free of his homosexual feelings. I buy the thesis of the book that Daniel turned to homosexuality out of curiosity, discouragement with his lack of success with a girl he loved, and the fact that his traits and interests (music, theater, and clogging) were better appreciated within homosexual circles. Furthermore, Daniel had apparently been teased and hated by many of his peers for his un-manly ways. I suppose there is a chance that his hyper-masculine culture actually constructed and convinced Daniel that he must be gay, and should act the part.
There are parts of this book that are well worth reading. Ms. Graham learns valuable lessons about trying to love her son no matter what he does, her defense of him against ridicule in a judgmental and ridiculous culture is touching, even if it comes too late, and both she and Daniel seem thrilled that they have pulled Daniel back to a life-style that both are more comfortable with.
Ms. Graham's defense of her son unfortunately reaches a non-sequitur fever pitch by the end of the book, such that she seeks to blame her own short-comings as a mother, Daniel's poor choices, and the emotional attrition they have all suffered on "the world" and its wickedness. I will agree with her that pornography use and casual sex can be emotionally stunting or even mentally scarring, but Daniel was not trapped or even fooled into his mistakes under false pretenses; his own weaknesses lead him down his road and he willingly followed. For a woman who claims that all homosexuals can be cured of their same-sex attraction with a little self-control and counselling, she seems comically unwilling to acknowledge that her own actions, namely her frantically full schedule while her children were growing up, her draconian punishments for minor mistakes, or her unconcealed shame and disappointment at Daniel after his first confession might have been part of the impetus for Daniel's secrecy and emotional insecurities.
At various times in the book, Ms. Graham blames the wickedness of the world on Darwin, John Kerry (who refused to concede, thus dividing the nation), Bill Clinton (for shaming the US with his Lewinsky scandal), and internet chat rooms. Although she is quick to forgive herself for her unkind words to someone at church she was mean to because she "know[s] that [she is] still loved and of infinite value" (even though she does not repent or apologize), she does not grant the same forgiveness to anyone else in her life except eventually her son. Her intimation that all homosexuals must feel the exact same way as Daniel, and can thus be treated in the same way as Daniel seems to be the same form of over-simplification that led Daniel's peers to judge him as necessarily gay for liking music and theater. I know that Ms. Graham only wants to help other people like her son, but I wonder if the way she goes about trying doesn't eventually end up doing more harm than good.
For those of you who think that rampant hypocrisy is funny, or if The Office's Michael Scott isn't enough of any anti-hero for you, I would recommend reading My Darling From the Lions. The book is actually quite enjoyable if you treat the characters as fictitious and can laugh at them for their absurdities. If you slip back into a real-life paradigm, however, and are depressed by Ms. Graham's naked hatred and judgmentalism, just don't say that I didn't warn you.
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