book reviews, celebrities

Repost: Please pass the Penicillin…

Here’s a reposted book review from Epinions.com. I wrote this on February 6, 2013, and it appears it was penned for a “lean n’ mean” challenge (reviews under 500 words). As you can see, I wasn’t impressed. The review appears as/is.

What was I thinking when I downloaded Peggy Trentini’s book, Once Upon a Star: Celebrity Kiss and Tell Stories (2012)?  I must have decided to buy this book after reading something especially depressing or boring.  It’s been on my Kindle for awhile, though, and after my last book, I decided it might be fun and refreshing.  Well, now having read this book, I can honestly say there’s nothing refreshing about it. 

Who the HELL is Peggy Trentini and why did many stars fuck her in the 80s and 90s?

Pardon the crass language, but honestly, that’s really what Once Upon a Star is all about.  It starts out innocently enough.  Trentini writes about growing up on Newport, California, the daughter of strict Catholic parents who didn’t want her wearing makeup or dressing stylishly.  She was supposedly a straight A student, though you’d never guess it from her writing, which is chock full of typos and grammatical errors.  One day, Trentini’s friend talked her parents into allowing a makeover.  From then on, Peggy was “pretty”… and being pretty apparently leads to being a wh*re.  At least in Los Angeles…

Trentini expends few words on her upbringing.  She jumps right into how she came to Hollywood at age 18, her dreams of being an intellectual (groan) apparently given up in favor of becoming a celebrity.  She writes of being cast on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and then getting a part in her first film, Young Doctors In Love.  Before too long, she and Sylvester Stallone are screwing each other and Trentini spares no detail… or maybe the details were just lifted from a fantasy novel.  From there, it gets much tackier. 

Each chapter is yet another tawdry tale of how some star thought Peggy was “irresistible” and had to have her, usually just for the night.  They’d have wild sex, get drunk, and then break up, lather, rinse, repeat.  As I read about each celebrity and recalled other celebrity memoirs I’d read about some of them, I wondered if Peggy ever caught diseases from her escapades.

Aside from being a starf*cker and B grade actress, Trentini was also on the “Swedish Bikini Team”, which was an ad campaign for one of the worst beers ever, Old Milwaukee.  It’s only fitting that she would be selling a product that has led to so much cheap, meaningless sex among college students. 

I’m certainly no snob when it comes to reading material.  I knew this book was going to be trashy when I bought it.  However, even for trash, Once Upon A Star just plain sucks harder than Trentini ever could.  Trentini writes of all the celebrities she’s screwed, then tries to seem like a nice, normal, girl next door.  It’s not believable or authentic, and she’s not someone I’d want to know.  She comes off as a shallow narcissist who still has a lot of maturing to do, despite now being in her 40s.

Seriously?  Skip this book

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book reviews, healthcare, love, marriage

Repost: Catherine Graves’ intimate memoir about losing her husband…

Here’s a reposted review from Epinions.com. It’s short, which tells me I probably wrote it for their annual “lean n’ mean” challenges. We were supposed to write reviews of less than 500 words to be entered in the monthly sweepstakes. I think I won a couple of those. Anyway, this post was written February 6, 2013 and appears here as/is.

Catherine Graves feared marital infidelity when she noticed a change in her husband, John.  The two had been running a business together.  Catherine had always been the practical one, while John was more whimsical and easygoing.  But then his behavior began to change and Catherine was sure he was cheating on her.  Then she wondered if he was dealing with a serious bout of depression.  They saw a therapist, who thought maybe John needed time in a rehab facility to find out what was wrong.  The couple went to Sierra Tuscon, an inpatient counseling center, where a staffer brought up the possibility that John Graves’ problem was neurological, rather than psychological.  When John experienced seizures and was taken to a hospital, his brain tumor was finally discovered.

The doctor who discovered the tumor told Catherine that it was cancerous and putting pressure on his brain.  She told Catherine that while John could have treatments that might extend his life, his condition was terminal.  John Graves had what is known as Glioblastoma multiforme, a nasty and thankfully rare brain tumor that kills quickly.

In her 2011 book, Checking Out: An In-Depth Book At Losing Your Mind, Catherine Graves explains what it was like to suddenly lose her beloved husband to a personality altering sickness and death.  Then, once John died, Catherine began to lose her mind with depression.  The aftermath of brain cancer nearly destroyed the author, her children, and John’s children.   

My thoughts

I was alerted to Checking Out when I read an online review of it on CNN last year.  It took awhile to get around to reading it, and once I did get to it, reading the book didn’t take much time.  It’s a short memoir, but packed with raw emotion and eloquence.  Graves includes touching revelations from her children, Alex and Caroline, products of another relationship who thought of John Graves as their dad and were devastated to lose him. 

As poignant as I think Checking Out is, I thought it was a bit short and could have used more substance.  The paperback version is priced at $16.95 and $9.99 on Kindle, which is pretty steep for a book that only takes a few hours to read.  On the other hand, this book is a beautifully written tribute from a woman who obviously loved her husband and whose tragic loss almost destroyed her.  Her recovery is triumphant and I was particularly moved by the thoughtful passages her children contributed.        

Checking Out will move many readers as it did me.  I certainly recommend it to those who can bear to read about such a depressing subject as losing one’s beloved spouse.  While I wish this book had been a little more substantive, I admit that it’s beautifully written.  I think it rates five stars and a box of tissues.

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book reviews, LDS, true crime

Repost: Elizabeth Smart’s My Story…

I wrote this post for my original blog on October 12, 2013. It includes the Epinions.com review of her book, My Story, which I posted on the same day. It appears here as/is.

I really hesitated before reading My Story, the book Elizabeth Smart wrote about her experiences being kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee.  I have written a review, posted below.  This post is going to have less to do with the book and more to do with some things I realized while reading Smart’s book.

First off, Elizabeth Smart endured hell for nine months.  There’s no sugar coating it.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put that girl through sheer hell.  When I think about what it must have been like for Elizabeth Smart to endure daily rapes, constant threats on hers and her family’s lives, the outdoor elements while wearing filthy rags, and, in fact, the very loss of her identity since Mitchell forced her to change her name, I am truly amazed that she has been able to recover as well as she apparently has.  I have some new respect for her.  She is certainly a strong and courageous woman.

Secondly, it occurred to me as I read her book that she was kidnapped at age 14, which is the age Helen Mar Kimball was when she “married” Joseph Smith.

I don’t know if that has to do with Brian David Mitchell’s decision to kidnap Elizabeth Smart when she was fourteen.  Certainly, at fourteen, Smart was still very much a child.  She was especially naive and sheltered and was, no doubt, easier to control than she might have been had she been older and more worldly.  Smart reveals that Mitchell planned to kidnap more girls and make them his wives.  Elizabeth Smart calls him a pedophile, but I think it’s more likely that he just wanted gullible, obedient, easily controlled girls who had not been defiled by anyone else. 

Certainly, it was easier for Barzee if Mitchell had younger girls around who didn’t compete for her place as the alpha bitch.  In any case, though, it did occur to me that Mitchell, who had proclaimed himself a “prophet”, was doing something very similar to what Joseph Smith did.  Yes, Joseph Smith did it many years ago.  Does it make it less wrong that he was fucking fourteen year old girls and “marrying” the wives of other men?  Why should anyone admire Joseph Smith on that basis alone?

Finally, once again, I couldn’t help but feel horrible for Elizabeth as she described feeling like a beautiful vase that was shattered.  I had read an account of a speech she had given some time ago about feeling like a “chewed up piece of gum”, in part because of an object lesson she had taken part in at church.  She was taught that no one would want her after a man had put his hands all over her.  As a fourteen year old girl, she certainly had no choice but to let Brian David Mitchell defile her.  Of course he overpowered her, though she is careful to point out that she did try to fight him off.  I’m sure that line was added for those who might fault her for not fighting harder to protect her virginity.  Anyone who would fault her for that, by the way, is an enormous asshole. 

In any case, Elizabeth Smart felt like a shattered vase or chewed up piece of gum after Mitchell forced her to “marry” him and then raped her.  She felt like she no longer had any value.  That rape took away her self-worth because she was taught that sex before marriage is filthy.  Certainly being raped can be described as filthy, but a person doesn’t lose their intrinsic value as a person because they have been raped or because they have had intercourse before marriage.  Plenty of good people have been raped.  Plenty of good people have had premarital sex.  What happened to Elizabeth Smart was not her fault.  It grieves me to think that even for a moment, she felt worthless because she was victimized.  I think many religious organizations need to do a better job instilling self worth in girls.  That goes for any restrictive faith that places a high premium on chastity and modesty.

One other thing I noticed in Smart’s book was her description of the food Mitchell would steal.  I have never been LDS, but I have read a lot of accounts of the type of foods many Mormons eat.  They seem to be big on casseroles, Spam, and Jello.  For instance, Utah is the world’s leader in green Jello consumption.  Here’s just one thread on RfM about odd cuisine.  Mitchell apparently was very fond of mayonnaise and would mix it with carrots and raisins.  Just the thought of that makes me want to retch.  And Elizabeth washed it down with warm water from a plastic canteen shared by her captors… when she wasn’t forced to drink cheap wine or beer or liquor… Or smoking cigarettes…  Yeah.  I can see why she’d want to forget that time in her life. 

To add insult to injury, when she was finally found, the cop handcuffed her before he took her to the police station.  Why he cuffed her, I don’t know.  It must have been procedure.  Maybe he thought she’d have some kind of Stockholm Syndrome and might bonk him on the head.  Poor Elizabeth.  That was just one more thing she never should have experienced.

Anyway, I think the book is worth reading if you want to read Elizabeth Smart’s perspective of the horrible experiences that made her famous.  It’s definitely gotten me to thinking.   

Below is my reposted review.

I really debated purchasing Elizabeth Smart’s 2013 book, My Story.  I have read other books written by crime victims and, generally speaking, have found that victimhood does not necessary make one a good writer.  But Smart had help writing this book from ghost writer, Chris Stewart, and having seen her in the media in the eleven years since she was abducted from her home in June 2002, I figured I might as well. 

I managed to read Smart’s account of her abduction and nine months in captivity at the hands of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in one sitting.  The book is written in the first person, as if Elizabeth Smart is standing at a lectern relating her story.  She begins with the story of the first time she laid eyes on Brian David Mitchell.  It was a chilly day in November 2001 and Mitchell was on a Salt Lake City street begging.  Elizabeth Smart was out shopping with her mother and a couple of her siblings.  Smart’s mother, Lois, felt sorry for Mitchell.  She gave him five dollars and her husband’s cell phone number so that they might offer him work.  Elizabeth Smart explains that she made eye contact with Mitchell and gave him a slight smile.  She, too, felt sorry for him.  At that moment, Mitchell determined that Elizabeth Smart would be his “second wife”.

Many people already know what happened next.  On the night of June 5th, 2002, Mitchell broke into Smart’s home and awakened the sleeping fourteen year old by pressing a knife to her neck.  Smart, who had been sleeping next to her younger sister, Mary Katherine, silently got out of bed and, wearing nothing but her red satin pajamas and a pair of running shoes, left her home with Mitchell.  She was gone for nine months.

Smart explains that after being forced to “wed” and then repeatedly raped by Mitchell, she felt like a priceless vase that had suddenly been smashed to bits.  What do you do with a shattered vase?  You sweep up the pieces and throw it away.  Smart writes that Mitchell had defiled and demoralized her to the point at which she felt like her life was meaningless and no one would ever want her.  Smart writes that Barzee treated her like a slave and seemed to have no empathy whatsoever for Smart’s plight.  In fact, Smart writes more than once that Barzee had “given up” her six children so she could be with Mitchell.  I’m not sure that giving up access to one’s children automatically makes someone *bad*…  After all, in divorce situations, men are asked to do it all the time.  However, I definitely see how Elizabeth Smart made that determination about Wanda Barzee, under the circumstances.

Aside from the cruel treatment and neglect she received at the hands of her captors, Smart writes of the very uncomfortable living conditions she was forced to endure.  Mitchell and Barzee were derelicts who lived outside; consequently, Elizabeth Smart, who had grown up privileged and comfortable, found herself going days without eating, going thirsty, and wearing filthy clothes that were cast offs from other homeless people.  Mitchell also forced Smart to drink alcohol, smoke, and view pornography, activities that were strictly against Smart’s Mormon beliefs.

My thoughts

I had read Bringing Elizabeth Home, a book written by Ed and Lois Smart in 2004.  I wasn’t very impressed with that book because it was very sanitized and offered little information that wasn’t already in the news.  Moreover, it also included a lot of religious “preaching” related to the Smarts’ belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I was a little afraid that Elizabeth Smart’s book would contain more of the same, although I had read that the book was going to focus much more on what went on during her actual captivity.

My Story is, in fact, about what happened to Elizabeth Smart during those nine months she was away.  I have to admit, after reading this book, I have new respect for Elizabeth Smart.  Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put her through hell.  Smart makes it clear that given a choice, she would certainly favor Barzee over Mitchell, whom she describes as a narcissistic pedophile who was unspeakably cruel to her. 

I finished this book in a couple of hours.  It’s printed in large type and written in a conversational style that includes a lot of sentence fragments which I think was supposed to be engaging.  Personally, I find one word sentences annoying.  I also noticed at least one instance in which Smart’s captor was referred to as David Brian Mitchell.  That’s not a big deal, but I did catch it.  There are no photos, not that I really expected Smart to have pictures from that time period.  This book is not nearly as graphic as it could be, which is certainly understandable.  For many readers, I’m sure the lack of graphic details will be a relief.   

Overall

I don’t think the writing in My Story is the stuff of Pulitzer Prizes, but it’s not bad.  The book was a quick read and doesn’t include a whole lot more information than what has been printed in the media already, though it does give Smart’s perspective more so than any news article could.  I admire Elizabeth Smart’s fortitude during that ordeal.  I think My Story is worth reading if you’re interested in what really happened to Elizabeth Smart.  The writing could be better, though.

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book reviews, true crime

Repost: Dr. Debora Green… the face of evil

I posted this piece on my original blog on February 22, 2014. It contains a review I wrote for Epinions.com on September 29, 2003. It appears here as/is.

Maybe fourteen years ago or so, I read a book by Ann Rule called Bitter Harvest.  The book was about Dr. Debora Green, a woman who, as a young woman, seemed to have everything going for her.  She was extremely intelligent and had sailed through high school, college, and medical school.  She was pretty and talented and had a thriving career.  She had started out as an emergency room doctor, but then decided she’d rather be an oncologist.  She married her second husband, Dr. Michael Farrar, a cardiologist in the Kansas City area, and bore him three healthy children, a boy and two girls.

As the years passed, Debora Green’s career hit the skids.  She drank too much, was subject to rages, and gained a lot of weight.  She failed her medical boards and eventually lost her license to practice medicine.  And finally, she determined she wanted her husband dead.  As she poisoned the children against their father by filling their heads with lies, she served him food that she had prepared.  The food contained castor beans, which is where ricin comes from.  Ricin is a deadly poison and the contaminated food made Dr. Farrar very sick. 

But Dr. Farrar didn’t die.  He just went through hell.  Finally, Debora Green decided to off him and her children, once and for all.  In October 1995, she set fire to the $400,000 home they had recently purchased, despite the fact Farrar and Green were separated.  She told her thirteen year old son, Tim, not to try to escape the blaze because the fire department was on the way.  Her six year old daughter, Kelly, asphyxiated, along with their dog, Boomer.  And ten year old Kate jumped off the roof to save herself, with no help from her mother.

Dr. Debora Green was eventually tried and convicted for murder and attempted murder.  She sits in prison in Kansas and will soon be celebrating her 63rd birthday.  I thought about this case recently and looked up Debora Green to see if anything new had happened.  I came across this photo.

This woman’s eyes look like pure evil to me.

I’m sure prison life is hard and that has something to do with the way this woman looks.  But to me, she looks like a brute.  It’s hard to believe she was once considered beautiful and brilliant.  I would not want to meet her in a dark alley, let alone go to her for treatment of cancer.

The first time I read that book, I had never run into someone like Debora Green.  Now that I’ve learned about narcissists and sociopaths, this story is easier to believe.

I liked Ann Rule’s book on this subject. Below is my review from 2003.

Is the mother of the year award in the cards for Dr. Debora Green?

Not likely. As a matter of fact, she’s rotting in prison as I write this. Why? Because she murdered two of her three children by burning down her house and tried to poison her husband by spiking his food with ricin. How did all of this come about? The whole sordid tale is spun for us in Rule’s 1997 true crime book, Bitter Harvest, a truly amazing story of a brilliant woman whose personality seemed to change dangerously by the minute.

Debora Jones (aka Deb) started life simply enough. Born to Bob and Joan (pronounced Joanne) Jones, she and her sister Pam grew up in rural western Illinois. Both girls were exceptionally bright. Deb never earned less than an “A” in school– her IQ was tested at 165. She was athletic, witty, musically talented, pretty, and popular, and she had a special gift for chemistry. After high school, Deb went to the University of Illinois to study chemical engineering; however, she was told that there was a glut of engineers. She ended up majoring in chemistry: pre med by default. It was in college that she earned her first “B”, a devastating blow to her ego. Nevertheless, she was able to graduate in three years and go on to medical school at the University of Kansas. During that time, she was married to Duane J. Green, an engineering PhD student at the University of Illinois.

After medical school, Deb became an emergency room physician. She divorced Green and met Michael Farrar, a medical student four years her junior. Farrar fell in love with the attractive, vivacious senior resident who drove a sportscar. They married in May 1979, but Deb kept Green’s name for “professional reasons”. In the early years of her marriage to Farrar, Deb supported Mike with her ER physician’s income as he completed his training as a cardiologist. However, she soon grew tired of the mundane cases she saw in the emergency room and decided to change her specialty to oncology (cancer).

Mike recalled that he knew he was making a mistake as he walked down the aisle on his wedding day. His parents didn’t like Deb and her parents didn’t like him. Nevertheless, he went through with the wedding. On the first night of their honeymoon, he had a hard time getting Deb to consummate their marriage; she preferred to read a novel instead. When they did have sex, it was uninspired. The couple managed to have three children anyway, a boy, Tim in January 1982, a girl, Kate (called Lissa in this book) in December 1984, and another girl, Kelly in December 1988.

Mike enjoyed great success in his career as a cardiologist and was regarded as a rising star in the medical community of the Kansas City area. Deb, however, experienced problems. While she was technically quite proficient, her patients found her cold and uncaring. Her colleagues found her hard to work with, especially when they disagreed with her. Deb rarely kept up with new advances in her field and was unable to pass her boards, while Mike managed to pass with flying colors. While their marriage had never been good, it soon became worse. At one point, Mike caught her stealing painkillers from her patients. Deb eventually ended up leaving medicine altogether.

More disturbing were Deb’s temper tantrums, which she would sometimes indulge in public. Mike would usually see her go off in airports when flights were delayed. She’d cuss out ticket agents, using the “F” word and various other epithets liberally in front of her children and throwing her professional title and Mike’s around in order to get her way.

Despite the horror of their marriage, Deb would not grant Mike a divorce, so Mike moved out of their upscale Kansas City, Missouri house and into an apartment. Four months after his move, Deb implored him to move back home, promising him that things would be better. Mike decided that if he complied, they would need a larger house. They found one in Prarie Village, Kansas, and at a bargain. But at the last minute, Mike changed his mind. Not long afterward, the Kansas City house caught on fire, forcing Deb and the kids to move into Mike’s apartment for awhile. The reconciliation was enough to convince Mike to cave in and buy the house in Kansas, for considerably more than he had originally agreed to pay for it. The fire in Kansas City was ruled an accident, so insurance paid for the damage. Mike and Deb ended up making $20,000 on its sale.

From there, things really started to go south, until the night of October 24th, 1995, when Tim and Kelly Farrar were killed by fire in their parents’ beautiful home. On several occasions during August and September 1995, Mike was in the hospital, suffering from a mysterious illness that brought him to the brink of death over and over again. His symptoms baffled doctors, until Mike found castor beans in Deb’s purse. Castor beans are very poisonous. They contain ricin, which is the third deadliest toxin on earth, next to botulism and plutonium.

I realize that I’ve given quite a bit of information here, but really I’ve only scratched the surface of this very convoluted story. Ann Rule has done a great job of presenting a horrifying case in great detail. There’s a lot of information to digest, but it’s interesting enough that I wanted to keep reading, even though the book is 482 pages long. Rule includes pictures which I found astounding– they show how Deb Jones changed from her high school picture to her middle aged adult picture. As a teen and young adult, Deb had been quite attractive. By the time she was in her forties, she no longer resembled the same person. She had gained a lot of weight, cut off all of her hair, and even her face looked different. In short, the woman was unrecognizable.

If you’ve ever read one of Ann Rule’s books before, you know that she provides several components to her books– the background story, the legal story, and the police story are a few that spring to mind right now. Readers get to examine Deb’s cold detachment as police interviewed her after the fire. Readers also get to read the accounts of other family members and witnesses who noted Deb’s strange reaction to the loss of two of her children.

I’ll admit that it took me awhile to get into this book the first time I read it, but once I started to really read it, I got hooked. This is definitely a fascinating read, and I for one am very glad that this is one mother who won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day in the comfort of her own home. 

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book reviews, homosexuality, religion

Repost: My review of The Cross in the Closet, by Timothy Kurek…

I posted this review on my original blog on March 25, 2014. It appears here as/is.

Today’s review is about Timothy Kurek’s 2012 book, The Cross in the Closet.  I don’t remember why I downloaded this book.  I think I heard about it somewhere and decided it sounded interesting.  Right now, it’s selling for about $5 on Amazon, so that might have also had something to do with my decision to buy.  I read Kurek’s book in a matter of hours…  and when I was finished with it, I was kind of reminded of this video.

This video is definitely NSFW, but it’s funny… 

The Cross in the Closet is the true story of how Timothy Kurek, like several authors before him, decided to fake something in order to develop empathy.  Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America, faked being poor and uneducated so she could write about what it’s like to be poor and having to work at minimum wage jobs to get by.  I read her book in the early 2000s and enjoyed it the first time I read it.  Then I read it again and it kind of pissed me off.  Ehrenreich wasn’t really poor and knew there was an end to when she’d have to fake being poor.  She had an escape from poverty– there was a light at the end of the tunnel that she could use to bolster herself when things got really hard.  That’s not to say that I don’t think she learned anything.  It’s just to say that her experience wasn’t all that authentic.

In a similar fashion, Timothy Kurek, who grew up near Nashville in a conservative Christian home and spent a year at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, faked being gay for a year.  At the start of his book, Kurek writes about how Jerry Falwell had preached against homosexuality and how people who are gay or lesbian are living sinful lives.  When Kurek is confronted by a gay activist who calls him “brother”, he calls the man to repentance.  He is very sure of his position; that homosexuals are hopeless sinners who lead disgusting lives.  He treats them terribly.

After a year at Liberty, Kurek goes back to Tennessee because his parents split up.  He starts hanging around a karaoke bar in Nashville, where he becomes acquainted with some homosexuals.  One of his dear friends, a young woman he knew from church, comes out to him.  She is devastated because her parents have disowned her.  As Kurek awkwardly comforts his friend, he can’t find the right words to say.  He realizes that he’s been bigoted.  He starts to realize that homosexuals are people too.  Then, he decides he’s going to experiment.  He hatches his plan to come out as gay to his family and friends, even though he is straight.  He will spend a year on this charade, learning something about the homosexual community.

Kurek’s family seems to take his announcement with shock and dismay, but they still talk to him.  His pastor at church sends him a rather hateful missive about not condoning the sinful gay lifestyle.  Some of his friends quit talking to him.  Kurek goes to a gay bar and is immediately hit on, which makes him uncomfortable.  Fortunately, he has a gay friend from the karaoke bar who serves as his boyfriend during the year to keep him from being hit on by interested men.  The friend, whose name is Shawn, is black, handsome, and a very gifted singer… and he doesn’t have a problem playing “boyfriend” at first.

I was intrigued by Kurek, who claims to be a conservative Christian, but does things that I wouldn’t expect from a lifelong conservative evangelical Christian.  Though Kurek writes that he spent a lot of hours in church, he smokes clove cigarettes.  At the start of the book, he claims to have only tasted beer twice, but by the end, he’s very much a drinker.  He dances.  He also swears a lot for someone who is so apparently Christian.  All of these things go against what I’ve been taught about the evangelical Christian community and what they think is okay.     

As the year passes, Kurek finds himself becoming more involved and therefore more knowledgable about the LGBTQ world.  He makes many friends, works in a gay cafe where he learns how to make excellent lattes, and goes to a lot of karaoke bars.  He learns that many homosexuals are wonderful people and some are not so wonderful.  He makes some very dear friends, even as he fights his natural attraction to women.  He even discovers that homosexuals can love God when he stumbles across a transvestite singing “Awesome God” at a karaoke show.  In short, Kurek seems to learn that in the most important ways, homosexuals are really not so different than straight people are.  One thing I noticed from Kurek’s book is that the gay community he was briefly a part of seemed very tight knit and caring… not unlike some church communities.  Although knowing what I know about some churches, I bet the gay community’s caring was more genuine.  From what Kurek writes, most of the homosexuals he befriended during his gay year were still friends when he came clean.

Actually, Kurek’s description of the karaoke bars was interesting to me, since Bill and I once went to one in Key West, Florida.  I happen to love karaoke and they had a great show going.  We went; I sang; and the people there were really great.  We had a blast… though I would be lying if I said Bill wasn’t very uncomfortable at first.  He didn’t know how to behave.  Bill has an adopted “half-sister” who is a lesbian, though she’s 19 years younger than he is.  He doesn’t know her as well as he’d like to, but through Facebook we’ve discovered that she’s a truly wonderful person who is very involved in her community.  But despite having a lesbian sister, Bill hasn’t been exposed to members of the gay community nearly as much as I have and really felt out of his element in a gay bar.  For that reason, I could empathize with Kurek’s first experiences visiting establishments that cater to the homosexual community.

Kurek’s year of being “gay” was difficult, though his experience being “gay” definitely wasn’t as difficult as it was for most of the new friends he made.  Again, Kurek knew his condition was temporary and could count down the months before he could be straight again.  His family and friends were by and large decent about it… until his brother and his wife found out halfway through the year that Kurek had lied about being gay.  It caused a huge rift that Kurek describes rather poignantly.  Kurek is close to his brother, so his brother’s anger was very painful for him.  Unrequited love on the part of Kurek’s “boyfriend” Shawn, seems to make Kurek’s experiment more difficult for Shawn.

I was surprised by how Kurek’s homosexual friends took the news when he told them he wasn’t actually gay.  They mostly seemed okay with his experiment.  I’m sure that to many of them, what Kurek did was pretty bold and maybe even kind of cool, especially since it led to Kurek being more empathetic.  However, I couldn’t help but realize that Kurek’s experience with being gay was not as authentic as it might have been.  In fact, it was a bit contrived and what he did is nothing new.  And I wondered if any of his new friends were offended by Kurek’s decision to be “fake and gay”.  He doesn’t mention any that I remember, though.

Kurek’s writing is basically okay, though there are some typos and misspelled words in his manuscript.  Kurek’s dialogue also sometimes feels a little scripted… like something I might hear on a soap opera.  He seems very young, too… which I believe he was when he wrote this book.  The youth seems to inject his writing with the kind of testosterone that makes young men single-minded and dogmatic about certain things.  The writing got a little preachy at times.  That being said, I thought The Cross in the Closet was basically an interesting book.  I would recommend it to anyone who thinks reading about Kurek’s experiment might interest them.  You could certainly read worse.

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