Just in time for summer I found Mason Stokes’s delightful Saving Julian. Though often a serious consideration of the place where desire, family obligation and fundamentalist religion meet, Saving Julian is also a funny, brisk tale of gay men finding love and romance in unexpected places. The titular hero is a sardonic rent boy with open contempt for the closeted old gents from whom he makes his living. Julian’s roommate, Aaron, watches in amusement and amazement as he bounces from one sad sack to the next, finally landing in the arms of a conservative Christian leader who actually issues him a contract, specifying that the jaded young man will act as—and only as—luggage lifter and nonsexual masseur on the Reverend’s next business trip. The Reverend is obsessed with male bonding, but no s-e-x!
The Reverend ends up getting busted anyway, confessing to the microphones, denying everything and hiding behind his own peculiar gospel of men fulfilling “homoemotional” needs. Julian gets fifteen minutes of unwanted fame, and at this point, Aaron decides to go underground, enrolling in one of the Reverend’s gay conversion therapy workshops in order to really nail the man. So begins a lively game of get-the-hypocrite. So, too, begin various games of attraction, as some workshop members, including Aaron, find one another, shall we say, distracting? Ultimately, as Aaron and company move toward exposing the Reverend and getting their very creative revenge, even the Reverend’s wife and son get drawn into the–ahem!–action.
Saving Julian is funny, especially in its conversion therapy scenes, and the plotting is zany, but Stokes also raises questions–through the actions, feelings and pronouncements of the Reverend–about what men’s needs really are. We nudge and wink over all the talk of “homoemotional needs,” but we all know what it is simply to be held by another man and feel the warmth. The pseudo-psychological double talk makes sense, and the struggle of the religious man who just wants some earthly succor becomes compelling and real.
I will not give away the delightful–and in some ways touching–resolutions. Suffice to say that they are happy for most, melancholy for a few, and satisfying for the reader. Saving Julian is a terrific read for summertime or anytime, and perhaps an essential read, given how tensions keep flaring between fundamentalists, who maybe just want some male warmth, and gays, who maybe just want the same thing.
Reviewed by David Pratt