A review by Jim Manchester:
People have said that the very best stories make you feel unsettled. They demand thought and prompt action. Grant West has achieved that in his debut novel, AD 2040: Clear and Present Danger, Triumph of the Religious Right.
The novel takes our world and turns it inside out. In it, the earth’s population is and always has been gay and lesbian. Admittedly or not, ten percent are straight, bisexual, or transsexual, and as such, compose a “Queer,” deviant minority; a startling, unsettling alternate reality. HIV/AIDS still has a devastating grip on society with infection rates as high as 25 percent in developed nations; total domination and decimation in under-developed, third-world countries. In this alternate reality, the straights, of course, are blamed for the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The United States has gone through an economic and political collapse and allowed extreme fundamentalism to take over a provisional government as it tries to recover. Heterophobia runs rampant in a society dominated by martial law.
West introduces us to some colorful and endearing characters. A religious leader named the Reverend Elder Troy Mason claims to be the nation’s religious authority, but instead of being a beatific figure who inspires diversity, tolerance, and personal spiritual empowerment (as does a real-life friend of almost the same name), Mason has manipulated himself into political power where he directs a governmental plan of ethnic cleansing and purging of heterosexuals. I was ready to like Mason because of the name similarity and because he is gay, but the comparison of him to Adolf Hitler is no exaggeration.
West injects a straight couple into the mix who try to live normal lives. They, too, are religious people. The Reverend Gary Fall and his wife, Lillian, serve a small Christian congregation in one of North Carolina’s urban centers that believes that it’s okay to be straight when the rest of the world is proud and determined to be gay. I was ready to dislike Reverend Fall because of the name similarity to the late Jerry Falwell of the Liberty Alliance. Again, I was mistaken. He is much more like a compassionate senior pastor I greatly admire.
Other characters surface such as a dear uncle who rides in a Pride parade and is amazed to find that he is marginalized because of his conventional religious belief. A physician and his husband lead an effort to make sense of the terror of HIV and heal broken spirits as well as afflicted bodies. Gay and lesbian in-laws struggle to accept their straight children. Other quaint gay couples open their homes to people in need despite the fact that such hospitality could be viewed as treasonous.
The challenges that Gary and Lillian face mount up quickly until they face a struggle for survival. When their lives become almost too much to bare, several enlightened gay couples come to their rescue. The ultimate survival of the Falls depends upon being able to trust people who may not seem all that trustworthy on the surface but who prove to be guardian angels.
Grantham West’s masterful interweaving of biblical scholarship to expose the twisted, hate-centered Bible abuse of arch-fundamentalist preachers and teachers is refreshing. He shows how such discussions can become a part of everyday encounters and how firmly-rooted attitudes can change as a result.
I hated the first chapter. It terrorized me. Luckily, I trusted Grant West enough to keep reading. By the third chapter, I was hooked. From that point onward, it was a compelling, intriguing read. By the time I got to the seventh chapter, I refused to put the book down – even to eat or sleep. AD 2040: Clear and Present Danger, is just that compelling.
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