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Milt Ford

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Perry Brass's The Substance of God: A Spiritual Thriller, Not Such a Stretch
8/28/2010 9:40:46 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

In its combining the themes of gay sex and religious concerns, Perry Brass’s spiritual thriller is much less a “stretch” now than it was when it was just a few years ago when it was first published. It contributes to a growing movement of looking at religious topics through a queer lens, extending into popular, genre literature the work of those who study and write about scriptures from a queer perspective.

The Substance of God is about sex, spirit, religion, marriage, life, death, and, oh yes, science, all in nearly equal portions. That is an enormous thematic undertaking, but, for me, Brass pulls it off with room to spare. Each of these themes could easily sustain extensive examination, but for the artistic tension of Brass’s novel, the important thing is how they play against and into each other to populate and set into action the fictive world he creates.

The sex is graphic and gay, mostly. And that plays out in different ways for the main characters, examples being the scientist, Dr. Leonard Miller, the main character who uses kinky sex as an escape from the lab and a religious man, Ted Richards, a pivotal character introduced half-way into the novel, who resists being attracted to gay sex but who seems to be drawn to it all the more powerfully because of that resistance.

The spiritual realm is present throughout in terms of the plot driver, the mysterious substance, which gives the novel its name. There is also Biblical interest, both historical and in the life experience (both positive and negative) of the characters. But it is “the substance” that brings together the sexual and spiritual interest in the novel.

And because of a major theme in my own writing and interest, I paid close attention to role of an apparent heterosexual marriage between a straight woman and a man, Ted, who wants to be straight but whose actions indicate that he is fighting a losing battle. Strongly to the credit of Perry Brass, like every other feature of the novel, this relationship and struggle is essential to the development of the plot.

Some books are simply fun to read at the time and others play in my mind after I’ve finished the reading. For me, Perry Brass’s The Substance of God is both. It is billed as a spiritual thriller. As with any good thriller, the pages seemed to turn themselves, and when I was ready to put the book down, I just had read a few more pages. But for me a lot more was going on than interest in what was going to happen next. The Substance of God is certainly successful as a thriller, but just as certainly, it is a whole lot more. Its important themes (and combination of themes) linger in my mind long after the thriller part drew me eagerly to the end of the novel.

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More Blogs by Milt Ford
•  Perry Brass's The Substance of God: A Spiritual Thriller, Not Such a Stretch - Saturday, August 28, 2010  
• Thinking with Writing, Mine and Other People's - Wednesday, August 18, 2010


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