Well With My Soul
by Gregory G. Allen
Reviewed by Alina Oswald
“Is it all well with my soul?” is the question that comes to mind upon finishing Gregory G. Allen’s latest novel, Well With My Soul. Inspired in part by Horatio Spafford’s hymn with a similar name, Well With My Soul intrigues and surprises not only by the questions it forces us to answer, but mostly by the answers we reach and the journeys of self-discovery we have to embark on in order to find these answers.
In that sense Well With My Soul proves that sometimes it is, indeed, about the journey and not the destination; that life doesn’t play by the rules; and that, too often, unconventional elements define the reality surrounding us.
Although a work of fiction, Well With My Soul addresses a side of reality, acknowledged only by few, through the story of two brothers and their entangled lives defined by concurring, contrasting elements—straight and gay; countryside and the Big Apple; the power of religion and its effects on everyday life; the choice of living life true to oneself or locked inside a closet—at the beginning of the AIDS pandemic.
Choosing the time period was important, the author explains, to capture America’s transition from the liberal seventies to the conservative eighties and the onset of the AIDS pandemic and, with it, a different way of telling the story. Allen brings onstage a sometimes controversial, often less-acknowledged aspect of the pandemic, one that has transcended time to reach present day.
It is precisely this controversial, unconventional element that makes Well With My Soul a compelling read. It’s controversial in the sense that (without giving away the ending) the story offers a lesson: straight individuals can grow and change their negative views on gays while gay individuals might learn nothing and go backwards instead of forward. And Allen makes it possible because he’s not afraid of taking chances with his writing; because he believes it’s his responsibility, as a writer, to get readers to think about their own life choices and look within themselves to stay true to who they are and be well with their souls.
Alina Oswald is a writer/photographer and the author of Journeys Through Darkness, a biography of AIDS. Contact her at www.alina-arts.com or follow her blog, Unconventional, at alinaoswald.blogspot.com.