You never get away from the religion of your childhood—as I’ve learned from, among other things, watching the hackles of my ex-Mormon friends rise whenever I mention Fawn M. Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith. Excommunication may keep the boy out of the tabernacle, but it can’t keep the tabernacle, spiritually speaking, out of the boy.
As evidence, take Steven Fales’s Confessions of a Mormon Boy, which is exactly what its title says: a solo narration, in the first-person past tense (with occasional intervening voices acted out in the present), of the author-performer’s evolution from pious musical-theater-loving child to tentatively questioning teen to tormentingly closeted young husband and father. And then onward—there are revelations but no shocking surprises in this story—to secret same-sex slut and, after the inevitable discovery, excommunication and divorce, to penniless New York actor-waiter, high-living male hustler, Ecstasy-fogged party whore. After the (likewise inevitable) crash, naturally, come rehab, reform, political awakening, awareness of responsibility, and a newly secularized clean-living gospel, all preached as sincerely as the toddler’s hymns of latter-day sainthood were sung.
The story’s familiar ring only marginally diminishes the interest of its details on such intriguing byways as Mormon efforts to keep up with changing sexual mores, and the lifestyles of New York sex workers (the details ring truer here than in The Little Dog Laughed). Fales, personable and even still sexy despite what sounds like years of bodily overemployment, makes the tale easy to take, a sort of story hour for grown-up children, telling a quintessentially American once-upon-a-time of sexual-identity crisis and selfhood.