Successful salesmen believe in their products, and the Gene Robinson of Elizabeth Adams’ frankly admiring biography of the controversial homosexual bishop of New Hampshire comes off as a likable guy — when he’s around, that is. The biography is strong on the history of the progressive movement in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion writ large, and the election battles, and the book is worth adding to your library for those reasons alone. Robinson himself is hardly a presence, however, and the treatment of him tends toward the glib. Overall, I give the book a C+.

Whether it’s the back of a soup can, or a book, those of us who write for pay never stop critiquing what we read. We mentally rewrite sentences, tinker with the punctuation, move whole paragraphs, frown at subheads. In the case of this book, I found myself wanting to give Adams a good shake and demand to know why she didn’t ask some question or another, or discuss some things at more length.

One of the most arresting quotes I’ve ever encountered, for instance, appears on page 29:

“Suicide was something we thought the good homosexuals did.”

Say … what!? Who thought so? Where did that idea come from? Did Robinson happen to know a homosexual who committed suicide before he, himself, came out? How did that idea affect his sense of being ‘called’ to the ministry, his thoughts about that career decision? On and on. It’s a quote that demands scrutiny, that cries out for scrutiny, that is bound to fix the attention of any intelligent, thoughtful reader — but Adams doesn’t scrutinize it at all. No. She simply drops it in, and toodles off to the next thing.

The discussion of the end of the Robinson marriage begins in the middle of page 55, and the subject is done by the middle of page 56. The treatment is, once again, maddeningly glib, with Gene deciding he had to get out, his wife agreeing, and everybody pasting-on happy faces afterward. A more searching account of such a life-sized event — which a talented writer could handle without invasive prurience — would give a better sense of who Gene Robinson, the man, really is — but that’s it. NEXT!

Adams is a talented writer, a graceful writer, and, overall, the book engages. It’s a pleasant read, and chock full of the interesting facts and anecdotes that go into the notebook for later recall; I’ve no doubt I’ll cite the book from time to time. But it’s no biography, and leaves no sense of an encounter with Gene Robinson.

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