When the deacons at Mark Beaver’s Bible Belt church cue up an evangelical horror flick aimed at dramatizing Hell, he figures he’d better get right with God, and soon. Convinced he could die at age seven and spend eternity roasting on a spit in the fiery furnace of Hades, he promptly gets Saved. But once the ’80s and his adolescence hit, the Straight and Narrow becomes a tight squeeze.
Suburban Gospel offers more than a look inside the Southern Baptist religion circa Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority—it’s a tale of faith and flesh. Beaver invites us into a world filled with Daisy Duke fantasies and Prince posters, Nerf Hoops and Atari joysticks, raggedy Camaros and the neon light of strip malls. As much about the adolescent heart as the evangelical mind, the story explores similar emotional terrain as coming-of-age classics like Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life and Mary Karr's Cherry. Suburban Gospel is a tale of growing up Baptist, all right—but also of just growing up.
Never preachy or self-righteous, Beaver praises the exhilaration of independence while keeping faith always within reach.
You need not be bible-belt Southern, first generation suburbanite, or male to appreciate Mark Beaver’s terrific memoir of growing up all of the above in and around 1980’s Atlanta. It would help if you have an ear for a phrase carefully wrought and emotionally precise, but you really don’t need compassion or empathy, for Beaver, portraying the life he did not choose, brings so much of both to his story that you’re bound to reap the leftovers.
—michael parker, author of All I have In this world
Beaver's voice is engrossing; his deadpan self-satire is as sharp as his observations about his community.
Part comic strip character Ziggy, part Fast Times at Ridgemont High (and Junior High, and Elementary) Mark Beaver’s Suburban Gospel details the missteps and close-calls of that relentless and necessary Era of Adolescence. For anyone embarrassed about his or her own rites of passage, Suburban Gospel could serve as a self-deprecating primer. Funny, and honest, and clear-sighted; between the lines, Beaver attests that we’re all in this weird life together."
—george singleton, author of calloustown
What’s refreshing about this coming-of-age memoir set in the New South is Mark Beaver’s voice: at once self-sure and puzzled, funny and humble, clear-eyed and confused about how growing up works. Suburban Gospel pulls no punches about what it means to be a bewildered kid growing up in the 1980s, trying to map the conjunction of sex, church, social standing and girls, all with a razor-sharp wit and a tender heart too. Mark Beaver is a terrific writer, Suburban Gospel a terrific book.
—bret lott, author of jewel
"In Suburban Gospel, Mark Beaver proves to be a kind of down-home David Sedaris. This isn't your great-grandfather'sSouthern memoir; instead of red clay and moonshine, Beaver offers Bubble Yum and break dancing, suburban malls and 80s sports cars, Baskin-Robbins and Prince. In the midst of all the fun, Beaver trains his sights on two familiar Bible Belt subjects--family and religion--with intelligence, humor, and warmth. An entertaining and absorbing read."
—keith lee morris, author of travelers rest