Brady Udall’s Paranoia: Is there a culture war between Mormons going on?

5.24.10 | | 53 comments
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Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist (Amazon) (AMV review) has been making as splash. As of this writing, it’s holding on to the last spot of the NYTBSL and I’ve been seeing articles about Udall all over the interwebz.
Here at  A Motley Vision, we are “devoted to exploring the world of Mormon arts and culture. Or to be more specific: Mormon literature, criticism, publishing and marketing — plus film, theater, art, music, and pop and folk culture” (cite) and generally we interpret this to mean the culture of faithful Mormons.
With Brady Udall, whom, many of those reports report, is rather less faithful (at least as compared to his wife and kids, apparently), the question arises: How do faithful Mormons interested in the arts view our less faithful artists?.
(Note: This topic has been considered at greater depth elsewhere on this site, including here and here and here and here, and I would be happy to see any of those discussions revived if you’re interested in engaging.)
Simply put, the perception is that we generally view “them” with at least moderate suspicion. Even enlightened artsy snobs like myself.
That said, let me announce here, as clearly as possible, that The Lonely Polygamist in no way knocks Mormons. Here are the three most notable quotations about mainstream Mormons in the book (please keep in mind that my copy was a free ARC from the publisher and my page numbers will not correspond with your page numbers) (also note that if you remember tiny details from blogposts, there is bit of a spoiler in the third quotation):
Unlike the valley’s Mormons who peopled the towns along the river, the members of the Living Church of God, who mostly lived on farms and compounds at the eastern edge of the valley, did not hold positions of power, sat on no boards or councils, had nothing but their little church on the hill and each other. (152)
Though the Mormons in the valley were suspicious, even openly antagonistic toward their polygamist brethren . . . . (248)
The Mormons—who had abandoned the Principle a hundred years ago . . . had many things the fundamentalists did not: they had their expensive modern chapels, their temples and their worldwide bureaucracy and millions of clean-cut members, they had their Donnie and Marie. But they did not have this priesthood authority, the ancient biblical power, borne of men of God . . . who spoke the hard truth, who conversed directly with Goad and had the ability, like Jesus of old, to release a dead child from her . . . grave. (249)
Mormons, as per 1970s polygamists’ perspective.
Anyone who, reading those passages, would take offense or freak out or burn a book is insane and should be treated as such (you will notice from this opinion that I do not always learn the lessons I claim to learn). Happily I have not read any angry yellings yet, but, well, #35 on the bestseller list really ain’t all that many books (and it doesn’t show up on this week’s USA Today’s top 150 at all).
But Udall knew that talking about polygamy is sensitive no matter how fair you are. And so, shortly before the book’s release, its publicist at Norton sent us at AMV this statement, penned by the book’s author:
Like so many others in the church, I am a product of polygamy. If my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother had not decided to get married-even though great-great grandpa was already happily married to someone else-I and hundreds of my kin would never have been born. So it was only natural that, when asked by Esquire magazine in 1997 to write a piece about my religious traditions and values, I chose to write about polygamy. This was back before Big Love, before the raids on the Texas compound, and before Tom Green and Warren Jeffs became household names. Though I had direct connections to polygamy and thought I knew something about it, I went into my research expecting what anyone might expect: ramshackle compounds, hardened men in homemade clothes, cow-eyed women in pioneer dresses with ridiculous hair.
The people I met turned out to be disappointingly normal. They lived in suburban townhomes, drove minivans, shopped for clothes at the mall. As a rule, normality doesn’t make for interesting copy, but as I spent more time with the families I began to see that the appearance of normality was an illusion. They had to keep their lifestyle a secret, suffered the scorn of their neighbors and were criminals under the law-not to mention the fact that in a single family there might be as many as six wives and thirty-five children. These were normal people, then, living in an exceptionally abnormal way.
The Esquire article led to my upcoming novel The Lonely Polygamist which took the better part of a decade to research and write. Because novelists are routinely asked what they happen to be working on, I got into a lot of discussions about polygamy, and I noticed a common reaction among members of the church. Mostly they seemed agitated, or even aghast, wondering why I would want to write about such a prickly subject. Once or twice I was asked if I had something against the church, some axe to grind.
Of course, these sorts of reactions were not surprising. The church has struggled to distance itself from polygamy, claiming that it no longer has a connection to the practice. And yet I don’t think we can sweep polygamy under the rug so easily. Whether we like it or not, polygamy is not only a part of our past, it’s part of our present, our scripture and theology, which both suggest it will be part of our future. If we are to respect our heritage and be honest about who we are as a people, we must acknowledge polygamy’s place in our church and culture. And when we see a polygamist family among us, we must remember we are looking in the mirror; we are looking at ourselves.
At this point, we learn something new about interMormonism culture wars. As you might have picked up from the book quotations above (and likely already know anyway), any feelings of wariness Mormons feel toward the lapsed, polygamists feel toward us.

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Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist (Amazon) (AMV review) has been making a splash. As of this writing, it’s holding on to the last spot of the NYTBSL and I’ve been seeing articles about Udall all over the interwebz.

Here at A Motley Vision, we are “devoted to exploring the world of Mormon arts and culture. Or to be more specific: Mormon literature, criticism, publishing and marketing — plus film, theater, art, music, and pop and folk culture” (cite) and generally we interpret this to mean the culture of faithful Mormons.

With Brady Udall, whom, many of those reports report, is rather less faithful (at least as compared to his wife and kids, apparently), the question arises: How do faithful Mormons (interested in the arts or not) view our less faithful artists?

(Note: This topic has been considered at greater depth elsewhere on this site, including here and here and here and here, and I would be happy to see any of those discussions revived if you’re interested in engaging.)

Simply put, the perception is that “we” generally view “them” with at least moderate suspicion. Even enlightened artsy types like myself.

That said, let me announce here, as clearly as possible, that The Lonely Polygamist in no way knocks Mormons. Here are the three most notable quotations about mainstream Mormons in the book (please keep in mind that my copy was a free ARC from the publisher and my page numbers will not correspond with your page numbers) (also note that if you remember tiny details from blogposts, there is bit of a spoiler in the second and third quotations):

Unlike the valley’s Mormons who peopled the towns along the river, the members of the Living Church of God, who mostly lived on farms and compounds at the eastern edge of the valley, did not hold positions of power, sat on no boards or councils, had nothing but their little church on the hill and each other. (152)

Though the Mormons in the valley were suspicious, even openly antagonistic toward their polygamist brethren, a child had gone missing; they formed search parties, set up and command center in Hurricane, shut down their farms and shops and businesses to comb miles . . . . (247)

The Mormons—who had abandoned the Principle a hundred years ago . . . had many things the fundamentalists did not: they had their expensive modern chapels, their temples and their worldwide bureaucracy and millions of clean-cut members, they had their Donnie and Marie. But they did not have this priesthood authority, the ancient biblical power, borne of men of God . . . who spoke the hard truth, who conversed directly with God and had the ability, like Jesus of old, to release a dead child from her . . . grave. (249)

Mormons, as per 1970s polygamists’ perspective.

Anyone who, reading those passages, would take offense or freak out or burn a book is insane and should be treated as such (you will notice from this opinion that I do not always learn the lessons I claim to learn). Happily, I have not read any angry yellings yet, but, well, #35 on the bestseller list really ain’t that many books (and it doesn’t show up on this week’s USA Today‘s top 150 at all).

But Udall knew that talking about polygamy is sensitive no matter how fair you are. And so, shortly before the book’s release, its publicist at Norton sent AMV this statement, penned by the book’s author:

Like so many others in the church, I am a product of polygamy. If my great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother had not decided to get married-even though great-great grandpa was already happily married to someone else-I and hundreds of my kin would never have been born. So it was only natural that, when asked by Esquire magazine in 1997 to write a piece about my religious traditions and values, I chose to write about polygamy. This was back before Big Love, before the raids on the Texas compound, and before Tom Green and Warren Jeffs became household names. Though I had direct connections to polygamy and thought I knew something about it, I went into my research expecting what anyone might expect: ramshackle compounds, hardened men in homemade clothes, cow-eyed women in pioneer dresses with ridiculous hair.

The people I met turned out to be disappointingly normal. They lived in suburban townhomes, drove minivans, shopped for clothes at the mall. As a rule, normality doesn’t make for interesting copy, but as I spent more time with the families I began to see that the appearance of normality was an illusion. They had to keep their lifestyle a secret, suffered the scorn of their neighbors and were criminals under the law-not to mention the fact that in a single family there might be as many as six wives and thirty-five children. These were normal people, then, living in an exceptionally abnormal way.

The Esquire article led to my upcoming novel The Lonely Polygamist which took the better part of a decade to research and write. Because novelists are routinely asked what they happen to be working on, I got into a lot of discussions about polygamy, and I noticed a common reaction among members of the church. Mostly they seemed agitated, or even aghast, wondering why I would want to write about such a prickly subject. Once or twice I was asked if I had something against the church, some axe to grind.

Of course, these sorts of reactions were not surprising. The church has struggled to distance itself from polygamy, claiming that it no longer has a connection to the practice. And yet I don’t think we can sweep polygamy under the rug so easily. Whether we like it or not, polygamy is not only a part of our past, it’s part of our present, our scripture and theology, which both suggest it will be part of our future. If we are to respect our heritage and be honest about who we are as a people, we must acknowledge polygamy’s place in our church and culture. And when we see a polygamist family among us, we must remember we are looking in the mirror; we are looking at ourselves.

At this point, we learn something new about interMormonism culture wars. As you might have picked up from the book quotations above (and likely already know anyway), any feelings of wariness Mormons feel toward the lapsed, polygamists feel toward us—for we, from their perspective, are also lapsed.

Yet, in truth, are we not all fallen?

I know everyone likely to read this post already agrees with me, but if Brady Udall, who generally strikes me as a pretty balanced and centered human being (even if some of the violence in Edgar Mint is really really awful), feels he has to wage a preemptive attack on Mormon biases, then I’m wondering if many Mormons cannot tell the difference between a Brady Udall and an Ed Decker (who, incidentally, is from my home ward, though I should point out he lost his mind before I was even born and we have never met)?

I’ve too often seen liberal-minded (in the classical sense), artsy Mormons pick on those of lower-caliber mind, and I don’t want that to happen here. But I do want to open the comments with a few questions. Feel free to address all, some, one or none of them but please be nice to those who aren’t here to defend themselves.

1) Is Udall’s seeming paranoia justified?

2) Is there a culture war between faithful and less faithful Saints? And if so, is that war based in unrighteous judgment or something more doctrinally justifiable?

3) And what do you make of this whole “war” metaphor, anyway?

4) How similar is the relationship between polygamists and mainstream Mormons to mainstream Mormons and lapsed Mormons?

5) Is The Lonely Polygamist a “Mormon” book?

And please, as I hardly touched upon it, delve into the meat of Udall’s statement as we discuss this issue.

See you in the comments.

53 comments: “Brady Udall’s Paranoia: Is there a culture war between Mormons going on?

  1. Kyle M

    I’m not sure what the war is, I guess (besides sensationalism).

    Udall’s report of member reactions isn’t at all surprising, and his response to those reactions (in his last paragraph) was perfect, I think.

    Nobody likes having their “dirty laundry” aired (either on personal or institutional levels), and quite a few Mormons consider the church’s polygamous history “dirty.” Whether you do or not, I think Udall’s take on it is correct.

    “If we are to respect our heritage and be honest about who we are as a people, we must acknowledge polygamy’s place in our church and culture.”

    I don’t see paranoia or war here, but maybe I’m missing something?

  2. Mojo

    I’ll step in first and say this:

    If you are a practicing Mormon who writes R+ rated stuff, the culture war has already begun. Either by the writer, by writing something she knows members won’t read because of its offensive material, or by the members who won’t read it because of the offending material but will condemn it anyway (rightly or wrongly).

    It’s always been my concern that my books would be taken to be bashing the church based simply on the fact that I write Mormon characters who aren’t exactly pristine. Yet… without reading it, how would one know what I have or haven’t done? Yet… if one won’t read it, how could one legitimately make a complaint?

    After the plethora of calls for Eugene’s head temple recommend for Angel Falling Softly, I don’t think the culture war is about church bashing. I think it’s about what’s offensive sexually* and not.

    My NONmember fan base understands clearly that I have not bashed the church and, in fact, have a clear affection for it, but what member/leader who is not already predisposed to giving me the benefit of the doubt going to read it and judge it for whether it bashes the church or not? Answer: None.

    So the culture war is that it simply won’t get read.

    *The corollary here is an odd one, but I’ll make it anyway. In genre romance, an unlikeable heroine is a tough, if not impossible, sell, not necessarily to editors, but to readers. There are legions of romance readers, and a good many of them will howl if one breaks the pattern of the Good Sweet [Almost] Virginal Heroine even a little bit. There are certain things romance readers don’t want their heroines to do (the hero is given a pass on most things), and if the heroine does those things, the book becomes a wallbanger.

    I don’t see romance readers much different in their requirements for acceptable behavior from a heroine than I do LDS readers and their “clean” fiction, even if the focus is shifted.

  3. Tyler

    It seems to me that Udall’s pre-emptive strike against possible detractors of his work means he has already taken a defensive stance—that he’s hunkered down in his position, ready to protect it at whatever cost, or at least that he feels the position he’s settled into through years of research is worth defending to his own people. I find the suggestion of this posture in the way he describes his research methodology (as it were) and confesses the length of time he spent researching and writing his novel. The way he slips into addressing possible detractors in the final paragraph through the third person inclusives “we,” “us,” and “our” further points to his defensive efforts, through which he sets up an exaggerated rhetorical dilemma: if readers reject Udall’s attempts to understand and to increase others’ understanding of a polygamist lifestyle, “we” are rejecting, at once, “our scripture and theology,” “our heritage” and “future,” “our church and culture,” and, ultimately, “ourselves.”

    Udall thus seems to assume and act according to the idea of a culture war, a condition suggested through his subtly defensive, pre-emptive rhetoric. I’m not sure, however, whether such defensiveness faciliates or is a symptom of that embattled cultural condition, but Mormons seem to be pretty good at assuming a defensive posture, i.e. “we (active LDS) are peculiar and must stand against a world (including other manifestations of LDS) that doesn’t/can’t/won’t understand us or concede to our standards of living.”

  4. Amie Cortese

    As an active LDS author and publishing professional, I have to admit that I do NOT consider Udall a “Mormon” author.

    I couldn’t even get through THE LONELY POLYGAMIST; I ended up ripping off the (autographed) cover and tossing it after his explicit masturbation scene involving a construction worker and an inanimate object. I think Udall cheapened himself as an intellectual and as a Mormon by relying on hip thrusts and erect male organs to make a point about men, women, and society–or was he just channeling Danielle Steele? Either way, by graphically portraying brothels, masturbation, and the tingling bosoms of sexually frustrated women, Udall cheapens his narrative, giving it a corset-ripping, bosom-heaving, dime store romance novel feel.

    Surely a writer of Udall’s caliber has a pen powerful enough to craft a thought-provoking metaphor or emotionally gripping sequence surrounding his characters that could relay his message better and more eloquently. In my literary experience, the best authors don’t resort to cheap sex when making a point–that’s too easy. No, the best writers know how to craft gripping narratives that carve their message on the souls of a reader with such force that all of a reader’s preconceived notions are challenged, even obliterated. Unfortunately, Udall trades his place at the “best writer” camp for the chance to lob lewd scenes at his readers, as if his target audience was the soap-opera watching, sexually frustrated loner crowd that craves purple prose. And in my book, purple prose-infused books are most definitely NOT Mormon texts.

    Or perhaps Udall’s eloquence somehow renders his purple prose more prestigious than that of his dimestore counterparts? Fine–I’ll give him that. I’ll call it “violet prose” when the highly literary decide to write tingling body parts in their narratives, LOL!

  5. Jon Ogden

    Just finished The Lonely Polygamist this weekend.

    Even though it’s true that Udall mentions Mormons very rarely, his is still a very Mormon book. The first chapter is titled “Family Home Evening” (ha!) and there are brief references to Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, and The Book of Mormon throughout.

    Udall’s book forces Mormons (at least it forced me) to once again face the fact that a) polygamy is a messy affair, and b) it’s right in the center of my religious history. Brigham Young had to have faced some of the challenges Golden did, and Young’s children had to have felt some of the same neglect Golden’s did.

    I disagree with Udall that the Mormon church will ever return to polygamy (please no), but I agree that the book is something of a mirror on our history.

  6. Todd Robert Petersen

    Uppity Mormon readers very often don’t understand the difference between representation and advocacy. I regularly deal with people who assume that because something happens in one of my books it means that I think it should be happening in the world: an affair, a murder, a pregnant teenager, a bishop who’s an asshat.

    Not only is this ridiculous, but it shows that so many Mormons don’t understand art and its function.

    My personal literary standard is tied to the 10 Commandments: Thou shalt not bear false witness. And to Ether 12: There shall be no witness until after the trial of your faith. It’s not tied to: “Sister Roundy doesn’t like like the salty language,” or “President Blaknenship didn’t like that you mentioned garments.”

    I’m a 100% home teacher with a current temple recommend and a calling, which is hard for some people to imagine. But it’s true. So, when people jump on me or my work, I just think, “Jesus loves this imbecile; so should I.”

    Flannery O’Connor’s commitment to her faith made her infinitely more interesting than her neurotic, agnostic contemporaries. Let’s hope the same goes for the rest of us who believe and who are trying to write something that rings true.

  7. Moriah Jovan

    I don’t really see how it can’t be a cultural war when our collective idea of a work’s worth is based on its lack of offensiveness (broadly interpreted).

    Just because Udall is paranoid doesn’t mean somebody’s not out to get him.

  8. Todd Robert Petersen

    Plus, if we’re to agree with Elder Bednar (and I think we should), then we can’t build an aesthetic standard based on “offense.”

    This is because “[I]t ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else” (Bednar).

  9. AJ Turner

    I am intrigued by “The Lonely Polygamist”! Thank you for mentioning it. I think I shall check my library for it.

    I do think Udall’s paranoia is justified. Too many people get offended over nothing. Unfortunately, those same people will pay no heed to his preemptive comments. But you can’t blame him for trying to explain himself. I would.

    Also, there is a war between the “saints” though I’m not sure it can be definitively isolated to the faithful and the less faithful. Our culture is one filled with pride and ego. Those two vices are always looking for a way to feel superior. Maybe it is displayed most obviously between these two groups, but it exists on a much larger, though hushed scale, within the entire membership of the church. Let’s face it, there are classes within the faithful. I see it every Sunday.

    I find it interesting that many members seem to feel as if it is their duty to avoid those who might be less worthy. As if they believe they could become contaminated through interaction. Is this a lack of testimony on their part or a misconstrued notion that we should only associate with those of high standards? (Unless, of course, we are being missionaries!) I hear this very idea preached in Relief Society as we are told by some ladies never to allow our children to have close friends that are not active members. Where did such a mentality come from? Truly it is disturbing.

  10. mormonhermitmom

    A culture war between mainstream LDS and fundementalist polygamists? More like unsteady coexisting.

    If there is a culture war at all, it’s between those LDS who want to have “clean reads” vs. those LDS who want great literature. Somehow “clean reads” and “great literature” are seldom found in the same books, isn’t that the argument?

  11. Wm Morris

    So Udall really is the Mormon Philip Roth!

    Also: I have to admit that Udall’s defensive posture and outlined by Tyler rather turned me off.

  12. Wm Morris

    Clean doesn’t equal good, but neither is wrong to draw the lines where you personally need to as I discuss in Mormons and media consumption.

    And I’d say that clean vs. great isn’t the best dichotomy. Rather, it’s level of explicitness in relation to the greatness of a work.

    I would also submit that Udall’s work may not be the best novels to rally around to make this point. I think that he is a fine writer, but he’s clearly writing for a national, literary audience. I’m much more concerned with, for example, rejections of No Going Back and Angel Falling Softly. And I wouldn’t lump those in to what Udall is doing at all.

  13. David J. West

    1. YES-broaching this subject with 10 different members will prove this to be so. Its exactly why I usually won’t because I meet so few people who can have an intelligent conversation about it without getting ruffled.

    2.I’d say yes and it probably falls into a JUDGE Righteously versus JUDGE thing. There’s always so many with motes in their eyes flailing blindly.

    3. So much of what is deemed innappropriate depends on whether it is beloved or not.

    4. I don’t know that even lapsed Mormons are that reviled. I took my kids to the zoo saturday. Some Shortcrickers were there-bout 3 men-perhaps 5 or 6 women and well over a dozen kids. People stared and looked on in disgust-the very same way they would be disgusted at Nazi’s looking at Jews in the 30’s and yet they can’t see themselves.

    5. I haven’t read it.

  14. Katya

    >7.

    A short anecdote:

    When I was ten, a touring production of Les Misérables came to our state and my mom decided to take me with her and my dad to go see it. Several of her friends and family members were shocked that she would take a ten-year-old to see a play in which prostitution is a plot point. Her response was something along the lines of “Yes, there are prostitutes in the play, but I don’t think that [Katya] is going to want to be a prostitute after she sees it!”

    I’d never thought about the commandment not to bear false witness in terms of artistic or literary representation, but I very much like it.

  15. Katya

    >9.

    Are you saying that we can’t build an aesthetic standard based on offense because what is considered offensive varies from person to person? Or are you saying we can’t build an aesthetic standard based on offense because it’s your own choice (i.e., fault) if you’re offended?

    I have to say, I’ve heard Elder Bednar’s talk used quite often to support the latter argument, and I’m not happy with it. Elder Bednar used as an example people who had cut themselves off from all church worship and activity because of a bad encounter with just one or two people.

    I agree with him that the opportunity to worship together is something too valuable to give up over something so inconsequential. However, I disagree with the idea that it’s always small or petty of someone to avoid something or give it up because it offended them. Rather, I hope that those who are offended by something will carefully weigh the value of what they’re giving up, so as to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  16. Davey Morrison

    Hmm. I didn’t really think Udall’s quote sounded defensive at all, let alone paranoid. It sounded to me like he was making some pretty obvious, pretty neutral claims: “Polygamy is part of church history and doctrine, so we shouldn’t ignore it.”

    And I don’t think Udall is saying (as one commenter implied) that the Church is going to go back to polygamy at some point. I think he’s saying that all evidences suggest polygamy in heaven, which they do. I don’t much care for that idea either, but it really is part of our theology.

    I don’t know if I’d call it a war or not, but there’s certainly a frequent schism in the Church between the “faithful” and the “intellectual”, the conservative and the liberal, etc., etc. Often we’re all able to get along just great–and that’s certainly the ideal–but both camps all too frequently malign the other, consider themselves superior, etc. I’m certainly guilty. If there’s anything Udall’s quote indicates about his own position within Mormonism, it’s a wariness regarding the Church’s (as both a people and an institution) eagerness to sweep anything potentially unpleasant under the rug, particularly regarding our own history. Personally, I think this attitude leads to more people losing their faith than retaining it–what have we got to hide, and why is it the main places you can find discussion of these issues are “anti” websites?–but maybe that just makes me a heretic.

  17. Azucar

    We’ve been trying so hard, and for so long, to correct the assumption that we’re still engaged in polygamy. While those who read the book will probably understand the difference, and I’m sure Udall is using that difference as a device, the book will still have a wider cultural impact simply by linking Mormon and Polygamy together.

    I’m rarely bothered by “content” in books (or movies for that matter,) but I’m uneasy at having another work introduced that (even though it was not Udall’s intention) reinforces on-going public misconceptions. I will probably read the book, I’m not ashamed of being a living product of polygamy, and I whole-heartedly agree that it’s a rich vein to mine, but can you blame us for being hesitant? For LP to become the “Mormon novel” makes me grit my teeth.

  18. Eugene

    As a general rule, I would say that when people feel ill-equipped to debate an theological (or ideological) point, they will instead debate culture. And when they feel ill-equipped to debate culture, they will debate behavior.

    As we see every election cycle, it is easier to expose your opponent as a scoundrel than to argue the finer implications of, say, the 10th Amendment.

    And if publicity is what you’re after, it is always easier to expose yourself as a scoundrel. I can well imagine that Udall concluded (I am not unsympathetic to this approach) that there was nothing to be gained by trying to appeal to the better angels of Mormon nature, and much more materially to be gained by annoying them.

    Though the vibe I get from many Mormon critics (especially of the Evangelical variety) is that they are indeed at war, but nobody worth fighting can be bothered to meet them on the field of battle.

    The same way that the worst thing that can be said about John Granger’s clever Krakauer-based literary deconstructions is that the vast majority of Mormons would have no idea what he’s talking about. Or care.

    As long as he’s not making them look bad.

  19. Th.

    .

    Being , perhaps, the only person here who’s read the book, I feel a need to address what Annie called an “explicit masturbation scene involving a construction worker and an inanimate object”.

    The passage in questinon says that a character was “humping a trash barrel” and I apologize: it had completely slipped my mind.

  20. Wm Morris

    The county library system I use has 28 copies of TLP (17 on order) and 156 requests (I’m in position 105).

  21. Th.

    .

    Mine has 5 copies which have been checked out 6 times (including renewals) and 96 holds.

  22. Davey

    Yeah, I haven’t read the book yet. Haven’t read any Udall yet, though I’ll be reading “The Lonely Polygamist” and some of his other stuff hopefully very soon.

  23. Laura Craner

    I haven’t read any Udall and probably won’t. I’m of the more conservative type of reader (please don’t translate that into something like “she only reads cheesy DB titles and has no understanding of real life and must like it when art is compromised to make people feel comfortable”; cause that’s not what I mean) and I think Udall’s book wouldn’t work for me. I draw my personal lines differently than Udall.

    That said, I think Eugene hit the nail on the head. Perhaps it isn’t so much a culture war or a future/history reflection but rather a reflection that as Mormons, our spirituality and our art can’t be divorced from each other and we have a very hard time understanding how another person’s spirituality could be so different and still so similar to our own. We are ill-equipped to debate culture so we ended up debating behavior.

    I also think it should be okay for people to say that a certain book or work was too much for them without getting in trouble. In my experience sometimes people shying away from a book like Udall’s is less about snobby cultural norms, and more about life being rough enough already. I know plenty of Mormon readers who find life full of enough conflict that they have no desire to delve into more of it in their fiction. And that should be okay too.

    I think William is right that it might be a question of intended audience more than anything else.

  24. The Franchise

    As a (soon-to-be-ex) polygamist*, I was surprised by how many people asked my wife about her feelings on marrying a man already sealed to another woman. It’s clear that for many LDS, unease with polygamy is not just about the past.

    *I’m divorced.

  25. Moriah Jovan

    As a (soon-to-be-ex) polygamist, I was surprised by how many people asked my wife about her feelings on marrying a man already sealed to another woman. It’s clear that for many LDS, unease with polygamy is not just about the past.

    I’m pussyfooting my way around that in the book I’m writing right now, the husband a widower, but the wife #2 (XX protag) isn’t a member.

    It never occurred to me that a nonmember would care if her husband was sealed to another woman because if she doesn’t believe it and doesn’t have any intention of converting, so what? But my MIL (FIL’s wife #2) shocked me by telling me how much she HATED it.

    So I wrote my character with that attitude. My first readers (one Catholic, one Jewish) had the exact same reaction, almost as strongly as my MIL and my character did, AND they grokked the eternal implications without having to have it be spelled out.

    ‘Tis a puzzlement.

  26. Todd Robert Petersen

    We can’t build an aesthetic based on offensiveness of the material because offense is an individual response. One would have to re-write their book for every reader, based on their own menu:

    Reader A is offended by sex but not violence.
    Reader B is offended by neither violence nor sex, provided that the people having sex are married.
    Reader C doesn’t like it when you say “boobs.”
    Reader D thinks all Mormon people in a book should be good or it undermines the Church’s missionary efforts.
    Reader E is offended by vampires.
    Reader F is offended because the bishop is a “bad guy.”
    Reader G is only offended if the writer is Mormon, and should know better.

    You get the idea.

    A person’s offense at material in a book ultimately says more about the offended person than the book, or the writer. At the very least people should take responsibility for being offended, which they often don’t do.

  27. Jon Ogden

    @Davey,

    You’re right about Udall not prophesying of an LDS return to polygamy (comment #18). Now that I reread his statement, it’s clear I misread it.

    I agree with you when you say that it’d be better if we Mormons faced all of our history more directly and openly. I can’t find the quote (though I’d love to find it, if someone has the link), but I swear Richard Bushman once said that if we only tell an unblemished history then it’s like we’re buying faith on credit. That is, one day we’ll discover history as it really happened and then we’re bound to be quite upset by it, more upset than if we hadn’t swept the dirt under the rug in the first place.

  28. Mallory

    I don’t think Udall sounded defensive at all. I say he has more experience than any of us having to discuss his writing about this topic with various church members, and he based his comments on those experiences. Brilliant explanation, if you ask me…like he said: “IF we are to be HONEST about who we are…” Azucar’s comments confirm what he said…we simply aren’t comfortable with others associating the Mormon church with polygamy and just want it to go away.

    >Amie

    Udall never intended or wanted to be a “Mormon” author. His Mormon experience has informed his writing, that’s all. He’s not writing FOR Mormons; otherwise he’d write something that could/would be sold at Deseret Book. I’m sure he doesn’t mind at all that you didn’t read his book. (And nice that you just copied your review from goodreads, and didn’t even respond to the post’s questions…are you “out to get” him?)

    >Todd Petersen

    Your last comment (Readers A-G’s varying levels of offense) was spot on. I think we’ve seen a little of each level here today!

  29. Davey

    Great conversation. I think I’ve heard that Bushman quote before, too, Jon–I wish I knew where it came from off the top of my head so I could help you out. But yeah. Bushman is a pretty awesome dude.

    And word to your mother, Laura. That was a great comment.

    Your book sounds fascinating, Moriah. An issue definitely worthy of some good dramatic treatment.

  30. Andrew H.

    I also did not think Udall came off as defensive. Pessimistic about the willingness of the bulk of Mormons to show interest in difficult subjects, perhaps, but not defensive. In his Radio West interview he identified himself fully as Mormon, albeit unorthodox, and said he expected to never be anything different.

  31. Th.

    .

    Andrew: does Radio West put interviews online? Which NPR station does that show (I’ve been away from Utah for a while).

    And although I think it’s off-topic, I do agree that whitewashing history for our children is an excellent strategy for later crises of faith. No way you can protect kids from history here in the Internet Age.

    It’s what Lynette at ZD calls inoculation. Better to hear from mom and dad that Joseph Smith married other men’s wives than to have that sprung on you for the first time at 25 and left to wonder what other dirt had been hid from you.

    But, as I said, that’s off-topic. Udall’s book is about a different, albeit related, religion.

  32. Harlow

    As I have been pondering this for years now I will throw out the question, how does the command to “renounce war and proclaim peace” relate to culture war?

    As I really have to get to bed I won’t attempt to elaborate, but I might have something to say about it later.

    I also want to say something about the effect on Scholem Asch many years ago when he suffered intense vituperation from some of his Yiddish readers for daring to write a novel, Mary, claiming Yeshua as a Jew, which for some reason reminds me of how some of Maurine Whipple’s people, around the same time, reacted to her novel about her heroine Polly Gamy.

  33. Azucar

    I in no way think we should be sweeping polygamy under the carpet, but I am tired, exhausted even, of explaining that Mormons no longer practice polygamy. Open, honest conversation? Let’s have it out. Happy to talk about it. The good, the bad, the emotionally ugly, it was all there. But let’s deal with it contextually.

    However, every work that touches on the subject seems to reinforce the perceptions, and I’m EXHAUSTED.

    Maybe it’s asking too much of the wider culture to be able to discuss polygamy, historical or contemporary, and at the same time make a break with the modern church. That’s why Udall’s book is eye rolling for me. I’ll read it, I’ll probably like it, I may even love it, but seriously? Tangential references in media serve to cement those preconceptions in the minds of the barely engaged. And then I have to keep explaining to some random dude I meet at a conference, who watched three episodes of Big Love and is now a expert, that YES my dad has only one wife and SORRY my husband only has me. Over. And over. And over. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

  34. Tyler

    Davey: Hmm. I didn’t really think Udall’s quote sounded defensive at all, let alone paranoid. It sounded to me like he was making some pretty obvious, pretty neutral claims: “Polygamy is part of church history and doctrine, so we shouldn’t ignore it.”

    Mallory: I don’t think Udall sounded defensive at all. I say he has more experience than any of us having to discuss his writing about this topic with various church members, and he based his comments on those experiences.

    While Udall may be making what seem (out of context) like neutral claims based on his experience as a Mormon writer having to deal with objectors to his work, the thing that suggests a defensive posture to me here is that he (and his publishers) felt the need to send out a preemptive statement justifying the stance he takes in LP. It’s all well and good that he thinks we should confront the shadier aspects of our history—I’m all for that, too; but to officially move to justify a book before it hits the bookshelves seems to be something someone who is anticipating attacks—i.e., is already on the defensive—would do.

  35. Harlow

    Tyler, #41, One of the problems with war is that people who are at war tend to interpret any act as an act of war. Perhaps Brady Udall is anticipating an attack from people who think his book an act of war.

    Still, is it possible that Udall’s statement is not defensive or pre-emptive, but a way of saying, “I’m not at war”? of asking people who may judge the book harshly to lower their guns?

    So again, my question, are we to imagine that the adjective culture exempts us from the command to renounce war and proclaim peace?

    (The irony is that for people committed to war proclaiming peace can seem like giving aid and comfort to the enema.)

  36. Andrew H.

    It will be interesting to see how the Whitney Academy people deal with this novel. I just looked at the rules, there is nothing about inappropriate content (sexual content, polygamy) that would keep a novel out. I’m sure many voters and judges will want to champion the novel, but doubtless many will have some feelings in common with Amie. I bet you anything right around January there will be a strong call to make a new rule to limit the kind of books that can be considered. I don’t think the Whitney leadership would do that on their own, but many members of the Academy will insist. Stay tuned!

  37. Andrew H.

    I have not seen this announced anywhere, so apropos of nothing, I will wedge it in here.

    ROBERT GOBLE WINS 2010 MARILYN BROWN NOVEL AWARD

    Robert Goble, Head Custodian for Orchard Elementary school (Granite School District), has won this year’s Marilyn Brown Unpublished Novel competition for his work, Across a Harvested Field. He received the award, which carries a $1,000 honorarium, Tuesday night at the UVU College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean’s Recognition Banquet.

    The novel addresses the process of healing, both physically and emotionally. According to the judging citation, the novel’s narrative voice is skillfully tuned to reveal multi-layered perceptions, and the main characters (Jordan Fairchild, a high-school Spanish teacher, and Natalia Antonali, a world-famous pop singer disguised as plain and simple Nattie), represent an unusual blending of modern America’s cultural polarities.

    When she created the competition in 2000, Utah Valley’s well-known author Marilyn Brown had two purposes in mind. First, she envisioned it as a way to encourage writers. Second, the award could recognize and reward the best newly written novels focusing on either cultural experiences in Utah, or experiences unique to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons) from any place in the world.

    UVU associate professor Jen Wahlquist of the English & Literature Department serves as administrator for the competition, which the university has hosted since fall of 2008. She notes that Goble’s novel “continues to represent the high caliber of previous winners.” She also hopes “to see a record number of participating authors by October 1, 2010, the deadline for the 2011 competition.”

    Goble, who holds a bachelors degree in International Studies from the University of Utah, is married and has three children. He takes his laptop wherever he goes, and during lunch breaks can be found in his office, writing, or else reading one of the thousands of books that crowd out furniture from his Magna home. He has previously written both long and short fiction, and Waking Lion Press published his first novel, A Winter Morning’s Sun [this appears to be essentially self-published-ah]. Parables Publishing (located in Maryland) will release Across a Harvested Field sometime this summer. Goble joins previous Marilyn Brown Novel Award recipients Jack Harrell (Vernal Promises), Jeff Call (Mormonville), Janeen Justham (House Dreams), Arianne Cope (The Coming of Elijah), Todd Robert Petersen (Rift), and (John Bennion (Avenging Saint).

    Here is a short KUER radio on Goble and the prize. Jen Wahlquist mentions that there were fewer applicants this year, perhaps because BYU professor Bennion won last time, and authors thought they had to be a published professor like Bennion to win as well.
    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kuer/news.newsmain/article/1/0/1641539/KUER.Local.News/Custodian

  38. Wm Morris

    Thanks, Andrew. I have had an inquiry out about this for weeks, but sadly no reply as of yet. I also wonder if the move to UVSC from the AML has had an effect on who applies.

  39. Kessee

    I see two camps arising.

    The ‘Mormons’ and the ‘LDS’. The ‘Mormons’ are the white washed PR campaign at all costs ‘perfection complexed take your meds to remove the guilt’ because…what would the neighbor think?

    Then you have the ‘LDS’,grounded in theology and realize the truth of, “If you will not accuse me, I will not accuse you. If you will throw a cloak of charity over my sins, I will over yours—for charity covereth a multitude of sins.”
    History of the Church, 4:445.

    One side is free and understands the blanket statements from the top. The others weaponize the blanket statements on their neighbors, friends, or spouse.

    My opinion on the subject.

  40. William Morris

    I think that’s too stark of a dichotomy and demonizes too much one side that is neither as much of a bloc nor as un-conflicted as some seem to assume. It also don’t think you can ascribe charity to one side so completely — I see charity and lack of charity on all sides.

  41. Kessee

    Personally, I think the ‘Mormons’ camp is smaller than the ‘LDS’ camp I allude to above, but, they happen to be the most remembered and become the greatest ‘stumbling blocks’.

  42. William Morris

    That sounds to me like typical mid-to-late 20th century valorizing of the supposed anti- and the artist and the rebel. Everyone thinks they are in the minority and they are the stumbling block. That they represent the change most needed or at the very least that they possess a freedom. It’s a message capitalized upon by hundreds of corporations, of brands. We’re all entangled. None of us are free.

    We do that valorizing here a bit at AMV (oh, woe is the plight and small the camp of the radical middle), but I like to resist that when I can. The real stumbling block — for all of us, no matter the camp — pride. Its opposite, humility, is a rare find in either camp but precious and lovely and really only available to those who can overcome fear. And from what I seen its most often found in those who let the messages from the top really sink down instead of treating them shallowly, which both Mormons and LDS are prone to do.

  43. Th.

    .

    While labels are useful abstractions (and the Mormon/LDS thing has been discussed here before), once we start assigning individual people to one camp or the other, I think we are running a great spiritual risk.

  44. Th.

    .

    The book went up to #31 last week (where it remains on the new list) and in a discussion at NYT thereon, Moriah and I were both quoted: link.

  45. Th.

    .

    Oh: And what I thought was interesting is that the book’s bestseller status apparently has much to do with its success in Utah. Any word from the ground in Utah?

  46. litchick

    Wm edits to add: ***Spoiler Alert***
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    I have to post a response to Amy Cortese’s claim that she couldn’t finish the book because of the hip thrusting scene. I personally, an active lds member, stay at home mother of three, laughed my butt off, seriously. Maybe it is because I am a convert and didn’t grow up ( and still don’t live)in the mormon bubble,but I loved the way that Udall created such ridiculous irony. The fundamentalist Mormon working on the construction of a brothel, the war against the gum lodged in his pubic hair. I didn’t find the book cheap or tawdry. I think that Udall limited the language to people and situations that you would expect to hear such language.Is U seriously I picked up this book expecting to be offended and not finish it. I loved it, I thought he treated the polygymst issue with respect, and was very impressed that he made the distinction between our church and the FLDS sect. There were some moments that could have offended a sensitive reader…..but honestly if you are that sensitive what on earth are you doing reading a book called the lonely polygamyst…… I was impressed and entertained by his portrayl of Rusty… I have boys, I think he got pubescent boy bang on…. perfect…I wasn’t offended, it was very real. Honestly I think that his characters were very real, and flawed in ways that maybe too close for comfort for a lot of very lds readers. I don’t know that I would call it a “mormon” book. But I don’t think that it matters, it was a great book, it was hilarious, and very real— essentialy they -like the rest of us, lds– are trying to exist with all of our flaws, temptations and physical desires- in the world and not be of the world…..though I am not a polygamist, a prostitute or an angst ridden eleven yearl old boy, when reading Udall’s novel, I got, and though it is fiction we are all fighting that same fight–in diferent ways and circumstances……. plus it was just so DANG funny…… mormon author or not…loved it!!!

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