So I just finished reading American Nerd by Benjamin Nugent. The final section of the book is about an old nerd friend, back when Nugent himself deigned to be a nerd. (Click here to get more of my thoughts on that.) Â He meets up with the friend after years apart and recreates the nerd’s history. Which history is chock-full of Â bizarro Mormon stuff. The nerd (his name is Kenneth)’s mother joined the Church when Kenneth was one year old because the missionaries promised her a planet. Terrible missionaries, of course, but they did not make his mother what she is—utterly nuts. Crazy. Loco. Kookoo. Not all there, shall we say.
Her psychotic take on the faith (spoiler alert!) drives her son away from it, and although his sister is “still part of the Mormon church . . . [with] kids now. . . . Married to a nice guy” and seems like she might possibly be a normal Mormon (though what I just quoted is all we know about her), the bulk of Kenneth (and Ben’s) knowledge of Mormonism will sound, as best, only vaguely familiar to your average Mormon, methinks.
Some stuff (she’s involved in pyramid schemes! is fixated on “the Adversary”! is a terrible homeschooler!) will sounds like bits and pieces of various stereotypes. Other things make it sounds like she is part of some . . . offshoot:
[Her] last [marriage] lasted twelve hours. She met this guy at a Mormon elders’ singles mixer, and married him there, at the mixer, and went back to his house and spent the night with him. Then she woke up and realized this guy was really poor and divorced him.
Let me get back to the fact that this is a nonfiction book and that Kenneth may hate his mother and never see her, but he was “raised Mormon” (for a certain value of Mormon) and his experiences are his experiences and therefore deserve our respect. And Nugent feels no need to get a better sense of what is or isn’t Mormonism (that’s not what his book’s about). And his readers will likely feel this is an accurate enough description of Mormonism for their needs, as well.
So where are casual readers of books like American Nerd going to get alternateÂ views of Mormonism so they can better triangulate the true location of our mystical Mormon identity?
What books out there, from nonMormon witnesses of Mormon identity, provide a fuller sense of where our identity lay?
And how many viewpoints does it take to give the casual viewer a reasonably accurate sense of what and who we are?