When Taylor’s novel was first serialized in 1948 as The Mysterious Way in Collier’s (see the layout of parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), it passed before the eyes of millions of Americans. This was the first nonpioneer Mormon-charactered (contemporary) novel published for a national audience. The action takes place a long-day’s drive from Salt Lake City and when it first came out, its geography became a matter of some debate among the Saints as to who was whom and where was where. Taylor, of course, rolled his eyes and happily defined the word fiction for any who asked.
Anyway. Millions of readers did not translate into bestseller status when it was rereleased under the “improved” title in book form (though it did fine and got good reviews). It would be republished a couple times over the decades. My copy (pictured) is a 1994 Aspen Books rerelease which Taylor says he was talked into by Richard Cracroft (though I suspect his intro was originally penned for a c. 1980 publication). Cracroft called it “the best Mormon comic novel to date” and he says that it’s still the only humorous Mormon novel. (This claim is why I think the intro is older than the publication date. By this time Curtis Taylor‘s The Invisible Saint was out not to mention Joni Hilton’s Relief Society novels and Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack River was publishing stuff like Paradise Vue. So 1994 would be a crazy time to make that claim. But whatever.)
The important question though is this one: Does the novel hold up, almost seventy years later?
The story has a brilliant bit of innovation by starting with a deus ex machina, then having the characters work through the mess that engenders. Old Moroni Skinner is up in heaven (heaven, incidentally, is a satire of midcentury American capitalism and has not aged as well as the rest of the novel) concerned with his grandson who’s grown up to be the valley trash. He files the paperwork to make a visitation and so he does, making it up as he goes, dropping in on the town apostate and telling his grandson to marry the bishop’s daughter (who is engaged to be married the very next day, unbeknownst to Moroni). And this descends chaos in the form of crazy and coincidence, capturing the very best elements of the comedies of Dickens and Shakespeare. It is exquisitely engineered. The characters are sharp and tear off the page in into the imagination. The hurdles to our protagonist’s success just got greater and greater. And somehow—comedy!—it all works out in the end. (Unless you include the final chapter which returns us to heaven and adds on a painfully heavy dose of predestination to the mix.)
In short, this is a terrific look at midcentury Mormon-corridor Mormonism with its uncertain relationship with the Word of Wisdom and heldover pioneer-era Church hierarchies and living breathing human beings.
Sp does it hold up? Yes. Most certainly yet. I may not have laughed on every page like Cracroft, but it was a fun, fun ride.
During February, Wilderness Interface Zone is launching its traditional month-long celebration of love and the natural world, Love of Nature Nature of Love Month.
To that end, we’re issuing an open call for nature-themed, love-laced writing and visual arts: original poetry, essays, blocks of fiction, art, music (mp3s), videos or other media that address the subject of love while referencing nature, even if lightly. By the same token, we’re interested in nature writing raveled up with themes of love.
If you’ve written artsy Valentine wishes to someone beloved—or perhaps created a video Valentine or made a live reading of a sonnet or lyric poem that’s original to you—or if you’ve written a short essay avowing your love for people, critters, or spaces that make you feel alive, please consider sending it to WIZ. Click here for submissions guidelines.
We hope you’ll join our month-long celebration combining two of the most potent natural forces on the face of the planet: love and language.
So this is not some snazzy, official list with criteria, rubrics, or voting committees. This is just my personal, gut-feeling-favorite Mormon Arts contributions that I have experienced this year. This also doesn’t mean that it was even published or produced in 2012… these are works/artists that I have personally encountered this year (or so). So keep that in mind as I submit “Mahonri Stewart’s Personal Mormon Arts Favorites of 2012!” (Which may or may not become an annual tradition, depending on how lazy I am next year).
So, beyond what I’ve seen my Zion Theatre Company produce this year, I haven’t had a chance to see much Mormon Drama in 2012 since I live in Arizona (kind of pathetic since I’m supposed to be the Mormon Drama expert around here). I can’t visit Utah on a whim to see the rare Mormon themed play that comes around (or, this year, New York with #MormonInChief!), but what I have done this year is read a bunch of older Mormon plays to finish my editing forSaints on Stage. Since one of those plays was produced again this year, I am choosing Martyrs’ Crossing, which has been getting great reviews at the Echo Theatre in Provo. I saw BYU’s production of the show years ago and read it again this year, and it’s as beautiful and vibrant as I remember it. Melissa is one of Mormonism’s best playwrights and, although I would call Little Happy Secrets her best work so far, Martyrs’ Crossing is a personal favorite, much due to Mel’s beautiful writing and to my love for Jean d’Arc… who I may tackle a play about some day as well, although it would be pretty different than Mel’s take. Mel keeps beating me to the punch on stories that I love, including Jane Austen’s Persuasion and her upcoming adaptation of my all time favorite novel, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Despite that personal frustration, I can’t but help look at these works and say, “Well, at least Mel wrote it, because it’s beautiful.”
FAVORITE MORMON PLAYWRIGHT: MATTHEW GREENE
Although I haven’t seen or read it, just the fact that Matthew Greene was able to get a Mormon themed play up in major a New York fringe festival is nothing to sniff at. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for #MormonInChief, but I admire Matthew (who was in BYU’s WDA Workshop with me several years ago) for really jumping into the New York theater scene and progressing the cause of Mormon Drama. He’s also got an upcoming play coming soon to Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City called Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Matthew is getting some real traction in his career as a dramatic writer and I believe it’s well deserved. more →
Zarahemla Books hits the sweet spot again with its latest book offering, Luisa Perkins’ Dispirited. The supernatural thriller/YA dark fantasy is a worthy addition to Zarahemla’s quality library of Mormon literature, and continues to showcase the diversity Zarahemla displays on its shelf. Zarahemla is as much of a home for genre fiction, as it is high brow literary novels, as it is for personal essays, as it is for short stories, as it is now for Mormon drama (full disclosure: Zarahemla Books will be publishing a book of two of my plays in the next few weeks, as well as an anthology of Mormon Drama which I helped pull together later this Summer… but I was a big fan of ZB’s approach long before those projects). Dispirited continues Zarahemla’s big tent tradition with its blend of dark, magical realism and young adult sensibility (with a dash of the bizarre just to throw you off kilter).
Dispirited jumps right into the conflict in its first chapter when a young boy named Blake is grieving for his dead mother and so stumbles upon the ability to separate his spirit from his body (astral projection). Thus he travels to the astral plane in search for his mother. However, Blake is in for a rude awakening (or unawakening) when he tries to get back into his body, as he discovers that it has been possessed by a powerful evil spirit who has no intention of giving the poor child his body back. In the next chapter we are introduced to Cathy, years after the inciting incident. Cathy is the step sister of “Blake,” and becomes our main protagonist. The real Blake, now an exiled spirit out of his body, enlists Cathy in the battle over the possession and right to his body. And then we’re off to the races, plot wise.
I found the initial premise fascinating, partly because I felt it was plausible. I have known people (including a personal friend of mine, as well as a Wiccan who I baptized on my mission) who had claimed to have accomplished this feat of “astral planing,” where they could separate themselves from their bodies, travel in a different plane of existence, and then return to their body (although my friend from my mission claimed that she had difficulty getting back into her body, so she never attempted the experience again). As a believer in this kind of supernatural possibility, having had a few difficult to explain supernatural scenarios in my own life, Perkins had me at the get go with this initial conflict. The central premise seemed real and organic, especially from a Mormon worldview. Sometimes magical realism, from the perspective of a Mormon, simply becomes realism. more →
Zion Theater Company and Imminent Catharsis Media are presenting national award winning playwright Mahonri Stewart’s play Rings of the Tree on Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, February 4 at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City; as well as Thursday, February 9, Friday the 10th, and Monday the 13th, at the Grove Theater in Pleasant Grove. more →
Back in 2008, I interviewed E.M. Tippetts when her novel Time and Eternity was published by Covenant. She graciously accepted my request for a follow-up interview about her next LDS-themed novel Paint Me True, which she chose to self-publish through Amazon.
I read the Amazon description of Paint Me True. Could you expand on it just a bit? Without giving out too many spoilers can you tell me a little more about Eliza and the scruffy video gamer?
Eliza is the last surviving daughter in a family cursed with the BRCA gene mutation, which makes the carriers susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer. On top of this, the family’s had awful luck. Women don’t tend to see their fortieth birthdays and Eliza’s lost two sisters, two aunts, and a lot of cousins. Of all her female relatives on her mother’s side, only her Aunt Nora survives, so these two share a very close bond as survivors in a silent war. It’s Aunt Nora who suggested that Eliza follow her dreams and become an artist and who continues to give emotional support as Eliza struggles financially. At the opening of the book, Eliza is living rent free in her stepmother’s old house in Portland. She’s thirty years old, and about to age out of the singles ward. None of the daring life decisions she’s made have paid off. She’s broke, single, and there’s no end to either condition in sight.
Len, the scruffy nerd, works as a sysadmin at a law firm and likes to spend his free time playing video games. He’s had a crush on Eliza for a long time, but he’s aware of the fact that she’s only dating him because she has no other prospects. At the beginning of the book, he’s finally coming around to the idea that he doesn’t deserve to be treated this way. I assume most readers will identify with him in the first scene, as I think he is the most sympathetic character. more →
When ordering a whole grouping of Zarahemla Books’ titles last Christmas, Coke Newell’s On the Road to Heaven was at the top of my list. Having won both the Association for M0rmon Letters Award for best novel AND the Whitney Awards’ prize for best novel proved that it had won universal praise from across the whole spectrum of Mormon writers and readers. And every review I had read of the novel had pretty lofty praise for it. So I went in with the bar set high regarding my expectations. Coke Newell cleared that bar, and then some.
For those who are unaware, the autobiographical novel by LDS journalist and writer Coke Newell tells the story of “Kit” West (a Rocky Mountain loving name, if I ever heard one), who is a Zen believing, semi-hippie, pot smoking, vegetarian, guitar playing, hitch hiking, Colorado mountain man… who also happens to give up his life and lifestyle to follow Jesus and join the Mormon Church. Kit, from the get go, had me invested in him. His narrative voice was engaging, his heart sincere, his principles rooted, his spirituality sublime, and his flaws beautifully human. His instinctual attraction to nature made me think of those rare moments in my life when I have been able to escape my predominantly suburban existence, and find myself in the wilderness, with millions more stars above me than I was used to and the wind swaying the mountain aspen peacefully. His inner romantic for the love of his life Annie was something that completely mirrored my own amorous strivings when I was younger. And his deep spirituality, even before his introduction to the Church, sealed my affection for this marvelous character. He was a spiritual seeker, he was a lover, he was a poet. My kind of guy. more →
Both Austenland and A & H tackle romantic fantasies and the nature of romantic comedies, their “grotesque mimicry of actual love (A & H 304).” And when Becky tries to decide whether or not she could actually love Felix romantically, she writes a screenplay with a movie ending. But the novel’s conclusion isn’t a “Hollywood ending.” Did you feel that writing it the way you did was risky?
Oh sure. I knew some readers would be angry, and I was sorry for that, because I knew absolutely that the ending was the right one for this story. I think it goes back to genre–those who expected a certain ending might not be willing to go with me where I wanted to take the story. And this story just might not be a good fit for their sensibilities. That’s okay. I knew (was told) that the book would sell better if I made the Hollywood ending work, but for me that would have made the story pointless and been sheer betrayal of the characters. I try to do right by the characters. more →