Category Archives: Literature

The Bishop’s Wife: the actual review

11.21.14 | | no comments

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TheBishopsWife-bitty

Before we get started, we have a bit of business this morning.

The back of my review copy reads “DO NOT QUOTE FROM THIS GALLEY” (allcaps in original) which I will be disregarding. How do you expect me to do a decent review if I can’t quote? That said, I will correct obvious errors (which I will mark [molaq]) and mark seeming errors I don’t know how to correct with [sic] (but without its usual snide connotation). I will note the location of these quotations with chapter numbers since my page numbers are unlikely to match anything you pick up.

These rules will apply to all posts in this series going forward.

Now, on with the show. more

Mormon Sons and Mothers: A Review of Douglas Thayer’s Will Wonders Never Cease

11.17.14 | | 8 comments

Loyal readers of Douglas Thayer’s fiction will not be surprised—at least initially—by his latest novel, Will Wonders Never Cease: A Hopeful Novel for Mormon Mothers and Their Teenage Sons (Zarahemla Books, 2014). For the last half-century, Thayer has been writing stories about young Mormon men, still naïve in the faith, whose battles with wilderness and human nature leave them emotionally and physically scarred, yet also hopeful and spiritually more mature. His protagonists are not the guilt-drenched youths of Levi Peterson’s fiction, whose forbidden experiments with sin and sex leave them feeling acutely the classic division between body and spirit. Instead, they are sensitive, righteous young men who take beating after beating from a world where God observes more than he intervenes. Thayer’s protagonists are acquainted with death, cruelty, and injustice. If anything redeems them, makes them willing to hope, it is their awakening to grace and the strong influence of their mothers.

Of course, it is easy to overlook the influence of mothers in Thayer’s fiction. Thayer, like Cormac McCarthy or Ernest Hemingway, is not known for writing strong female characters—not because his work doesn’t have them, but because the testosterone level in his stories has a tendency to overwhelm the narrative to the point of muffling (though never silencing) female voices. This is certainly true in the three novels that precede Will Wonders Never CeaseSummer Fire (1983), The Conversion of Jeff Williams (2003), and The Tree House (2009)—each of which has a significant female character who occupies the role usually given to a sage old man in most storytelling traditions. These female characters are uniformly motherly and wise to the ways and wiles of the world. They are frank and intelligent, always ready with advice and counsel, and deeply caring. Moreover, so much of what they do is to compensate for the adult men in the novels, whose physical ailments, spiritually immaturity, and emotional stuntedness make them little more than cautionary tales for the young protagonists. Still, despite the overwhelming influence these female characters have, as well as the crucial role they play in each narrative, they never seem to take center stage in the reader’s mind.

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Let’s get those first forty to sixty pages out of the way first
(the beginning of our thlook at The Bishop’s Wife)
(no Cary Grant this time around)

11.14.14 | | 2 comments

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TheBishopsWife-bittyOne of the great challenges with writing a Mormon book for a national audience is deciding how much to explain. And it’s something I, for some reason, have particularly strong feelings regarding how it should be done. So let’s talk about Mette Ivie Harrison’s worldbuilding* in The Bishop’s Wife.

In the first forty or sixty or so pages, the titular narrator, Linda Wallheim, just spends too much darn time explaining the Mormon world of Draper, Utah. And it’s not just the quantity but the nature of the explanation that grates on me. For instance:

The church taught that everyone who was in the celestial kingdom had to be in a marriage—marriage was the highest law of the gospel—but that didn’t mean she had to be married to Tobias. In the old days, people would say worthy single women were lucky because they’d be married to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young in the afterlife. But people didn’t say that much anymore since polygamy had been carefully scripted out of the mainstream Mormon church.

This is pretty great because it throws a lot of my complaints into a single paragraph. more

Rectifying by Review: my take on Moriah Jovan’s Magdalene

9.9.14 | | 27 comments

When Magdalene was nominated to be considered by the Whitney committee for the 2011 awards, Jennie Hansen, a well-known LDS reviewer and writer, posted a review on Goodreads that caused quite a stir in our little LDS writing community. Her review was short and to the point. She wrote:

“Disjointed, sloppy writing. Lacks real knowledge of Mormons and leadership in the Church. Too much vulgarity for vulgarities sake makes this story crude and amateurish.”  If you are interested, you may read and/or comment on this review here. more

A Fifteen-Week Reading Course in the Mormon Novel

9.9.14 | | 12 comments

As I’ve been thinking about Tyler’s proposed online Mormon literature course(s), I’ve assembled my ideal schedule for a fifteen week reading course on the Mormon novel that could be shortened to ten weeks as needed. I’ve also included alternate texts that cover the same ground historically but focus on different themes and aesthetic approaches.

The schedule is a work in progress, but it seeks to cover as much ground as possible with works that–in my opinion–represent more or less what was happening (or not happening) in Mormon fiction at the time of their publication.

You’ll notice that I have generally left “genre” titles off the list. I did this not to be controversial, but rather to focus on a narrower understanding of the Mormon novel and show an evolution of approaches for portraying lived Mormon experiences. In some cases, I’ve also privileged more influential or historically significant books over better books from the same era as a way to give students a kind of fluency with texts that have had an impact on developments within the Mormon novel form. As a teacher, though, I’d encourage my students to read the alternate texts as well, either along with the primary texts or as an additional reading course.

Week One: Corianton by B. H. Roberts (serialized version)

Alternate: Hephzibah by Emmeline B. Wells

Week Two: Added Upon by Nephi Anderson

Alternate: John Stevens’ Courtship by Susa Young Gates

Week Three: Dorian by Nephi Anderson

Alternate: The Castle Builder or Piney Ridge Cottage by Nephi Anderson

Week Four: The Evening and the Morning by Virginia Sorensen

Alternate: The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple

Week Five: The Ordeal of Dudley Dean by Richard Scowcroft

Alternate: For Time and All Eternity by Paul Bailey

Week Six: Charley by Jack Weyland

Alternate: Charlie’s Monument by Blaine Yorgason

Week Seven: Summer Fire by Douglas Thayer

Alternate: Saints by Orson Scott Card

Week Eight: The Backslider by Levi S. Peterson

Alternate: ???

Week Nine: Sideways to the Sun by Linda Sillitoe

Alternate: Secrets Keep by Linda Sillitoe

Week Ten: And the Desert Shall Blossom by Phyllis Barber

Alternate: Pillar of Light by Gerald N. Lund

Week Eleven: Salvador by Margaret Blair Young

Alternate: Beyond the River by Michael Fillerup or Aspen Marooney by Levi S. Peterson

Week Twelve: The Angel of the Danube by Alan Rex Mitchell

Alternate: Falling toward Heaven by John Bennion

Week Thirteen: Rift by Robert Todd Petersen

Alternate: The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Douglas Thayer

Week Fourteen: Bound on Earth by Angela Hallstrom

Alternate: The Friday Gospels by Jenn Ashworth or A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

Week Fifteen: The Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck

Alternate: Byuck by Theric Jepson

 

Some Considerations (and an Interest Gauge) for an Online Mormon Lit Course

8.18.14 | | 19 comments

Earlier this year, Kent posted about the potentially increasing demand for MoLit classes. I mentioned in response to Kent’s post that I thought “an open access, online Mormon lit is very doable and would be welcomed by many people” and that I would post some ideas for building such a course. Soon thereafter, I created a Google Doc and started an outline of questions to consider.

While I was prepping my fall semester courses (three first-year writing and one intro to lit: all online), looking around for ways to best take my courses into the wild (as it were), to build them outside of institutional walls, beyond the limits of learning management systems, that document came to mind. So I called it out of my Google Drive, updated it with some additional questions (including several I asked in response to Kent’s September 2012 post, “An Online Mormon Literature Course?“), and decided to (finally) public share it with AMV’s community. I’m doing so for two reasons: 1) to get some feedback on how potential course-users would like to see the course structured and delivered and 2) as an interest gauge to see how many people would participate in the course. I’d like to have your feedback and the interest gauged in the next fortnight or so. The next step would be—dare I say it?—to begin building the course. more

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous

8.15.14 | | 9 comments

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

Something I haven’t talked about in the main posts on this novel (question, answer) is the nature of the aliens invading Earth and just what makes them so dangerous that Earth needs saving.

Here are their physical details:

They’re pink (if you can see them—and only the person with the Thinker token can see them).

They are repelled by gravity.

They “inhabit . . . and move through solid substances, just as humans can move only through gaseous or liquid environments” (314).

So why are they here? Based on the evidence, Maisie hypothesizes that they

“. . . [take] over all the human body’s functions. After people are possessed by the aliens, it looks like they mostly spend their time eating and seeking out adrenaline rushes.”

“Seriously?” said Luther.

“They’re here to enjoy physical bodies,” said Wilder.

What’s so interesting when doing a Mormon reading of Dangerous? These aliens sound like someone we know. And where Maisie wants to send them also sounds familiar:

“I think if the ship isn’t nearby to suck them back in, the ghostmen would keep floating right out of Earth’s atmosphere into space’s vacuum, where they’d be helpless. That’s where we want them.” (324)

But sending that third to Outer Darkness isn’t just a fun Easter egg. Some more serious and immediate questions come out of it. For instance, when Maisie speaks with one of the ghosts through its human avatar, it poses an interesting—and brutally stated—question:

“So . . . you’re hijacking humans in order to eat apples.”

He shrugged.

“You’re destroying people, taking away lives.”

“Now, now, all we take is your shell.”

“But what if the flesh of our bodies is the extent of our matter? What if you take our bodies and there’s nothing left?”

He seemed to have never considered the possibility. “Why would such a creature matter at all?” (309)

This basic theo/philosophical question haunts Maisie through the rest of the novel. When she risks her death, she simply does not know if there will be anything left of her should she fail:

I was too conscious of my mortality, I guess. . . . Who knew if there was a part of me that never ended, like the ghostmen themselves? I’d . . . found [outer] space. Maybe there wasn’t anything else to find. (372)

Later, plummeting back to Earth and certain that she will die:

My stomach hurt . . . my head pained to cracking, my muscles so tense I wondered if my skin would split open. . . . All I knew was fear and panic.

. . . Even battling terror like being strangled in slow motion, I wanted to experience it. This was life, these few minutes were all that I had left. I didn’t want to die halfway down. I wanted every single second I had left. (379)

Maisie does not know if she will “be sucked up into a God-touched place . . . . Or . . . simply cease to be” and that feels like “a catastrophic hole in [her] education” (380), but she has decided that regardless, this moment of mortality matters and that every single second she has left is worthy of her full attention and shall give her experience—which shall be for her good—whether she lasts another ten seconds or the fulness of eternity.

Of course, Mormon cosmology posits that ETERNITY is the accurate description, but we are a practical people who feel that the temporal world is important and thus we should experience each ten seconds with the same vigor with which we imagine eventual rewards.

Something like Maisie Brown.

 

====Shannon Hales :: Dangerous====

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (intro)
///// August 13, 2014 \\\\\

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (post)
///// August 14, 2014 \\\\\

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous
///// August 15, 2014 \\\\\

 

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale?
(part two)

8.14.14 | | 2 comments

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

Yesterday, I talked about Shannon Hale’s apparent attempt to make a mainstream success of a novel staring a character who was not “white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young . . . and not too old“—you know, what we all expect a protagonist to be here in these United States. We discussed the basics of the plot and posed this question:

Does Dangerous succeed at making us identify with Maisie Danger Brown, its home-schooled, geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan female protagonist?

Sure. Of course it does. Humans are humans, whatever, no problem. Maisie is fine and we, excepting Klansmen, like her as much as we would a white male two-armed protagonist.

But what’s interesting is how much the novel hedges its bets on our openmindedness—it seems to be a little lacking in confidence that the audience will accept her. more