Wish you were here.
Note: My talented wife, Anne Marie Ogden Stewart, previously wrote an insightful review about The Book of Mormon Girl. This piece is meant to be a companion piece to that one, so I recommend you read Anne’s post as well.
Whether it was the “Pantspocalypse,” the bloggers at Feminist Mormon Housewives/ Exponent ,or faithful Mormon feminist Judy Dushku’s pointed critique of Mitt Romney, Mormon Feminists have been very prominent as of late. Call it a revival, call it a resurgence, call it what you will, but the advent of the internet and the increasing dialogue about the roles of women in American and world society has brought Mormon feminists out of their hiding places and rhetorical bomb shelters. Mormon Feminists have searched for each other and banded together. They have clamored for an equal voice in a society that has often tried to silence them and they have implored to their fellow Latter-day Saints to see them as fellow-pilgrims and not as antagonists of the faith. At the forefront of this effort has been the courageous Joanna Brooks, a professor of Comparative Literature at San Diego State University; a prominent blogger at Ask Mormon Girl and Religion Dispatches; a high profile resource about Mormonism for CNN, Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, and NBC Rock Center; as well as the author of The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of American Faith.
Having loved Brooks’ blog posts, watched/read many of the interviews she was involved in, and learned to appreciate her compassionate and thoughtful approach to Mormonism, I bought a copy of The Book of Mormon Girl for my wife Anne for Christmas. Anne and I consider ourselves devout Mormons. We connect deeply with and believe in Mormon scripture and theology; we love the heritage of having Mormon pioneer ancestors; I love to study the intimate details of Mormon history (which I often write plays and screenplays about), while Anne has a deep passion for Old Testament studies; as lovers of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, we’re passionate believers in Jesus Christ, and gratefully claim him as our Redeemer and Savior; we believe in the core tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to find a place in our faith community. Despite that heartfelt and abiding faith, however, there have been times when we have felt like we were foreigners in our own religion.
This occasional alienation we have felt may have been a cultural quality that we thought had been overemphasized, a Pharisee-like pattern we find in certain elements and sub-groups of the membership, or a coldness we have received (or we have seen others receive) because of this or that circumstance. These, of course, are exceptions rather than the rule. I personally have found that Mormonism makes people better, if it is lived in the way it has been outlined by the scriptures and the tenets of the faith. And, of course, it is so much better to concern oneself with the beam in one’s own eye, than the mote that is in our neighbor’s eye.
Yet there are still those moments of alienation, of loneliness, of feeling like we don’t quite fit in, despite our best efforts (which are often still insufficient) to keep peace and show love. Discipleship will always have its strains, and standing up for what you believe in, whether it is to the secular world, or even to those who share many points of common faith, is designed to be a lonesome ordeal. If there is a “mold” for the “typical” Mormons, there have been times where we felt like we didn’t fit it.
It is here that works like Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl have given me and my wife hope. more
Note: Both my wife Anne Stewart and I read Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl over the holidays and were deeply affected by it. I asked her to write a guest post on her response to it here, and I will write my own thoughts on the book at a later date. –Mahonri Stewart
A number of years ago, while I was working at a book store in Springville, Utah, called the Red Leaf, I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. I can’t remember the moment I picked it up or why I decided to read it (other than the obvious: women and the Old Testament). In the fictionalized world Diamant creates, Dinah (daughter of Israel) is surrounded, not by twelve brothers, but by women. While I was ever aware that these were fabricated tales, I was struck by the way she fully structured the story around the Biblical women. While I’d read many fictionalized accounts from the point of view of Biblical women, this was the first that felt so singularly focused on the woman’s journey. Here were women, strong women. These were not women whose rituals and practices were a shadow to the men in their lives; these were women with rich, powerful stories who led lives of their own. The Red Tent filled in the absence that is present in so many religious narratives: the women’s story.
Like other religious narratives, the Mormon story is starved for female narrative. In the Book of Mormon there are six named women, the Doctrine and Covenants only two, and even our female deity remains mostly veiled to us. In The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith, Joanna Brook’s narrative connects to generations of Mormon women and makes a place for women who are less orthodox. more
Because I am, in my grumpy way, going to spend much of this review complaining about things I did not like, let me lead by saying Mormons in the Media, curated by “Jared Farmer, professor of history and prize-winning author of On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard, 2008),” is a terrific book and you should all go download it at http://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/mormon. Especially if you are a journalist assigned to the religion, Broadway, or swing state beats, you should take an afternoon off and read this book and get some perspective.
And you know what? It won’t take you that long. The book’s mostly just pictures and captions.
Now. Onto things Theric is unhappy about.
This month, The New Yorker has published two articles that take Mormonism seriously. The first was a “Critic at Large” (wherein the critic takes a look at several related works). Sadly, among the works considered was not Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon, which means that critic Adam Gopnick is unable to rise above the standard of Book-of-Mormon-as-lit criticism set by Edmund Wilson’s constantly quoted phrase, “farrago of balderdash.” But he does seem to have actually attempted reading it, even if he didn’t seek out a more experience guide. Which is more than I feel comfortable saying about John Lahr who probably takes Wilson’s word on everything. And let’s face it: Wilson was not always right. History’s on my side here, folks.
Anyway. Back to Gopnick.
I hadn’t heard of Eric Freeze until last year. I suppose this isn’t surprising, what with him being Canadian, ha ha, but for a Mormon with as long a fiction CV as he has, I’m sorry I hadn’t. Plus, he’s an academic who writes about comics and I really needed one more of those back in 2010 when I was finishing up the Sunstone comics issue. Ah well. I’ll know where to turn next time.
Dominant Traits is a US reprint by Dufour Editions of Dominant Traits from Oberon Press, the orginal Canadian collection of Freeze’s stories, all but one of which have been previously published in a variety of reputable literary rags. The exception is “Goths”; we’ll talk about it later.
The collection is a complex mix, and so I’m going to break this review into pieces. Also, we’re going to try mixing the review with an interview. I’ll end each bit of review in the form of a question. Then get Brother Freeze to reply.
Shall we get started?
Since I’m behind and won’t have my weekly post on the History of Mormon Publishing this week, I thought I’d pass along the news about the Mormon Women’s Literary Tour that starts this coming Monday in California and proceeds to venues in Arizona and Utah through the end of the month.