Monthly Archives: January 2010

Mormon Surfer Goes to Provo, Gets a Testimony

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Thayer, Douglas. The Conversion of Jeff Williams. Salt Lake City: Signature, 2003.

Sixteen-year-old Mormon Jeff Williams has religious but not over-bearing parents, two devout older brothers, and considers himself, in comparison, a good enough Church member, in spite of the fact he’s a bit of a beach bum and likes to imbibe the occasional beer. But then he spends the summer in Provo–the “Mormon Mecca” as he sardonically refers to it–with his rich cousin, Christopher, whose serious kidney disease has compelled him to prepare for a full-time proselytizing mission, and Jeff finds he’s influenced by Christopher more than he necessarily wants to be.

What Makes It Marginal: relatively realistic discussions of a teenager’s emotional life, allusions to sex and drugs, etc.

What Makes It Mormonal: It’s a conversion narrative, pure and simple; many scenes depict prayer, church meetings, and include accurate allusions to Mormon theology, especially about the afterlife.

Key Quote: “I was no straight arrow like Christopher, but it wasn’t as if I had done anything serious like dealing drugs, stealing cars, assault with a deadly weapon, pornography, or even sex. I’d decided that I would probably have a testimony in time for my mission and be spiritual enough when I was nineteen” (11).

My Two Cents: Septuagenarian Douglas Thayer, approaching JD Salinger, does an admirable job of constructing the emotional life and channeling the uncensored voice of an often conflicted yet good-hearted teenaged boy.

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Two Virgins Have the Same Naughty Dreams

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Woodbury, Eugene. The Path of Dreams. Portland: ME: Peaks Island Press, 2007. Print.

While serving a Mormon mission in Japan, Elaine Cheiko Packard (Elly) has erotically charged dreams featuring a young man she spotted only once and briefly on a train platform. Now a returned missionary and a student at Brigham Young University in Provo, Elly runs into the “lover” from her dreams: fellow BYU-student Connor McKenzie, and it turns out the dreaming has been mutual. In fact, stateside, their respective dreams have grown even more intense, despite the fact that the two have barely spoken to each other. Even Connor’s reading of the classic Church-sanctioned repentance tome The Miracle of Forgiveness does not keep the dreams at bay. In Elly’s case, the dreams have her so certain she will marry Connor, that she procures birth control pills even before they’ve scheduled a first date. After four weeks of chaste and rather breathless meetings on campus and a Sunday dinner or two at Connor’s aunt’s, they marry in the Provo temple, move into the aunt’s basement and continue a simple life as married humanities students. Then they get mild intimations that respective dead ancestors had arranged this marriage all along.

What Makes it Marginal: Allusions to and mild descriptions of sexual relations (in the context of dreams and post-marital), wet dreams, relatively frank discussions of adolescent quasi-sexual activity, Elly frankly–and with some surprise and unfettered delight–informs her former roommate/missionary companion that sex is “fun.” Elly refers mentally one of Connor’s relatives as a “son of a bitch.”

What Makes it “Mormonal:” Two devout returned missionaries culminate the narrative with a hastily arranged temple marriage and then weeks later return to the temple to act as proxies in the sealing of dead relatives.

Key Quote: “”Nothing in his personal experience [. . .] could have provided him with the substance of his dreams. / Connor was still a virgin. Common enough among Mormons his age” (11).

Hippies Can Be Mormons, Too

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Newell, Coke. On the Road to Heaven. Provo, UT: Zarahemla, 1987.

This novel title’s reference to Kerouac’s most famous work is no accident. Kit West, the protagonist in this (seemingly autobiographical) conversion/redemption story is a ’70s era long-haired, pot smoking, Colorado mountain cabin-squatting, unabashed Kerouac devotee (as well as a lover of Emerson, Thoreau and Edward Abbey) who finds the Mormon Church through a lapsed Mormon hippie girlfriend, who decides to become devout again. Once baptized, the ever-spiritual Kit becomes not just religious, but doctrinaire, serving a full-time proselytizing mission, and more than half of the novel is dedicated to this. Big dense paragraphs are chock full of details about the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, and the two-year mission spent in the often arduous environs of Columbia. Engrossing and interesting for the ways in which Americanized Zen Buddhist spiritualism collides with mainstream western states Mormonism.

What Makes It Marginal: References to pot smoking, shoplifting, pre-conversion pre-marital sexual relations (implied) and male/female cohabitation, mild missionary flirtations with young female Columbian investigators

What Makes it “Mormonal: An unlikely convert becomes an exemplary member, serves a full-time mission, and marries his old hippie era girlfriend in the temple.

Key quote: “Then I scattered the remains of the bag into the dormant skeletons of the golden lupine and green gentian and candytuft and spring beauty and went back inside to read the Book of Mormon and listen to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. / I never smoked pot again.” (124).