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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About Julie Turley

This blog grows out of my culminating library school project: an extensive content analysis of sin and transgression in short and novel-length literary fiction wherein the respective central characters identify as Mormon (or as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS)). In this subgenre of literary fiction, the Mormon experience is troubled and often problematic. Necessarily eschewed by publishing arms of the LDS Church (Deseret Books, as one example), these titles are published and distributed by small, independent largely Utah-based publishers who operate on shoe-string budgets. In spite of the growing prominence of Mormonism in popular culture (Big Love, South Park, Proposition 8, presidential politics, and the smash hit Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon), the general public and even fiction readers within Mormonism seem to be unaware of this fascinating subgenre. I hope to change that with this blog.

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