Three generations of Palmers, a devout Mormon family, alternatively narrate separate, but linked, personal stories, and in the process construct a complex and often troubling family history. Everyone’s flawed here to varying degrees: Unable to deal with her husband Kyle’s mental illness, Beth is wracked with guilt over leaving him; the early marital troubles of Beth’s parents, Nathan and Alicia, are revisited; awkward older sister Marnie doesn’t want to go on a mission after BYU; youngest sister Tina is a tattooed and troubled apostate, Grandmother Tess acutely feels the strain of her spouse’s stroke. Hallstrom delicately, and at times starkly, turns the genre of the “Mormon-mandated personal history” on its ear, in her honest novel about imperfect, intertwined lives.
Key Quote: “What if Mr. Glassing got in real trouble? What if he got so mad he decided to heck with all of us? It was embarrassing, sometimes, being these sheltered Mormon kids who never got to experience Real Life or understand True Art. I could tell Mr. Glassing felt sorry for us” (109).
What Makes It Marginal: Doubt of God’s influence in one’s life is expressed, the implications of mental illness and Mormonism is explored, a child’s testimony during sacrament meeting is seen as cliched, Tina has an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and marries outside the Church.
What Makes It Mormonal: Characters are temple wed, full-time mission veterans, the inclusion of popular Mormon dictums like “Families Can Be Together Forever”
My Two Cents: I’m not a big fan of narratives told from a variety of perspectives. There are so many personal stories to keep track of here (I found myself having to frequently consult the little genealogical chart at the front of the book), and at times the prose style is too tentative and diffuse, but Hallstrom is to be commended for gently deconstructing long circulated “cozy” notions of what it means to be an eternal family without being at all polemical.