Tag Archives: fiction set in academia

When Good Mormon Families Go (Mildly) Bad

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Hallstrom, Angela. Bound on Earth.  Woodsboro, MD:  Parables, 2008.

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.

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).