Tag Archives: fiction set in the mountain west (U.S.)

Nice Secular Vampire Shakes Things Up in the Mormon Suburbs

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Devoted Mormon mother, Rachel Forsythe is married to a supportive, loving husband who is also the bishop of their ward.  But not even he, with his formidable priesthood powers, can seem to save their youngest daughter who languishes in the  hospital with a mysterious terminal illness.

Enter Milada Daranyi, a young single woman who  moves into the rental next door in their Sandy, Utah neighborhood.  The chief investment officer of  Daranyi Enterprises, Milada is in Salt Lake City  to take over a medical technology company.  Not just a good capitalist, Milada is an excellent vampire:  In a way that would make Stephenie Meyer proud, Milada’s sustenance comes from the University of Utah’s blood bank’s stores, where her vampire sis works as a doctor.

When Rachel sees Milada successfully bring a bee-stung neighborhood kid out of  anaphylactic shock, Rachel wonders what Milada can do her daughter.  In chapters alternating between Rachel’s and Milada’s respective points of view, Woodbury weaves the lives of these two very different women together in close and transformative ways.

Key Quotes:  “As happy as Milada was with her Ozzie and Harriet accommodations, it occurred to her that Mormons might take some getting used to” (34).

“She looked inside herself and found no doubt at all.  And if she’d come to believe as well that the albino lady down the street was four-plus centuries old and could perform a miracle on her dying daughter that no doctor could?  Why not exercise that faith” (141).

What Makes it Mormonal:  Milada notes the Utah-sounding names (LaDawn), Fast Sunday is observed, Rachel refers to her husband as “the bishop,” boys visit Milada’s house collecting fast offerings, full-time missionaries pay a visit to Milada

What Makes it Marginal:  Rachel resents her husband’s busy bishop’s schedule, Rachel is internally negative and openly “grouchy” about the monthly fast Sunday ritual, mild sex scene between Rachel and “the bishop,”

My Two Cents:   A paranormal medical and family drama written with a straight face, Woodbury takes a big chance with incongruity which could come off as silly but almost never does.   Essentially, he’s written a feminist novel, where  a woman, in a patriarchal religious context, is the one who takes over and performs the narrative’s necessary miracle when the area’s conventional powers (hegemonic religion, conventional medicine) have failed, which, come to think of it,  is another big reason this novel is “marginal.”

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.

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).