Tag Archives: full-time missionaries

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.

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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.