Tag Archives: Utah

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.”

Big Sin and Even Bigger Redemption in Dinosaur Land

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Vernal Promises

Harrell, Jack.  Vernal Promises.  Salt Lake City:  Signature Books, 2003.

Newly married Jacob Dennison throws the dairy aisle during the night shift in Vernal, Utah.  He and his wife, Pam, are trying to straighten up and be good Mormons, but Jacob is haunted by his troubled past and he quickly veers off the straight and narrow and heads north to  roughneck in Wyoming and run drill bits  for his shady step-father.  Away from Pam, who discovers she’s pregnant in Jacob’s absence, Jacob collapses into sin:  drinking, smoking, drugs, and fornication, eventually coming under the sway of an ersatz magician and self-described prophet who preaches that true freedom and salvation only comes from denying Christ, and uses violence to underscore his points.  Can Jacob’s bolo tie wearing Mormon bishop save Jacob from such powerful forces?  Will Jacob ever  become the Mormon dad that Pam hopes and prays for him to be–the true believing, faithful father that Jacob, himself, never had?  Pulled between overwhelming temptation and the promise of redemption, Jacob engages in a struggle of St. Augustine-like proportions and almost loses everything, including himself, in the process.

Key quotes:  “Jacob imagined spheres of truth floating in the desert air.  There was a sphere of truth that said today was Saturday. There was a sphere that said God had created the air he was breathing.  There was a sphere that said he could think about a scripture when he was stoned.  Certain things were true no matter what else was true.  He was stoned, and that was true” (76).

What Makes it Marginal:  Copious and frank descriptions of drug use.   Allusions to sexual situations.  A temple married returned missionary pilfers damaged goods from the snack aisle at the store where Jacob works.

What Makes it Mormonal:  This narrative follows a basic Christian redemption paradigm:  the fallen protagonist eventually repents and makes his way back to the Church which is constructed as the locus of transcendent happiness, security, and salvation.  Scenes of blessings using consecrated oil.

My Two Cents:  One of the few examples of Mormon literary fiction in which a central female character plays out an  experience of religious doubt and temptation, it’s also one of the few I’ve read that embraces what has become (at least in the 21st century United States) a certain kind of marginal Mormonism, one constructed around blue collar, non-college educated characters.  (So far, this has been the only MML novel I’ve read that features scenes of physical violence.) For me, this novel is notable for its unflinching realism and the relatively extreme ways it pushes the envelope of sin in a Mormon context.

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.