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The Backslider

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  252 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Frank Windham is a Mormon cowboy -- hard-working, trying to be honest, convinced he is going to hell for incurable lust, and convinced that he deserves to. He has an ultra-pious mother, a brother who is more than just a little touched in the head, and a comfortable Lutheran girlfriend who knows she has been saved. This is a story about sin and salvation, written with raunc ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published November 1st 1990 by Signature Books (first published 1986)
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The Backslider by Levi S. PetersonThe New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna BakerThe Lonely Polygamist by Brady UdallUnder the Banner of Heaven by Jon KrakauerThe Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks
Alternative Mormon Literature
1st out of 49 books — 27 voters
Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyTrue Grit by Charles PortisLonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryAll the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthyThe Scholar of Moab by Steven L. Peck
Best Contemporary Western Novels
10th out of 42 books — 55 voters

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Community Reviews

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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This book was really unusual. I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say about it, or how to rank it.

The bad: There's some horrifying, stomach-turning stuff in there. I don't really handle blood, guts, or gore very well, and I now have some images in my mind that I kind of wish weren't there.

The perplexing: The characters are all LDS, so I kind of assumed they'd seem like comfortable old buddies, or extended family. It was a little jarring to realize how different their culture (rural Utah
One of the most fiercely Mormon novels I have ever read. A brilliant invocation of an older, wilder Mormonism that I am not really conversant with. It examines the idea of guilt and grace and it has one of the most marvelous theophanies I have ever read (in fiction). However, it does not shrink from swearing or sexual content (relatively mild by modern standards, but shocking in the world of LDS literature). If you don't think that the sensitive materials will offend you, then I recommend it HIG ...more
This is one of my favorite books of al time. And I can't imagine who I'd recommend it to. It's crass, vulgar, sweet and faith promoting. I totally understand Frank Windham I've a lot of Frank in me. My favorite part is cowboy Jesus. He's the Jesus I think of. Marriane is "a hell of a girl"
Daniel Hadley
If you look at the reviews on here, a lot of people loved it, but are nervous about reccomending it. I loved it and reccoment it to everyone (except, maybe, my inlaws). This is a classic.

Right from the start I was addicted to Frank and the landscapes that shaped him: both the religious one and the scenes of rural Utah. There is something off - just a little unfamiliar - about the Mormonism of Frank's world. But it is familiar enough that Mormons will be able to identify with him.

The same could
This book really deserves a much broader audience beyond the confines of Mormonism--it's a profound, complex, messy, and ultimately triumphant study of faith, guilt, sex, power, and grace. Peterson's depiction of the American West, his wrenching plotlines, and his astonishingly vivid characters, really put this book in the top tier of contemporary American novels.

Cowboy Jesus Saves!
Marshall Comstock
The ending is what makes this book so great. Before then its good, an interesting wandering through different facets of the life of a Mormon Cowboy, but the ending brings it all together. One of my favorite Mormon novels.
Surprisingly poignant, and a great ending. Consider me a big fan of Cowboy Jesus.
We could all use a little more cowboy Jesus.
Terry Earley
A surprise.

I did not expect to enjoy this book. It would not appeal to those not familiar to Utah/Mormon culture, since it so very specific to that culture. It spoke to me though very strongly about the foundational principles of Christianity without beating me over the head with it. The story stands on its own. You have to like Frank. He exudes common sense and honesty, and his obvious flaws make him endearing.

Frank is a young man who decides he must straighten out his life. He has however, a t
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
1. I laughed out loud
2. I cried at the end
3. It's about the place I grew up, southern utah
4. The main character is familiar, believable. (Reminds me of one of my brothers)
5. Takes on themes--sexuality, guilt that anyone who was brought up in an extremely religious home can relate to...
6. Crazy and unforeseen plot twist--

So glad this book exists and that I found it! Like the back cover says, it's very funny, and yet painful, and the kind of book you don't want to end, you just want to go on livin
A wonderful, and painful, story to read. I've given it five stars because I find myself thinking about it on a regular basis even though I read it a few years ago. While some might find the visual image of Jesus problematic, I thought it was a great depiction of Christ being someone we can individually relate to. I think this is a very well written and thought provoking book. It isn't light reading and you have to approach it with an open mind, but if you are willing, this is a great novel.
I read this book a month ago, and I had to come back and change my rating from 4 stars to 5. This is one of those books I've grown to love - the more I think about it the more I appreciate it. I found much of the content very difficult to read, maybe because Frank's guilt hits close to home for me. But I am very glad that I stuck with it, because the ending is more than worth the painful journey. I think Peterson is one of my heroes now. I can't wait to read more from him.
LDS fiction. A delightfully irreverent tale about sin and salvation, religious guilt and sexual frustration. The protagonist is a young man convinced he is going to hell because of his continual feelings of lust, and indeed, he feels he merits no better reward. I loved this book because it seemed so many people carry around those same feelings. Good stuff.

Why can't you believe my blood was enough? Why do you have to shed yours too?
April Sattison
I really enjoyed this book. I love that the characters were well developed and dynamic. It's interesting what ones belief in God and the nature of what deity wants can do to a person... The ending wasn't tied with a bow (which I hate, because it simply isn't the way the world works.) but it is uplifting.

I would very much recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with their beliefs and living up to what they think God expects of them.
I love The Backslider. It is one of my all-time favorite books. Frank, the main character, is a Mormon ranch hand from southern Utah who views himself as perpetually in a sinful and damned state by a vengeful God. Through several trials and the patience of his Lutheran wife, he transcends this comdemnation and finds grace in a loving, forgiving approachable Jesus.

For me it was incredibly powerful.

Timothy Browning
I had a hard time warming up to the main character, especially in the beginning, but that was okay, because the author rewards the reader for making it through all the set-up with some really powerful moments later in the book. While a lot of the characters were really extreme, they still rang true. Marianne, however, is the character that really makes this a great work.
This was a really cool book. Not everyone will like it, but I really did. It kind of reminded me a lot of Catcher in the Rye, but with a Mormon in Southern Utah. It didn't have a terribly satisfying ending, but the abruptness kind of matched the style of the book, so it worked OK. I recommend it to any Mormon who doesn't mind a bit of un-sugarcoated reality.
Steven L.
This is the only good 'Mormon' novel I've ever read. It is great literature, pure and simple Mormon or not. Probably the only important Mormon novel that you absolutely must read. Must. Don't forget his short stories as well.
Some people call this "the Great Mormon Novel." I couldn't really say if that is true because I haven't read enough Mormon novels. However, it is certainly, by a wide margin, the best Mormon novel I have ever read.
I suppose it's fair to say readers of Mormon literature must reckon with this book eventually. While I enjoyed reading it, I found much of the language and characterization to be exaggerated and warped. Additionally, I doubt Peterson will ever be accused of being a perceptive writer of women characters. Indeed, he could be labeled misogynistic based on the universal dimwitted nature of Backslider's women.
The good folks at Signature, though I appreciate the work they do, have never been much for
Definitely not for everyone. But I read it years ago when I needed a new perspective on the mormon church and guilt. It helped immensely at that time. Could be upsetting for many.
Greg Diehl
"You wear guilt
Like shackles on your feet
Like a halo in reverse
I can feel
The discomfort in your seat
And in your head it's worse
There's a pain
A famine in your heart
An aching to be free
Can't you see
All love's luxuries
Are here for you and me"

These lines from Depeche Mode’s song “Halo” frequently played in my mind as I witnessed Frank Windham wrestle with the fallacy of righteousness as self-perfection. He flunks, as did I, the Mormon cultural calculus which often equates self-denial with spiritual
“He would’ve gone to hell for Rhoda so it didn’t matter that all this righteousness made his life more or less hellish. That’s what righteousness was all about.”(7)

And so we meet Frank. A somewhat Jack Mormon with the fear of God still residing in his soul. I alternated between hysterical laughter and gut-wrenching pain. I suppose, it's because I can relate to Frank. He's real to me. Growing up a Mormon, I know exactly what Frank is feeling. While I think anyone could relate to Frank's spiritual
Jennifer Hughes
In some ways this book was a gem, and yet I want to throw it in the garbage because I don't want an innocent bystander in my house to accidentally pick it up! Three stars is my way of averaging the various scales I have running through my head.

I met Levi Peterson in the first English class of my college career. It was spring of 1990; I was a freshman, and the class was not English 101 but 350: Literature of the American West. I enjoyed the class tremendously. Dr. Peterson was one of my favorite
Probably a racy story for the average Mormon reader. I copied this description below from another reader's comment elsewhere because it was so eloquently written.

"The Backslider is not a light temptation story with a hero who gives in at first and then repents with complete success. Rather, like many great works, it presents a hero who succumbs, first denies his actions to himsef and others, and then repents, only to succumb again. The Blackslider tells the story of a simple, well-meaning Mormon
This is a strange read, but definitely worth it. Through the story of Frank, the author paints a picture of young man living in a conservative religious community (rural Utah in the 1950s) but not feeling the conviction to follow the rules or commandments. Frank knows he is supposed to control his sexuality but seems unable to despite his best efforts. He feels punished and damned for his lusts and that god has cursed him with such desires. He messes up again and again (hence the book title) but ...more
The books could be summarized in two words: Cowboy Jesus. I did not expect to be moved as much as I was by the ending.

I can see why this novel is championed as the great Mormon novel, but I have long suspected this was because of the androcentric nature of Mormon literature and Mormon literary criticism. Masculinity is at the heart of this text and to a certain extent the crisis of Mormon masculinity is the major conflict.
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