Hi there, future readers (and non-readers) of BYUCK. I'm Therese Doucet, founder of Strange Violin Editions, the book's publisher. Since I have a fina...moreHi there, future readers (and non-readers) of BYUCK. I'm Therese Doucet, founder of Strange Violin Editions, the book's publisher. Since I have a financial interest in BYUCK's success, it would be inappropriate for me to give it a rating. However, you can deduce from the fact that I published it that I both read and liked it quite a bit. And if anyone has any questions about the book or the author or my press, please let me know in the comments to the post, and I'm happy to answer them as best I can! Happy reading!(less)
Publisher's remarks: This is a unique book. Other books to date that have discussed Romney's Mormonism have either come from Mormon apologists or from...morePublisher's remarks: This is a unique book. Other books to date that have discussed Romney's Mormonism have either come from Mormon apologists or from non-Mormon authors hostile to Mormonism and lacking an insider perspective on the religion. This one, on the other hand, is by two former-Mormon professors of sociology who have the insider knowledge you only get by growing up in the religion, but who can be honest about the less savory facts since they're no longer members. The authors are smart, funny, and frank, and are conscientious about backing up every point with scholarly depth, breadth, and rigor. They've written a book whose usefulness, I believe, will far transcend this election season.(less)
A memoir by blogger Joanna Brooks, who has become a sort of unofficial spokeswoman for the Mormon church, though her views on church matters are not a...moreA memoir by blogger Joanna Brooks, who has become a sort of unofficial spokeswoman for the Mormon church, though her views on church matters are not always typical or orthodox.
This book is a strange animal, and full of contradictions that make for simultaneously interesting and uncomfortable reading. She very clearly and insistently writes from the standpoint of someone committed to her faith, and yet she is constantly criticizing it and making it sound just ridiculous and awful. This didn't offend me, since there is no love lost between me and the institutions of Mormon officialdom. But I read it vicariously cringing on behalf of Mormons I know and love who will read this and feel like they're constantly being poked with little needles. It's a prickly book, yet not in a cantankerous or curmudgeonly way. Her tone is by turns gracious, generous, warm, and devotional, yet the book is full of barbs.
The narrative was actually pretty slow-going for me, even boring, up until about half way through when she starts talking about her time at BYU, when one of her mentors was fired for her feminist views. She goes on to talk about her time of alienation from the church, her marriage to a Jewish man, and then coming back to the church just as the Mormon church started mobilizing politically against gay marriage in California (the infamous Proposition 8 campaign). In a painful move that set her secretly at odds with her congregation, friends, and neighbors, Brooks turned right around and campaigned FOR gay marriage, but stuck by her decision to remain in the church.
That's another part of why I call this book a strange animal - the fact that despite all the barbs, she remains committed to the religion that basically seemed to cause her immense pain, and a church that doesn't seem to want her or share the values she holds most dear. Despite all the barbs, she swans on and on about how Mormonism is in her blood, it's the air she breathes, etc. The book left me feeling sorry for her and utterly bewildered by her choice. Basically, this seems like a women who is willing to submit to a lot of self-torture to cling to a faith based mainly on nostalgia. It's been a few weeks now since I finished the book, but as I recall she doesn't engage at all with historicity issues or the church's truth claims.
Maybe she gets down and dirty with such issues in her blog, and thus didn't feel the need to go into in the book ... but it was a bit disappointing that she didn't go into the subject of the mental gymnastics needed to maintain faith in the face of contrary historical (and logical) evidence, or her motives for doing so. If I recall correctly, the only motives we hear about in the book are emotional ones.
She is clearly a person of intelligence, integrity, and passion, and expresses herself well in writing. But I'm afraid that for true-believing Mormons, this book may be offensive, and for unbelievers like me, it'll be puzzling, unsatisfying, and pity-inspiring.
Note: I read the original self-published version of the book, not the version that is slated to be released August 7, 2012.(less)
A memoir by the daughter of author Carol Lynn Pearson (who wrote Goodbye, I Love You), mainly focused around her experiences with Mormonism, the gay c...moreA memoir by the daughter of author Carol Lynn Pearson (who wrote Goodbye, I Love You), mainly focused around her experiences with Mormonism, the gay community, and her struggle to learn how to think for herself.
I'm sorry to say I was disappointed in this book. There is a lot of fascinating material here - her mother was a famous Mormon author, and her father a closeted gay man who came out and ended the marriage. So she grows up seesawing schizophrenically between very conservative Mormondom and wildly liberal gay San Francisco in the 70s. When her father dies of AIDS, she turns to her religion for comfort to the point of fanaticism, and basically becomes a willing mind control victim in search of someone, anyone, to brainwash her. In this way, she nearly marries a crazy Mormon polygamist she's known for just a week, and basically gets buffeted around for decades by all kinds of kooks and loonies (boyfriends who speak with God and the devil, pretend therapists, Church authorities who predict her future through "blessings," etc.) Several people she's close to die horrific deaths from AIDS and cancer, and she has flashbacks to ritual sex abuse she believes she suffered as a child. On top of it all, she marries her own closeted gay Mormon man who cheats on her with gay sex binges.
Unfortunately, the execution often comes across as very self-help-y and even New Age-y. The ever-present danger in writing a book about your own messy past is that you really have to get an emotional distance from the messiness, and to have grown far beyond the messiness, in order to pull it off. If the book reads like the author is still close to the mess, the reader tends to want to just write the author off as a crazy person and resist getting emotionally involved. Here you get the sense that her emergence from the messiness is still pretty recent, and while she has clearly come a long way, she is not really over it.
It's funny - in trying to pinpoint what bothered me about the book, I wonder if what's needed to make a memoir like this effective is a double irony, or maybe two levels of irony. There's the first level, where you slap your head and say, "Oh my God, what was I thinking doing all these nutty things? I was completely crazy!" That's the level on which most of this book takes place, but there's just not enough emotional distance between the narrator and her material to make her seem like a reliable and sympathetic speaker. Then there's another level above that, where the irony doubles back on itself, and the narrator sees the humor in not having fully appreciated the irony at the time, and becomes ironic about his or her own initial sense of irony. Maybe it's the ability to see the irony in the irony that makes for sophisticated and insightful writing about one's past? I don't know, something to think about.
(Minor note: As someone who's delved into typography a bit, I also found the formatting to be flawed - though I doubt many people would be as bothered by it as I was, reading a book set all in ragged right was painful!)(less)
This isn't so much a novel as a series of short stories with linked characters who make up several generations of a Mormon family. The prose style and...moreThis isn't so much a novel as a series of short stories with linked characters who make up several generations of a Mormon family. The prose style and plot construction are very much in the literary, writing workshop/MFA mold. A number of the stories reminded me of Katherine Mansfield, in that they are beautifully written and pay meticulous attention to small, haunting nuances of emotion and sensation, but also in the occasional hints of girlish naivete or immaturity. Where the stories fail - and a few of them do - it's due to this naivete. (E.g., Sunday Story #4, which portrays an exceedingly tame attempt at seduction with a lack of realism that's almost comical, and the one about the 14-year-old girl in love with her non-Mormon English teacher.)
The interesting thing to me about the book, coming from my perspective as a former Mormon, is that the stories seem driven by a tension between a desire on the one hand to be open to the foreignness of the world outside Mormonism, a striving to withhold judgment of that world for the sake of portraying it truthfully as it intersects with the author's Mormon community - and on the other hand, the closed-off nature of Mormon society. True-believing Mormons are often under constant pressure to act and believe in accordance with a rigid set of norms; fear of differences in opinion and practice arguably is endemic to Mormon society and pervades it. To outsiders, Mormon culture often comes across as judgmental and self-righteous for this reason; Mormons seem to be all up in each others' business, and seem to believe that anyone who isn't like them is worthy of pity or condemnation.
This book is fascinating to me, because in some of the stories, it seems the author fully grasps that perspective. She portrays Mormons being self-righteous and annoying and fully aware that they're being self-righteous and annoying. At the same time, there is still a subtle, lingering un-self-aware self-righteousness behind it all that we occasionally catch glimpses of. For example, in one story, Tina is the black sheep of the family who's run off to California to live in sin with a non-Mormon boyfriend. Her true-believing older sister and mother worry over her soul, praying for her return and hoping to "help" her - the intention being to get the prodigal daughter to return to the Mormon fold and full activity in the Church. In stories like that one, it seems the author is edging daringly toward suggesting that hey, maybe Mormons and Mormonism don't actually have all the answers - but will never go quite so far as fully to relinquish that soothing sense of enlightened superiority.
I might even go so far as to say the book does a good job in this way of capturing the central tension of the Mormon faith: the conflict between honesty and unquestioning devotion, two qualities the religion greatly reveres and rarely manages to reconcile.(less)
I started out liking this book fairly well, but as I got closer to the end the balance of its content shifted. It s...more(Contains a few potential spoilers)
I started out liking this book fairly well, but as I got closer to the end the balance of its content shifted. It started out seeming like an interesting portrait of a complex marriage; toward the end, it seemed more like a slightly preachy and moralizing book about sex addiction. I think I might have been more okay with the content about sex addiction if the author had managed to do a better job of convincing me that (a) the husband and wife really were sex addicts and that (b) this was a bad thing. However, from my amateur viewpoint, neither of their behaviors struck me as particularly extreme or very far out of the ordinary. The husband gets off to porn every now and then. The wife hooks up with someone, but never actually consummates the affair. I'm not saying either of these are particularly laudable behaviors, but it seems like an overdramatic exaggeration to label them as "sex addict" behaviors.
So first, the porn part. The wife (the main character) says that she and her husband have looked at porn together in the past. She's not Mormon, and it's not clear that she has specific any moral objection to him looking at porn. Her rationale for getting upset over it is that her husband is looking at it without her and instead of having sex with her. In the course of the book, though, she gets increasingly hysterical about it, and it gradually starts to seem like her reaction is kind of an irrational puritanical knee-jerk one. It doesn't seem to make much sense in the context of her background as a deliberately inactive Mormon who wants nothing to do with the Church and doesn't like its preachy attitude. She dislikes the Mormons' holier-than-thou views, and yet she's extremely moralistic about her husband's fairly typical and banal interest in porn. The hypocrisy and closed-mindedness there just irked me, I guess.
Then, the infidelity part. As I say, this is not exactly laudable behavior, but blaming it on "sex addiction" seems over-the-top. Weirdly, even though the narrator is in rebellion against her puritanical social milieu in "the land of Zion," she almost seems to see the enjoyment of sex as something unhealthy. When her husband wants to have sex with her (and she also wants it), she holds back, assuming it's not because he loves her, but because he's only able to relieve his stress by having sex. News flash: For a lot of people in the world, sex actually is a good way to relieve stress. And if it's sex between two married people, how can relieving stress through sex possibly be a bad thing? Two married people who enjoy bonking each other and otherwise are nice to each other = a good thing, no? What motive for having sex would be appropriate in her eyes? Procreation and spiritual communion only? It's never spelled out, but that's almost the impression I got.
So yeah, the conflict between the overt rebelliousness of the narrator and her implicit Puritanism became clear by the end and kind of spoiled the book for me, at least on the level of ideology.
On the positive side: I thought her writing style was fun and her characters were realistic, sympathetic, and interesting. The author definitely has a distinctive, appealing voice that comes through clearly (although religious readers may find it too vulgar), which I enjoyed. I wish the book had been better edited and typeset, because the errors and weaknesses there were distracting, and with a good editor and a nicer design this could have been a much stronger book. Also, as the book got closer to the end, the plot started to feel a bit too slice-of-life and lacking in structure. It started to have a "and then this happened, and then that happened" feel to it, that made me wonder if the author was just following too closely a pattern of events that actually happened instead of crafting a narrative arc. And at least one plot thread is left dangling (we never do find out why she weirdly lactates while fooling around with the dentist).
On balance though, I give this three stars ("liked it") because I liked the author's voice. And it's worth a read if only because published novels depicting Mormon characters genuinely misbehaving are few and far between, and the author bravely ventures onto largely untread ground here. She deserves kudos for that.(less)
Set in the rural, heavily Mormon town of Moab, Utah, this is the story of Hyrum Thayne, a semi-literate Jack Mormon* who, though he didn't quite manag...moreSet in the rural, heavily Mormon town of Moab, Utah, this is the story of Hyrum Thayne, a semi-literate Jack Mormon* who, though he didn't quite manage to graduate from high school, falls in love with the works of Dickens and decides he wants to become a scholar. With a collection of quirky characters to beat every prior notion of quirkiness you may ever have had, the cast includes an Oxford-educated two-headed cowboy, a mad poetess who believes she was abducted by aliens, a mysterious narrator who tries to piece together Hyrum's story, and a bunch of townspeople who believe the Communists have teamed up with the ghosts of ancient Indian robbers to deface their library.
Well-written, fun, and disturbing. Recommended especially if you're interested in literary Westerns and black humor.
Full disclosure: I am involved with publishing another book by this author.
*The term "Jack Mormon" refers to someone who was raised a Mormon but no longer actively attends Church or follows all the practices of Mormonism.(less)