**spoiler alert** Someone set this aside for me at work a few days ago--probably as a joke, but I was actually pretty excited to read it after hearing...more**spoiler alert** Someone set this aside for me at work a few days ago--probably as a joke, but I was actually pretty excited to read it after hearing her fantastic and funny story "Babies Buying Babies" on "This American Life" last year. The idea of a Mormon memoir that wasn't put out by Deseret (the LDS publishing house) was appealing, especially one written by someone who didn't fit the sterotype of Republican/BYU-educated/forced polygamist bride/fill-in-the-blank. A "famous" Mormon that wasn't Mitt Romney, Orrin "I Write the Songs" Hatch, or Marie Osmond sounded good to me. Finally a representative without soap opera hair. Unfortunately, this book was not what I was hoping it would be.
What I liked about this book:
Many scenes were cringingly familiar, especially when she wrote about all the cultural nonsense that crops up whenever you get groups of Mormons together. I laughed out loud when she mentioned the song "Cotton-Eyed Joe" being played at the church dance and when she described the apartment she visited for FHE. I have been in many, many apartments and homes with those same decorations, especially during my time at BYU, and I expect to visit many more in the future. These parts of the book will probably be far funnier to members than to other readers.
Elna's accidental vagina costume was hilarious.
Elna is really honest about her struggles with her weight and being a "big girl" (I don't remember if she actually used that ridiculous term, but I know it was on the dust jacket somewhere). She's torn between feeling that she should love her body because it's a gift from God and hating it because it doesn't look the way she wants it to. I think that this part of the book might have actually been the most honest. When she cut short her date with the jerk who didn't know she had been fat I wanted to cheer for her. I honestly hadn't expected her to do that, given that most of the book was about her desperate attempts to be liked.
What I didn't like:
For someone who has been raised in the LDS church, Elna seems to not actually know much about it. For her, being a Mormon means that 1. She says she's a Mormon a lot. 2. She doesn't have pre-marital sex. Everything else this religion entails she's either unaware of, or doesn't take seriously. Or she just gets it wrong.
While it's difficult and probably somewhat unfair to assume too much knowledge about a person based on less than 300 pages spanning several years, Elna seems painfully immature and that doesn't change over the course of the book. Maybe part of the problem is that she wrote a memoir in her mid-twenties and just hasn't had time to figure out who she is yet. I guess by saying this I'm kind of arguing with one of the main themes of the book--Elna's questioning of her beliefs, but I felt like that part kind of went nowhere. She's Mormon! But then she decides she's not so that she can sleep with Matt the Atheist. When he questions her motives (Matt seems like a pretty decent sharp guy) she thinks that maybe she'll still be Mormon so that she can be in the temple when her siblings get married (that is not exactly how things work).
She's naive about some things to the point that I actually felt she might be lying to make a better story (does she really truly think that an LDS woman would never, ever wear lingerie?) And I know I'm the millionth person to harp on this point, but how on earth did she not know that you could find porn on the internet?
I can certainly empathize with Elna, but I finished this book mostly just feeling irritated and a little sad for her. There's a line in "Babies Buying Babies" where she's talking about bugging people at FAO Schwarz as a toy demonstrator and how it's like telling them, "I'm an actress, and I need attention." I thought this was a pretty good description of the tone of the book, which was something along the lines of "Look at me! Like me! I'm funny and I'll be whoever you want me to be!" (less)
First of all, this is not another I, Claudius. Not even close. The characters are really not very interesting and the book was clearly written with An...moreFirst of all, this is not another I, Claudius. Not even close. The characters are really not very interesting and the book was clearly written with An Agenda. I'm mostly okay with that, since you might say I share in that particular agenda, but I don't like being beaten over the head with it.
With a very old book there are things that give a pass to that I wouldn't for something written more recently. If the romance is melodramatic and everything else is slightly over-the-top, I just chalk it up to being written in a different time and enjoy it for what it is. The problem that I had here was that I read the modern translation by Kuniczak and the language is very, well...modern, making it feel like a somewhat poorly written contemporary historical novel. When reading about ancient Rome I don't want to come across people shouting "this god's no joke!" Yikes. So I had to dock it a bit, but still 3 stars because I did like the book and enjoyed reading it. And in spite of the language distraction and the extreme heavy-handedness of the author with the Christian themes, I did find it to be a faith-inspiring book.
The most interesting parts of the book dealt with the behind-the-scenes manipulations of Petronius and the connivings of Chilon. I actually thought they were the only two characters in the book that had some real dimension to them. I would have liked to cut out the gag-inducing romance altogether.
Maybe someday I'll read this again with a different translation. I had a peek at one on Project Gutenberg and it looked much, much better. And if I ever learn Polish, this will be the first book I pick up.