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IRREANTUM
EXPLORING MORMON LITERATURE

MAGAZINE OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR MORMON LETTERS


SPRING 2002 • $4.00

Robert Smith, novelist

Also featuring an in-depth look at Brigham City, stories about


childbirth, memoirs, poetry, reviews, literary news, and more
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IRREANTUM
MAGAZINE OF THE ASSOCIATION FOR MORMON LETTERS

E D I T O R I A L S T A F F

Christopher K. Bigelow . . . . . . Managing editor Scott R. Parkin . . . . . Speculative fiction coeditor


Tory Anderson . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Fiction editor Todd Robert Peterson . . . . . . . . . . . Essay editor
Harlow Clark . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Poetry editor Jana Bouck Remy . . . . . . . . . . . . . Review editor
Tracie Laulusa . . . . . . . . . Assistant review editor Edgar C. Snow Jr. . . . . . . . Rameumptom editor
Marny K. Parkin . . . . Speculative fiction coeditor
and AML-List Highlights editor

A M L B O A R D

Gideon Burton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . President D. Michael Martindale . . . . . . . . Board member


Cherry Silver . . . . . . . . . . Annual meeting chair Tyler Moulton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Board member
Sharlee Mullins Glenn . . . . . . . . Board member Eric Samuelsen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Board member
Gae Lyn Henderson . . . . . . . . . . Board member Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury . . . . Board member

A M L S T A F F

Lavina Fielding Anderson . . AML ANNUAL editor Terry L Jeffress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Webmaster


Christopher K. Bigelow . . . . . . Magazine editor Jonathan Langford . . . . . . . . AML-List moderator
John-Charles Duffy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Treasurer Scott R. Parkin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Awards chair
Andrew Hall . . . . . Assistant AML-List moderator Melissa Proffit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Secretary

IRREANTUM (ISSN 1528-0594) is published four times a year This magazine has no official connection with or endorsement
by the Association for Mormon Letters (AML), P.O. Box 51364, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Provo, UT 84605-1364, (801) 714-1326, www.aml-online.org. IRREANTUM welcomes unsolicited essays, reviews, fiction,
© 2002 by the Association for Mormon Letters. Membership in poetry, and other manuscripts, and we invite letters intended
the AML is $25 for one year, which includes an IRREANTUM for publication. Please submit all manuscripts and queries to
subscription. Subscriptions to IRREANTUM may be purchased irreantum2@cs.com. If you do not have access to e-mail, you
separately from AML membership for $16 per year, and single may mail your text on a floppy disk to IRREANTUM, c/o AML,
copies are $5 (postpaid). Advertising rates begin at $50 for a full P.O. Box 51364, Provo, UT 84605-1364. Except for letters to
page. The AML is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, so con- the editor, submissions on paper are discouraged. Upon specific
tributions of any amount are tax deductible and gratefully request to irreantum2@cs.com, we will send authors two com-
accepted. Views expressed in IRREANTUM do not necessarily plimentary copies of an issue in which their work appears.
reflect the opinions of the editors or of AML board members.

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IRREANTUM
Spring 2002 • Volume 4, Number 1

C O N T E N T S

AML News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Poetry


My Cigarette Vendors, Bessie Soderborg Clark . . 77
Interview Relief Society Lesson in a Singles Ward
Robert Smith ........................6 Kevin Peel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Metaphors, Leah Bowen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102
Novel Excerpt
For Time and All Absurdity, Robert Smith . . . 11 Reviews
Bound for Importance, Jeffrey Needle
Essays A review of Margaret Blair Young and
Serpents in Our Midst: What Brigham City Darius Aidan Gray’s Bound for Canaan . . . 78
Tells Us about Ourselves “Oh Bear Man of Mine!” Melissa Proffitt
John-Charles Duffy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 A review of Carol Lynch Williams’s
A Response to John-Charles Duffy My Angelica . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
on Brigham City, Scott R. Parkin . . . . . . . .20 A Fresh-Faced Sequel, Katie Parker
A review of Anne Bradshaw’s
Memoir Excerpt Chamomile Winter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81
Converting Oneself, Holly Welker . . . . . . . . . 30 A Storyteller with Heart and Humor—Pressed
Down and Flowing Over, Valerie Holladay
Memoir A review of Kerry Blair’s
Dutcher and Me, A. R. Mitchell . . . . . . . . . . 36 The Heart Only Knows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 83
Morality without Clichés, Katie Parker
Editorial A review of Lisa McKendrick’s On a Whim . . 85
A Note on This Issue’s Fiction, Tory Anderson 40 The Elusive Nature of Good and Evil, Jeffrey Needle
A review of Marilyn Brown’s
Stories House on the Sound . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
Habits, Karen Rosenbaum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Selected Recent Releases . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
Room for Solomon, Lisa Torcasso Downing . . 45
First, Linda Paulson Adams . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 AML-List Highlights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
The Salvation of Audrey Johnson,
Edward Hogan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Harden Times, Susan J. Kroupa . . . . . . . . . . 65 Rameumptom
Empty Temple Bag Stolen from Atop Temple
Locker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103

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A M L N E W S In particular, Neila edited a special tenth-


anniversary issue of Weber Studies in 1993 featuring
President’s Message Mormon literature. Neila received a special award
from the AML that year, and deservedly so, for
By Gideon Burton helping legitimize Mormon writing both regionally
and nationally. She had brought together a hall-of-
Greetings, fellow readers and writers of Mormon fame collection of critics and authors and set these
literature. I’m pleased to have the chance to serve forth in a venue that reached beyond the limits of
you as the new president of the Association for many LDS publications. At this year’s conference
Mormon Letters. Cherry Silver has provided us she interested us all in her critique of Terry Tempest
wonderful service during this past year, and we Williams’s Leap. She will be sorely missed.
look forward to her contribution next year as pro-
gram chair for our spring 2003 annual meeting.
Those who attended the annual meeting this year
particularly enjoyed her speech on angst and the
Our meetings, our e-mail
Mormon personal essay, which I look forward to list, and our publications
reading in next year’s AML Annual.
This March the AML welcomed to its board interact and help us meet
Sharlee Glenn and Eric Samuelsen. Author Sharlee
Glenn, of Pleasant Grove, Utah, is publishing our organization’s goals.
young adult and children’s books in both national
and LDS markets (Circle Dance [Bookcraft], One
in a Billion [Cornerstone], Gracie and Roo [Put- This year’s annual conference, held March 2,
nam]) and brings to the board her experience in 2002, at Westminster College in Salt Lake City,
and enthusiasm for those genres. Eric Samuelsen, was organized by former AML president Marilyn
of Provo, Utah, is in the Theatre and Media Arts Brown around the theme “Walking the Tightrope:
Department at BYU. Eric is a respected critic of the Mormon Writers and Their Audiences” and proved
culture informally, with his spirited contributions a rousing success. Doug Stewart narrated his expe-
to AML-List and more formally in his plays. Eric riences in reaching literally millions of audience
has received the AML award in drama three times members with Saturday’s Warrior, and panel mem-
(Accommodations, 1994; Gadianton, 1997; and The bers and participants addressed national vs. LDS
Way We’re Wired, 1999). We hope he will energize market publication concerns. Helpful in this regard
the cause of Mormon drama within the AML. are insights from those who’ve bridged those two
All of us in the AML were deeply saddened at audiences, including young adult author Lael Litt-
the sudden passing of Neila Seshachari in March. ke, who also spoke. Mormon movies bring about
She had just been named president-elect of the AML new considerations of audience, and the “threat” of
and had been serving during the past year on the Mormon cinema was the subject of my own remarks
board when a stroke claimed her life. Her many years at the annual meeting.
of experience teaching literature at Weber State Uni- Much more about each of the presentations
versity and editing Weber Studies made her an invalu- could be said, but instead I would like to offer an
able member of the AML team. Neila was not a observation regarding the healthy relationship
Latter-day Saint, nor is her husband Sesh (who between AML meetings and AML-List. Not every-
served as the AML’s president in 1983), but both of one in the AML could attend our annual meeting,
them have been indefatigable supporters of LDS but there was a burst of typing afterward as people
culture and literature, and I would like to publicly summarized and responded to what they had heard
thank and honor them for their significant service. at the meeting, passing along at least some version

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of the experience for others to share (and much meetings. As these two examples show, AML-List is
sooner than the publication of the conference pro- once again proving a vital complement to the nor-
ceedings!). For example, John-Charles Duffy gave a mal in-person activities of the AML. If you are not
critique of Richard Dutcher’s Brigham City, and this an AML-List member, be sure to catch the AML-
received so much online attention after its presenta- List highlights printed in each issue of IRREANTUM,
tion that he consented to distribute a prepublication compiled by Marny Parkin.
version over AML-List. This, in turn, produced
some insightful criticism by Scott Parkin and oth-
ers online. Both John-Charles’s paper and Scott’s I can’t help but think that our
responses are reprinted in this issue, and this will
provide a yet broader audience, more opportunities meetings and publications, if
for response, and refinement of the original ideas.
This is exactly the sort of positive symbiosis these
better known, would be very
two media should share. Our meetings, our e-mail welcome by a larger readership.
list, and our publications interact and help us meet
our organization’s goals.
The relationship between the AML and AML- IRREANTUM is another labor of love that contin-
List worked productively in the opposite direction ues to grow in quality, subscribers, and importance.
as well, when an impromptu discussion (named I hope you will share IRREANTUM with your
“Phase Three”) took place in the Gore Auditorium friends. Do you know of a book club in your local
after the formal conclusion of the AML conference area? Perhaps some of the publications reviewed in
simply because so much interest had been generated IRREANTUM or some of the authors featured will
on AML-List regarding African-American Latter- prompt some ideas. Do you circulate with other
day Saints and the related work being done by aspiring LDS writers? Invite them to read IRREAN-
Margaret Young and Darius Gray. Some attendees TUM and become part of the AML. As I consider
reported that this impromptu panel was as influen- how well Mormon literature engages key issues
tial and thought-provoking as anything else offered within Mormon religion and culture, I can’t help
at the conference, and I must agree. Unsurprisingly, but think that our meetings and publications, if
this issue includes a review by Jeffrey Needle of the better known, would be very welcome by a larger
latest installment of the Young-Gray trilogy on readership. Let’s lengthen our stride for the cause of
black Latter-day Saints, Bound for Canaan, and the Mormon letters, spreading the good word about
process continues. the fine community of writers and readers that the
I am grateful, again, for Benson Parkinson for AML and IRREANTUM have created and continue
starting AML-List and creating its friendly yet crit- to serve.
ical character; and for Jonathan Langford, the cur-
rent moderator, who carries the work on with equal
diligence and goodwill. Their work has not been
just so much e-mail shuffling; rather, they have
allowed vital ideas to circulate, helping us to refine
our critical standards. Even as president of the
AML I find I cannot keep up with the list’s volume,
but to me that volume is an indicator of the health
of our good-spirited online community. I find I am
as grateful to the many online participants who
share their thoughts online as I am to those who
prepare more formal remarks for our semiannual

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I N T E R V I E W I would describe my writing as tall, with a nice


face and an up-to-date wardrobe. It is also ulti-
Robert Smith mately revealing in a contemporary uplifting way.
It is atmospheric. I think the focus is humor, but
Robert Smith was born at the Cottonwood Hospi- that wasn’t necessarily what I started out to do.
tal in Murray, Utah, thus fulfilling the little-known I wrote my first book just thinking it was good. It
prophecy about someone being born in Utah at some wasn’t until I started showing it around that it
point in the past. He is the middle child in a family became obvious it was that funny. I think people
of seven children. He was raised in Tempe, Arizona, were laughing with me.
where his father had a business selling playground I don’t suppose I’m carving out any new niche—
equipment. It not only afforded Robert a nice child- it seems as if that would take effort—but I haven’t
hood, but it also provided him and his siblings rotat- seen much like my stuff out there. We seem to have
ing play structures to test out. Robert was the two really strong styles in the LDS fiction market
designated one to always break bones. He has had a right now: one is historical fiction and the other is
cast or sling on almost every part of his body, thanks to straight romance. So, in that sense my writing
gravity and his father’s occupation. While Robert was is going down a different path. Sure there is
a senior in high school, his father was called to be a romance, but it’s not so much soap opera as it is sit-
mission president in Vienna, Austria. Robert went com. It caters more to those who like comedy
over with a chip on his shoulder and returned with movies and humorous TV.
the ability to speak spotty conversational German and I suppose my goal would be to make so much
a feeling that there is no place finer than Vienna. money that I could go back and lavishly taunt
While attending what was then called Ricks Col-
those who may have given me grief in the past—
lege, Robert met Krista Williams and spent the rest of
that, and to further the work. I actually believe that
the year begging her to marry him. In the end she just
the Mormon culture is a wonderful thing. We are
wasn’t strong enough. They now have four amazing
so endearingly flawed that there is endless material.
children, Kindred, Phoebe, Bennett, and Naomi.
They live in the subtly beautiful city of Albuquerque, I love everything about us and our struggle to be
New Mexico. the kind of people we believe our Heavenly Father
Robert’s first novel, Baptists at Our Barbecue, was wants us to be. I like to point out in a humorous
published by Aspen Books and was followed the next way how each one of us seems to have a slightly dif-
year by The Miracle of Forgetness. All Is Swell: ferent definition of just what He wants from us. It’s
Trust in Thelma’s Way was published by Deseret amazing that we are even alive, more or less able to
Book about a year later—it is the first volume in the pick out our own outfits and do our own hair.
Trust Williams Trilogy. The other two titles in
the series are Falling for Grace: Trust at the End of Which is your favorite among your books?
the World and Love’s Labors Tossed: Trust and the Which is your least favorite?
Final Fling. Captain Matrimony followed the tril- How can I choose? It’s like picking between seven
ogy, and that was followed by the just-released For awkward children. Baptists and Forget were the first
Time and All Absurdity. Despite the author, Robert’s in the birth order and consequently have the biggest
books have sold very well. Robert is also a weekly con- birthmarks. The Trust Trilogy popped out like a set
tributor to Mormonlife.com with a column entitled of singing triplets that seemed to get me noticed
“Remodeling the Tract Homes of Heaven: Observa- and that everyone thought was neat. Captain Mat-
tions of a Second-rate Carpenter.” rimony has earned me the most concerned stares,
and For Time and All Absurdity has been such a long
How would you describe your writing? Do pregnancy that I’m more glad it’s here than happy
you see yourself carving out a new niche in Mor- to see it, despite the fact that it might be my
mon literature? What is your goal as a writer? favorite. So in conclusion, every one is a priceless

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literary gem that people would be foolish not to levels. Through all these years the most obvious
pick up, read, and then purchase more as gifts. thing to me, besides the fact that my ward mem-
bers like a discount, is that most of us Mormons
really do like to read. We especially like to read
In the beginning I would what our neighbors have enjoyed, particularly
when it comes to fiction. I don’t suppose this is too
tell people that what I did for different than the national market. Nowadays most
book releases are like a bell going off. We hear the
inspiration was eat a big bowl ding and buy volume ten. And while I am certainly
of bran flakes and then go lay thankful for the faithful patrons who buy and stick
with the multiple series of hot-selling books, I love
out on the trampoline at dusk the customers who want something slightly outside
the approved pattern. I think being surrounded by
until creativity struck. LDS fiction all the time also helps me sidestep
things I don’t like while noticing things that are
missing and I might be able to fill.
What prompted you to start writing, and how
did you learn the craft? What, in your opinion, is and should be the
I like that, “The Craft.” I have written my entire role of Mormon literature—meaning created by
life. It was only when I decided to get serious that or about Mormons—in Mormon life?
stuff started to fall together for me. I have said I think being Mormon is interesting, and not
before that my third grade teacher’s praise of a just to us. We’re fascinating, kind of like the Amish
poem I wrote about gum has been as big a motiva- people but with a lighter weight of clothes and big-
tion to me as anything. I also remember my Eng- screen TVs. We have a responsibility to let the
lish teacher in Vienna shaking his head after world in on why we like being who we are. I can’t
reading my stuff and saying, “I’m just not sure imagine that in the not-too-distant future we won’t
what to think of this.” That inspired me. When I become even more persuasive in the national mar-
first bought the LDS bookstore we used to own, ket. We have a number of people who have already
I was amazed by the fiction that was available. By broken the ground and done amazing things for
amazed, I mean more like when an asteroid is hurl- our literary credibility. I also think that it’s possible
ing directly toward you than when a spectacular to show the world our insides in an interesting and
comet is simply passing by. That’s not to say that honest way that doesn’t actually change our inno-
there weren’t some good books out there or that I cence or our peculiarity. Worldly fiction that has a
really am even one to judge. I just knew, however, Mormon character in it isn’t necessarily Mormon
that there was a place for contemporary humor that fiction. We are different, and the result should
dealt with life in a way people could laugh at and reflect that.
relate to. Lucky for me that has proven true.
Do you have an ideal reader in mind?
You ran an independent LDS bookstore for I think someone who is easily impressed and
several years, and now you manage a Deseret who likes to talk really loud about things they
Book store. What have those experiences taught enjoy. Other than that I am always honored when
you about the LDS reading audience, and how readers pick out or appreciate things in my books
have those experiences affected your own work? that I figured only I would get. Humor is such a
My wife and I owned Sunrise Bookstore for great thing to write because you can say as much or
about ten years before happily selling out to as little as you want while not letting on that you’ve
Deseret Book. The experience has been great on all really said anything. (I think that makes sense.)

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That’s why I love it when those reading notice the out with folks I would have never probably known.
dust between the cracks. It is so cool to meet strange people who know
things about my books and characters. I really love
Tell us about your writing process. Does it the connection it gives me. Nothing is more surreal
come easy or hard? How much advance plan- to me than having someone I just met give me an
ning and outlining do you do? What are your in-depth psychological evaluation of one of the
drafting and revision processes like? How often characters I made up four years ago.
do you write and under what conditions? Any
possibility of going full-time? What kind of things do you most like to read?
I write all the time in hopes of the good stuff What do you think of other LDS fiction? Do
actually rising to the top. Despite the results so far, you have any authors—LDS or not—you count
I’m going to stick with that system. I might think as influences on your own work?
long and hard about a book, but rarely do I write I’m easy. I’ll read anything once. I love Nero
anything down before I go at it. When I actually Wolfe mysteries, not necessarily for the mysteries
write, it comes pretty easy for me. My first drafts but for the atmosphere that Rex Stout creates.
are usually a hundred pages longer than the actual Archie Goodwin, to me, is the greatest literary
copy I will send my publisher. I love to chop. character ever created. I seek out anything funny
Someone said something once about never loving and talk about it for months afterward if it actually
your stuff so much you can’t cut it, or something is. Thanks to my job I think I’ve read almost every
like that. That’s really stuck with me. Mormon fiction title to come out in a long time.
I prefer writing a little every day, but at this And there are a lot of titles that I like. However,
point I usually put it off until I am so close to a I am constantly praying and sporadically fasting for
deadline that I have to cram. Sometimes I miss all a better book than the one I just read, regardless of
the time I had to create my first book. I was at a what it was. Nothing is so exciting as the possibil-
book signing recently, and during an odd lull in ity of finding an amazing read.
people clamoring for me to sign, I was discussing My world has been influenced by a lot of authors
with a couple of other authors how wonderful writ- and things. Bill Peet, Roald Dahl, Samuel Taylor,
ing a first book is. I had all the time in the world Dean Hughes, Ben Folds, fast-food commercials,
for Baptists. I was able to mess around with that for Archie comics, Dandelion Wine, Backslider, Robert
much longer than I have been able to with my oth- Kirby, that one book about that big fish, Richard
ers. Of course, it is very nice to have a publisher Cracroft, Tim Robinson, Loo, Cold Sassy Tree,
and know that what I’m working on will probably Harper Lee, velcro, The Sugar Beet, my parents,
see the light of day. Holes, Adam Duritz, rain, sunshine, Neal Maxwell,
As for writing full time I think that would be all Dr. Seuss, Paul Rawlins, piano, Emily Watts,
right. Ultimately, however, it might simply give me Richard Peterson, Joseph McConkie, and anything
more time to put it off. I do think it is a possibility shiny or that hums.
and a distant goal, but at the moment I have a job
that I enjoy almost as much as I do writing. Where do you get your ideas? How much of
your writing is autobiographical, how much is
What is your greatest fear as a writer? What is observation from real life, and how much
your greatest pleasure? is imagination?
My greatest fear as a writer is having to fly to “Where do you get your ideas?” is probably the
book signings and speaking engagements. Not that most asked question I get. It is also the hardest for
I mind the events, I’m just not a big fan of the me to answer. I used to think that everybody had
plane. My greatest pleasure as a writer is definitely these same kinds of things in their head. According
going to those aforementioned events and hanging to those who pity me, however, that is not neces-

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sarily true. In the beginning I would tell people because I work and publish with them and they
that what I did for inspiration was eat a big bowl of own every inch of my soul. I think Deseret Book is
bran flakes and then go lay out on the trampoline very much in the mood to stretch. In fact, I think
at dusk until creativity struck. But I discovered that they are stretching. They have taken strong steps
most folks couldn’t handle the truth. with their historical fiction and the quality of books
I can’t imagine writing a book that isn’t at least they are putting out. They also seem committed to
15-percent autobiographical. I just can’t seem to doing different and interesting things. Almost
weed out more than that. Most of my writing, every idea I have gone to them with, they have said
however, is from observation. I like the little things go for it without hesitation.
that add up to something huge. Usually I’ll see or
experience something and instantly think, “That
could be funnier if—” I rarely know what the next I haven’t come across a
page of my book will be until I write it. Not that
the characters are alive and working independent of subject that I couldn’t write
me, it’s just that my mind is probably still preoccu-
pied with the last meal I ate or the lyrics of some about in some way.
song I have forgotten.

Do you have any observation or comments There hasn’t been much any of my publishers
about the new Mormon cinema movement? Any has refused to print or wanted me to change aside
interest in seeing your stories on screen? from some pretty embarrassing spelling errors.
Actually, my brother Matt and I have just fin- I remember when Baptists was first being edited, I
ished the screenplay for Baptists at Our Barbecue. had a scene where one of the characters was talking
There has been a tremendous amount of prepro- about using his bottle of consecrated oil to fry up
duction done, and it should film soon. Working on chicken the night before. There was some concern
the screenplay has been one of the hardest things I over the idea, so I just changed it so the character
have ever done. I think the result is pretty good, was talking about using a bottle of oil he had been
though. The movie is being put together by some planning to consecrate to fry chicken. It’s all in the
amazing people and hopefully will be an almost- details. Originally the bishop in All Is Swell strug-
perfect final product. gled with a smoking addiction. My editor pointed
out that usually people with that kind of addiction
What is it like to work with Deseret Book as are not made bishop. So I just made him the second
an author? Do you have any sense you are mak- counselor instead. I have no problem changing ideas
ing them stretch as a publisher? What kinds of or situations as long as it improves the final pack-
changes and revisions do they ask you to make age. In both of those cases it certainly didn’t hurt.
in your novels? Have there been any occasions
when your humor has gone too far for them? Most every Mormon humorist at one time or
The publishing department at Deseret Book has another gets feedback that he or she is light
been supportive and interested in my work ever minded, irreverent, blasphemous, or otherwise
since Baptists. Before I actually published with out of line. What kind of feedback, if any, do
them, everyone warned me my writing would be you get along those lines? How do you deal with
too much for them and they would change every- it, both internally and in response? Does having
thing. I have found that to be just the opposite. a Church-owned publisher help deflect that kind
They have been incredibly willing to let me push of feedback?
and grow. I don’t think I know a better or funnier I don’t know how other Mormon writers feel,
bunch of people. And I’m not just saying that but my intentions have never been to offend. If I

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think something I wrote is going to actually hurt spelling and punctuation errors. It seems like noth-
someone in a mean way, then I usually get rid of it ing incites a riot in the soul of a reader like a mis-
or hide it in such a way that the kind of person who placed comma or a their when it should have been
might be bothered would never even notice. That’s a there. Deseret Book has picked up Baptists, and a
not to say that my writing is watered down or that new edition will be coming out any moment.
I pull punches. I just feel that I have accomplished I think I am most excited that people will be able
nothing if I have simply turned people off. My goal to pick on other things besides punctuation.
is to turn them on and keep them tuned in while Baptists was also a great first book because it
they experience things they might not normally go gained me a small non-LDS audience. Most of
through in Mormon fiction. That said, I still get them are Baptists and have stuck with my writing.
called most of those things you’ve mentioned. They are very objective critics and great supports.
A woman was so offended that someone threw
up in Baptists at Our Barbecue that she closed the What new directions do you see your writing
book and never went on. A person in California taking in the future? Do you anticipate trying
was so bothered that Trust was falling in love while out any different styles or genres? What projects
on his mission in All Is Swell that he sent me three do you have on your plate now?
letters to make sure I clearly understood how ticked I have been working on a nonfiction book as
he really was. I have had people at book signings well as a new novel for Deseret Book—I hope to
whisper in my ear wondering if I really meant what always be doing something with them. This movie
they thought I meant by something I wrote. Usu- is turning out to be a big deal, so it will be nice to
ally I did mean it, and usually they are all right with have that finished. There has been talk of writing a
that. I think being with Deseret Book actually makes screenplay for All Is Swell, and I will continue my
it harder and more rewarding. A lot of people have articles on Mormonlife.com.
told me they can’t believe Deseret Book would As for what’s on the slightly distant horizon,
publish that. Of course, they almost always say it as I am hoping to complete a novel I have been think-
if they are impressed with both of us. ing about for years. The best home for it might be
If someone actually is offended, it wasn’t intended out in the national market. Not that I’m not happy
and there is really nothing I can do about it. I with the Mormon scene, I just think it might fit
would be happy to tell them I’m sorry, but I would better elsewhere. It is a book based not so much on
probably say it in such a way that they would doubt reality and sense as it is on imagination and drama.
my sincerity. I don’t think being an active Mormon I will probably try to spend some more time with
means you no longer can be creative or real. I haven’t my great kids, as well as my wife Krista. Maybe I’ll
come across a subject that I couldn’t write about in remodel our bathroom or fix that back fence. This,
some way. My books talk about attraction, addic- of course, is in no way a commitment to that.
tion, sin, repentance, murder, dishonesty, and blas-
phemy. They just do it in a way that produces a
guilt-free happy ending.

What other kinds of feedback do you get


from your readers? Do you know of any non-
LDS readers?
I get great feedback from readers—apparently
there are a lot of delusional people out there. I now
have my habitual readers who don’t let a book go
by without telling me exactly how they feel. When
Baptists first came out, it suffered from a number of

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N O V E L My sister, Kate, who was exactly one year younger


E X C E R P T
than Clay, took her inheritance on a three-month
cruise around the world. Four days into the cruise
she became engaged to a man named Paul. Need-
For Time and All Absurdity less to say, but thrown in anyway, brains were not
By Robert Smith something Kate had in abundance. The day before
she was to arrive home, the ship’s captain called to
Chapter 1 tell us that this Paul fellow had left, taking what was
Easy Come, Easy Go left of Kate’s money. He also told us that in a fit of
post-wealth depression, Kate had used the remainder
I was fourteen when my Grandpa Smith died, of her money to buy a couple of thousand lottery
leaving all his worldly possessions and wealth to my tickets, then locked herself in the bathroom, where
family. This was no small sum of money. My grand- she had scratched by herself for hours. In the end she
father had owned and operated one of the largest had won just over seventeen dollars. We thanked the
meatpacking companies in the state. He used to give captain for his concern, feeling that he genuinely
us whole packs of hot dogs whenever we’d go over cared, until he mentioned that in a fit of rage my
to see him. While other kids got coins and toys from sister had also broken a deck chair, and that the fam-
their grandpas, I got franks. My brother and sister ily now owed the cruise line two hundred dollars for
and I used to use them as Lincoln Logs, building hot repairs. My parents ended up footing the bill, and
dog forts that our dog would eventually devour. You Kate moved back home on May 12th, monetarily
could always tell when we had just visited Grandpa and emotionally spent. My parents gave her a book
because our Great Dane would be sick for the rest on the evils of gambling as a welcome-home gift.
of the week. My parents.
But Grandpa was gone now, and his meat My father, Ronald, was a great man, both figu-
dynasty had been split up like a single wiener at a ratively and literally. He struggled with his weight
busy barbecue.
as if he were Enos wrestling for a remission of his
My much older brother, Clay, sank all his inheri-
sins. He was tall and as blue-eyed as any person I
tance into a failing chain of second- tipping toward
had ever seen. He constantly looked as if he didn’t
third-rate theme restaurants that served up movie
know whether the moment called for him to smile
memorabilia and really big hamburgers. Sadly, even
his injection of cash couldn’t make people care or frown. He also enjoyed talking, and throwing
about the windbreaker of some unknown stage- out analogies that usually made little or no sense.
hand who was rumored to have worked as a key My mother, Judy, was just the opposite of my
grip on the movie Titanic. “At least the food is father, weight-wise. She was rail thin. Mom had
good” was something that some other restaurant sported the same hairdo since she was sixteen—a
may have been able to claim—but not Clay’s. The short bob with a flip. She thought denim was the
hamburgers at his place tasted like they were made fabric of the gods, so you hardly ever saw her with-
out of ground chuck, as in wood. The restaurant out something looking as though it had been made
received a thumbs down from the public and went out of a pair of Levi’s. Mom insisted that she was
belly-up, taking with it every penny Clay had 5'7", although she wasn’t a single centimeter over
inherited or ever saved. 5'4". Even though I knew they loved each other,
Dirt-poor, Clay moved back home May 1st. my parents seemed a poor match. Despite the dif-
Thanks to some tricky talking, however, he was ferences in their physical makeup, I liked them much
able to walk away with the windbreaker and a few more than most kids my age cared for their parents.
other nondescript items. He wore the jacket often Mom and Dad used Grandpa’s money mostly to
and was quick to let people know that it was the cover up things. I’m certain there’s some hidden
only thing my grandfather had left him. meaning to that. They spent it on custom-made

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denim toilet seat covers, toaster covers, furniture thinking back. Sort of an eyesore? Yeah, not like the
covers, and car covers. Our house looked like the toasted, leafless trees and blackened soil up there now.
aftermath of a giant denim atomic bomb. They Their beauty transcends that of my quaint log house
socked away what was left over for a rainy day, or with white trimmed windows and working appliances
early retirement. (losing that refrigerator really hurt). Thanks, Dad, for
Then there was my share of the inheritance. My your true understanding of the situation.
parents were determined that I spend my money He asked me if I understood.
wisely—and my being the youngest child and not “Yes,” I replied.
yet of legal age gave them the green light to help me “Good,” he tossed back.
do so. I hadn’t thought much about it, but I sup- I lost the twenty-three cents and blew the six
pose if it had been left up to me, I would have spent bucks on gum and colored popcorn.
most of the money on video games and maybe a
few books. But my parents, with all their sagacity, Chapter 2
bought a small cabin for me in my name. It was a Dysfunctional Bliss
nice place on eight acres of secluded land in the dis-
tant mountains above our city. We had our first family home evening with Clay
I loved it. and Kate back home on July 5th. We sang:
“Ian, my boy, this is a sound investment, a real We’re all together again.
security,” Dad informed me. “Your money’s not sit- We’re here! We’re here!
ting in some bank getting stale; it’s growing.” Here we are singing all together again,
My growing investment came complete with a singing,
stove and a refrigerator that I immediately fanta- “All together again. We’re here! We’re here!”
sized about stocking only with things I liked. My
mother talked me into buying flood insurance with Mom pretty much carried the song.
the remainder of my money. The situation at our house had been quite tense
“Remember Noah,” she lectured, her painted lips since my brother and sister had moved back in.
clicking against her white teeth. “When the rains Clay and Kate had ceased fighting for the moment,
came down, he was prepared.” but we all knew the intense battle over who got the
Two and a half weeks later my investment burned biggest room was not yet over. Mom had made a
to the ground due to a lightning fire. I was left with total of twenty-two batches of burnt chocolate chip
nothing but eight acres of charred land. The morn- cookies, of which maybe only three had been nib-
ing after the fire, my father gave me six dollars and bled on. Dad spent a lot of time in his workshop
twenty-three cents, informing me that was all that sanding things. He told me sandpaper is like the
was left from my inheritance. He then delivered gospel—rough, and at times hard to embrace. But
what I’ve come to call his infamous “Value-of- with it you could smooth down even the roughest
Badly-Burned-Land” speech. of edges. I thought it was a poor analogy. I spent
“Ian, you now have the opportunity to shape most of my time in my room getting used to hav-
that land. Why, this is all just one big blessing. ing my brother and sister living with us again.
That land is yours to form and grow with. In fact, My father asked me to say the opening prayer for
I think . . .” he said, rising on his size-thirteen feet family home evening. I said a quick one with all the
to give greater credence to his postulation, “I think standard lines.
that old house would have done nothing but clut- Our night of unifying bliss had begun.
ter things up.” My father ended his speech with, “If someone would have told your mother and
“That house was sort of an eyesore.” me a couple of months ago that both of you would
Never in my life had I talked back to my dad, be coming back home to live with us again, well,
but I took that opportunity to do some intense I’m not sure we would have believed it. But you’re

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all here, and that’s what counts.” Dad scratched his was an equal opportunity love-hate (hold the lov-
knee and took a breath. “However, we feel, your ing) relationship. Despite how she felt about Clay,
mother and I that is, that it would be a disservice it was my mother she was most upset with at the
to you, Clay and Kate, if we allowed you to stay moment.
without asking you to pay a small monthly rent.” “This is just awful,” Kate cried. “Our own laun-
My brother and sister moaned in harmony. They dry?” She then got up and ran from the room like
had been expecting the rent announcement. It was a fugitive with only one chance for escape.
Dad’s next sentence that they were unprepared for. Mom kneaded both her temples. She gave the
“Also, your mother has asked that unlike when appearance of rain, but held strong, sticking her lower
you lived here before, you now need to be respon- lip out until it almost completely engulfed her
sible for your own laundry.” chin. She took a deep breath, flipped her hair back,
It was an incendiary statement, fired at a partic- and then opened the denim-covered home evening
ularly sensitive time. Family home evening fell manual. Forcing a big, bright smile, Mom began the
silent, and as sure as I knew that spin cycle followed lesson, which was on family togetherness. Unfortu-
rinse, I knew that trouble lay ahead. nately, the emotional strain was too great. Her eyes
Clay broke the silence. He mumbled something were the first to give. Her nose went next. She sat
mildly vulgar and then stormed out of the room. I there, her face a mixture of tears and wet pancake
tried to pretend that I hadn’t heard what he’d said. makeup, mascara, and other substances, asking me
I wanted desperately for Clay to be the kind of if I knew that families could be together forever.
older brother that those New Era stories always It was too much for my dad to take. He tried to
talked about. It took an active imagination. Clay hold back his laughter, but in the end he just wasn’t
was tall, but it was clear even now that I would one that strong. I, like a faithful son, followed his
day outgrow him. He had a small nose and big example. Mom didn’t appreciate being laughed at,
cheeks that were rosy even when his life wasn’t. He and she let it all go. She went on and on, criticizing
walked with a strut and was passionate about mak- everything from the paperboy’s poor aim to the few
ing Kate’s life miserable. The two of them had extra pounds my father had put on. She cried, vented,
taken sibling rivalry to a whole new level. I saw shook her head, and cried some more. With each
Clay reach the end of the hall and go into his room. shake of her head, more and more of her hair stuck
A door slammed. to her face and the liquid concoction on it. Her
Kate began to cry (she had become quite good at words became shorter.
that over the previous few weeks). She sobbed about “And if you . . . Why I . . .”
how my mother had never made them do their Her breathing became heavier.
own wash when they used to live at home. “I—huff—don’t—huff—you.”
“It’s just laundry,” my mother argued. “And Her frustration became too great, and she ran to
you’re capable.” her room sobbing. My dad and I just stared at each
“How can you be so insensitive?” Kate wailed, other.
her blue eyes wide and wet. A few minutes later Mom was back out in the
Her long blond hair was pulled up into a pony- kitchen, putting together some sort of treat for fam-
tail that whipped around as she shook her head. ily home evening. It was at that moment that I fully
Kate liked me. At least that’s what my mother and realized just how great my mom really is. Despite
father kept insisting in private. I’m certain that she my realization, however, I turned down her offer of
did, but I was just as certain that she didn’t like me crackers and peanut butter—seeing how my father
as much as she cared for herself. She was beautiful, had promised just moments before that we’d go out
and getting prettier. At least that’s how her personal for ice cream. We invited Mom, but she declined,
mission statement read. And she found her greatest vigorously massaging her temples while insisting
joy in shopping. That and giving Clay grief. Theirs that my dad and I needed some time alone together.

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At the ice cream shop I talked my father into E S S A Y


buying me three scoops. We then ate our treats while
walking around a small duck pond out in front of Serpents in Our Midst: What Brigham
the store. City Tells Us about Ourselves
“Grandpa’s money has sure messed things up,”
I licked. By John-Charles Duffy
“We’re given a lot of things in life that we must
use to help us grow.” Note: This essay discusses major plot surprises of the
I wondered where he had read that. film Brigham City. This paper was presented at
“Dad, don’t you think girls are cute?” the annual gathering of the Association for Mormon
My mouth dropped open. I had no idea what Letters on March 3, 2002, at Westminster College in
had possessed me to ask what I had just asked. Salt Lake City.
It had come out of nowhere, the words just sliding
out. I had meant to ask him how long Clay and “Nothing attracts a serpent like a paradise.” So
Kate would be living with us. Instead, that had reads the tagline for Richard Dutcher’s most recent
escaped. It was a major father-son faux pas. film, Brigham City, a story about good people
“I mean, I sure like this ice cream,” I said threatened by evil forces—conventional fare for
quickly, hoping he would forget my original state- thrillers.1 But Brigham City aspires to be more than
ment and dreading the reply he would give if he a conventional thriller. It aspires to address theo-
hadn’t. I knew that he would go into great detail logical questions, like, “Do we have to lose our
about his and my mother’s courtship, saying things innocence to gain wisdom?” or “Can a murderer
like, “There is a time and a place for cute, Son.” Or find forgiveness?” And, of course, it is one of the
maybe he would assume that I had a crush on very first nationally distributed feature films to
someone and pressure me until I told him all the present a Latter-day Saint community through the
sordid details. I threw my shoulders back and read- eyes of an insider rather than those of an outsider.
ied myself for the landslide of probing questions It’s said that literature holds up a mirror to life.
and endless sayings on virtue. But his only com- So what do we see in the mirror that is Brigham
mentary was about the ice cream. City? What does this film tell us about ourselves?
“I’ve never understood how they get something How is our community, the community of the
to taste so good.” Saints, portrayed in Brigham City, especially in
He had ignored my first question and I was sur- relationship to the outside world? And what does
prisingly . . . disappointed. I guess deep down I was the film’s preference for that particular portrayal
hoping to tell him about my crush on Bronwyn suggest about our community’s values?
Innaway. It wasn’t a crush so much; it was more like One of the principal messages—perhaps the
a hope or a wish—but at this point, not even a pos- principal message—this film sends is that the
sibility. The dark-haired girl with the light blue eyes Saints cannot afford to be innocent, at least not in
seemed to be a painfully unrealistic dream to this the sense of being gullible. We have to recognize
love-struck fourteen-year-old. I brought the con- that we live in a world where terrible things hap-
versation back to my grandpa’s money. pen, that simply praying and leading a good life
“What good has that money done any of us?” will not provide immunity from evil, and that we
A simple answer was too much to ask for. therefore need to take precautions. It’s a reasonable
“I’ll be interested to see what you do with your message, but as I look closely at how the film goes
property, Ian,” Dad answered. about making its case, I become concerned.
Two weeks later I got my parents to drive me up During a scene in the first half of the film, Ralph,
to my land, and there I planted my first two trees. One the construction foreman, tells the story of being
died almost immediately; but the other one made it. robbed by one of his employees and discovering

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afterwards that this employee had a criminal record. Mormon pattern of a chapel on every corner, one
“It’s my own fault,” Ralph concludes. “I never did of the outsiders in the film brags that where he
any kind of background check. . . . I took his word. comes from, there are taverns on every corner and
I deserved to get robbed. And from then on, any- whorehouses in between.
body who’s on my crew, I know who they are and This isn’t exactly a nuanced or sophisticated
where they come from. And I don’t hire no man worldview; and indeed, Dutcher seems to realize
with a shady history.” Ralph’s story foreshadows the that he is vulnerable to accusations of not being
conclusion of the film, when Wes discovers that his sophisticated because, as Wes Clayton, he addresses
own failure to check Terry’s background has brought those accusations explicitly in the film. In a con-
a wolf into the center of the flock. Had Wes taken versation with Meredith, the non-LDS federal
the precautions that Ralph takes, the film proposes, agent from Manhattan, Wes says, “I’ve heard it all
these murders would never have happened. my life. Because we don’t want to experience some
Ralph’s refusal to “hire [any] man with a shady of the things out there, some people think we’re
history” implies a philosophy of “once a criminal, naive.” In what we are apparently intended to see as
always a criminal.” This philosophy denies the pos- a clever rhetorical move, Wes flips the accusation of
sibility that a person can change, which is to say naiveté, maintaining that, actually, the Saints are
that it denies the principles of repentance and for- experienced in the things that truly count, and that
giveness. And the film knows this. Ralph admits it’s the world who is naive because they don’t share
that his approach “may not be Christ-like.” Later, those experiences. “We have our own experiences,”
Terry will cite this same unforgiving attitude on the Wes insists. “We get down on our knees and say
part of the people in Snowflake, Arizona, as the rea- our prayers, and we do our best to live the way God
son that he felt forced to adopt a new identity. wants us to live; and every now and again, He gives
“They don’t forgive you,” Terry says, “not ever. For us a little experience.” Wes adds, “I guess we’re both
the rest of your life, no matter how good you are.” naive to one extent or another, just about different
But while the film acknowledges the un-Christ-like, things.” Note that while that last statement sounds
unforgiving nature of the strategy it promotes, still egalitarian, it isn’t really, because the kind of naiveté
the film insists that this is the strategy the Saints Wes attributes here to the Saints is desirable, while
need to adopt for coping with life in a dangerous the kind of naiveté he attributes to the outside
world. What the film ends up saying, intentionally world is undesirable.
or not, is that forgiveness and Christ-like behavior Earlier the film had asked: Do we have to lose
are luxuries we cannot afford, at least not in our our innocence to gain wisdom? The film’s answer is
relations with strangers. Within our own commu- two-pronged. On the one hand, the film argues
nity, yes, we can live out the principles of repentance that, yes, regrettable though it be, the Saints have
and forgiveness, as in the moving sacrament meeting to lose their innocence, in the sense that they have
scene which brings the film to a close. But we can- to give up their childlikeness, their trustingness,
not afford to live out those principles in our rela- their gullibility, in order to protect themselves. But
tionships with outsiders. It’s not safe, this film says. the film wants the Saints to retain their inno-
That leads us to another message this film sends: cence—their naiveté, as Wes puts it—in the sense
that there is a sharp divide between the community of not experiencing the wickedness which the film
of the Saints and the outside world. The Saints of represents as originating in the outside world.
Brigham City are depicted as representing all that is Once again, we see the film’s dichotomous world-
good and innocent—a Mormon Mayberry, a “par- view. The Saints are innocent, good, righteous; the
adise.” By contrast, the film’s hero sums up the out- world is sinful, corrupt, wicked, and threatens to
side world as “murderers, rapists, robbers, kids with overrun the community of the Saints. The film sug-
guns . . . the same story over and over again.” gests that there was a time when the Saints of
Where Brigham City follows the stereotypical Utah Brigham City were sufficiently isolated from the

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outside world to keep themselves safe. But times to break it down if she doesn’t open up. A few min-
have changed; growth and prosperity have brought utes later, when Steve balks at opening a locked
the Saints into closer contact with outsiders. A new closet, Terry slams him up against the wall face-first
way of life threatens to seduce the Saints away from while Wes shouts at him, “I want you to open this
the old values. Hence Wes tells Ralph that he door before somebody gets hurt!” The film’s most
wishes he could slow down the town’s growth; horrific act of on-screen violence comes, of course,
“I’m . . . trying to keep things reined in,” he says, at the climax of the film, when Wes shoots Terry,
implying that he feels things are spinning out of blowing him out of his chair, in the presence of his
control. Stu expresses the same feeling when he wife. The film could easily have ended more peace-
gives the speech that provides the tagline for the fully: Wes could simply have wrestled Terry to the
film: “Little places like this—our days are num- ground and cuffed him instead of standing there,
bered, you know. The rest of the world won’t let us ordering Terry to cuff himself while Terry calmly
be. They’re going to drag us in, whether we like it reassembles his gun, until things have reached a
or not. See, what we’ve got here is a little paradise. point where Wes is forced to shoot Terry in self-
And nothing attracts a serpent like a paradise.” defense. But the film seems determined to bring
This fear that the Saints’ paradise is threatened about a violent ending.
with destruction gives rise to the film’s insistence In fact, this ending looks uncannily like an act of
that the Saints need to be on guard, even if that blood atonement, a notion the film itself brings up
means being unforgiving or un-Christ-like in our early on, when a jack Mormon federal agent tells
approach to the outside world. Scholars often call Wes, “Relax, Sheriff, this woman’s only been dead
this fear a “siege mentality,” and it is commonplace for a day and a half. It’s not like her blood is crying
in Mormon studies to see such a mentality as a sig- out for vengeance just yet.” Those in our tradition
nificant force in our people’s history. Gordon B. who have subscribed to this particular notion hold
Hinckley frequently cautions against a siege men- that atonement for murder requires the shedding of
tality (though he doesn’t actually use that term), the murderer’s blood, which is, of course, what hap-
urging the Saints to be optimistic, not fearful; to pens to the murderer in this film. Furthermore, the
reach out across historical barriers; to not be clan- execution is performed by a man who holds both
nish or holier-than-thou. But the very fact that civil and ecclesiastical authority, which Bruce R.
President Hinckley perceives a need to keep reiter- McConkie maintained was a prerequisite for prac-
ating this counsel suggests that the siege mentality ticing blood atonement (93); and the execution
is alive and well within our community. Brigham occurs with the tacit consent of the murderer, con-
City, with its black-and-white worldview and its sistent with a claim that blood atonement requires
fearful, hostile attitude towards those it dubs “out- the voluntary shedding of the murderer’s blood
siders,” demonstrates the mentality President (Snow 131). (Earlier in the film Terry has told Wes
Hinckley cautions against. that execution is the only “cure” for a murderer.)
One of the great dangers of the siege mentality is Even if I’m pushing too far in reading Terry’s
the possibility that it will lead to violence; the death as an act of blood atonement, the fact remains
Mountain Meadows Massacre would be the most that Brigham City adopts a shockingly violent response
horrific example of that in our history. In that con- towards those who are, or who are merely suspected
text, it is troubling to observe how easily Brigham of being, enemies of the community of Saints. We
City’s characters turn violent when confronting saw that same kind of response in God’s Army: the
people whom they suspect of being the metaphori- violently angry reaction of Dutcher’s character to
cal serpents in paradise. When Sister Peck refuses to Elder Kinegar, the doubting missionary. Dutcher’s
let her home be searched, on the perfectly justifi- films are not about turning the other cheek, or lov-
able grounds that no one has a warrant to search ing our enemies, or burying the weapons of vio-
her home, Wes pounds on her door and threatens lence. As we saw earlier, the philosophy promoted

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in Brigham City is that such Christ-like behavior is head: “I had this strong feeling—I mean, I mean I
impractical in our dangerous world. If we, the liked it, you know. There was some part of me that
righteous, are to survive in the midst of the wicked, really liked killing that animal. It was like some
we need to learn mistrust. We need to learn to be part of me came up that I didn’t like, so I went
unforgiving. We need to learn violence. home, and I put the gun away, and I never went
“All is well” in Brigham City, Stu and Wes hunting again. You know, I hadn’t thought about
declare near the beginning of the film. Clearly, it, but I haven’t fired a weapon at any living crea-
we’re meant to see this as dramatic irony; perhaps ture since then. . . . I think some men just have a
we’re even meant to recall the Book of Mormon’s taste for killing. I think they like it.”
warning to those who declare that all is well in This is an amazing moment in the film, because
Zion (2 Nephi 28:21). As it turns out, things aren’t Wes places himself here in the same category as the
all well in Brigham City; but that doesn’t mean serial killer, the category of men who like to kill.
what it might at first seem to mean. When I For a moment, the sharp dichotomy the film oth-
watched this film for the first time, I anticipated erwise draws between Saints and sinners has col-
that the cry “All is well” would prove to be ironic in lapsed: the hero has confessed to having the same
the sense that the black-and-white worldview pro- vice, the same impulse, as motivates the villain.
moted by Wes at the beginning of the film (we’re A Jungian literary critic would see in this moment
good, the outside world is evil) would be shown to “the realization of the shadow,” a recognition that
be overly simplistic. To borrow from a saying of the murderer embodies qualities which Wes is
Jesus, I thought the film was setting us up to rec- uncomfortable recognizing within himself and
ognize that it isn’t just outsiders who have beams in therefore prefers to conceptualize as Other. (A Jun-
their eyes. But that’s not, in fact, the message of this gian critic would interpret Wes’s black-and-white
film. The cry “All is well” proves ironic only in the worldview in the same terms: Wes’s thoroughly
sense that the Saints of Brigham City have naively negative vision of the outside world is a projection
believed they are safe from evil and have therefore onto the Other of qualities which Wes refuses to
failed to take the necessary precautions. Instead of recognize within his own community). But having
unraveling Wes’s black-and-white worldview, the made this provocative move, the film declines to
film reinforces it: the reason all isn’t well, according follow up on it. Wes immediately starts speaking of
to this film, isn’t that the Saints have major moral “men [who] have a taste for killing” in the third
deficiencies of their own; it’s that evil forces from person: as “they,” not “we.” And the conversation
the outside world are closing in, but the Saints shifts away from Wes back to the murderer. “This
haven’t yet opened their eyes to the threat. guy we’re looking for,” Terry says, “you think this
Perhaps motivated, again, by accusations of not guy could ever be cured? You think he could, I
being sophisticated, the film does contain moments don’t know, repent?” “I don’t know,” Wes replies.
where the black-and-white worldview is challenged. “I have a hard time imagining it.” “Well, I know
But in every case where this happens, the film neu- one cure,” Terry says. He raises his gun, blows away
tralizes the challenge so that the black-and-white the entire row of targets in rapid succession, smiles . . .
worldview ultimately emerges unscathed. In the and in the very next scene performs a baptism.
end, the film cannot bring itself to depict the Saints There are disturbing things going on here: the
with a beam in their eye—a mote, maybe, but not chilling suggestion that a murderer is beyond the life-
a beam. changing power of the Atonement; the juxtaposi-
The first moment where this dynamic plays itself tion of vigilante violence with a saving gospel
out comes when Wes confesses to Terry that he has ordinance; the self-loathing implicit in Wes’s state-
the same “taste for killing” which he believes moti- ment that he can’t imagine how a man with a taste
vates the serial killer. Wes describes the dark thrill for killing—a man like himself—could be made
he felt as a twelve-year-old shooting a rabbit in the whole. But I see no evidence that we’re meant to be

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disturbed by this scene. Ultimately, it appears, the confessed some past transgression to the bishop
function of this scene is simply to provide fore- (“You kept my secrets; I’ll keep yours”). Steve looks
shadowing and to justify the film’s violent climax. to be around thirty yet is unmarried. Later we dis-
Since Wes’s confession is forgotten as soon as this cover he comes from a fatherless home.
scene ends, it does not seem intended to make us In short, Steve stands at the margins of the LDS
rethink the black-and-white dichotomy between community. It comes as much less of a surprise to
Saints and sinners. As near as I can tell, the func- find that Steve is a closet porn addict than it would
tion of Wes’s confession is to make Wes look all the be to discover the same thing about Steve’s next-
more good (this man condemns himself for killing door neighbor, a clean-cut, married father of three.
even a rabbit) and to preempt Terry’s later claim Because Steve doesn’t altogether fit the LDS mold,
that he cannot control his impulse to kill (since he isn’t altogether “one of us.” Indeed, in what I
Wes has managed to control the same impulse, suspect is a Freudian slip on Dutcher’s part as screen-
Terry has no excuse). The film thus justifies its writer, Wes speaks of Steve as if he were not a mem-
treatment of Terry as an accountable moral agent ber of the community. “Don’t call me bishop!” Wes
who merits violent punishment rather than as an snaps at him. “Right now I have to care about the
extremely sick man who needs help. people in this town a lot more than I care about
you.” Note that Wes did not say, “I have to care
about the other people in this town a lot more than
The Saints are not forced to I care about you.” Rhetorically, at least, Wes has cut
Steve off from the community of the Saints. The
confront the reality that one of film thus minimizes the challenge that Steve would
otherwise present to the depiction of the Saints as
our own has proved capable a model community. It’s worth noting, too, that
Steve would have had to bring his adult videos in
of such heinous crimes. from outside Brigham City, again reflecting the
film’s tendency to represent evil as originating in
the outside world. The serpent infiltrates paradise;
Another moment where the black-and-white it isn’t native.
worldview is challenged comes when we discover Potentially the most serious challenge to the
that Steve has a secret stash of adult videos. Sud- black-and-white worldview is the discovery that the
denly we are faced with a Latter-day Saint who is serial killer is a trusted member of the LDS com-
not, after all, an innocent—who has a beam in his munity. Prior to this discovery, the film has had
eye. But the film neutralizes this challenge to its great fun playing off our own inclination, as an
otherwise rosy depiction of the Saints by portray- audience, to look to outsiders, or individuals on the
ing Steve from the beginning as someone who margins, as suspects. The killer doesn’t turn out to
doesn’t really fit the LDS mold. In other words, the be a patron of the local bar, or the out-of-town con-
film distances Steve from the LDS mainstream. For struction worker, or the newly baptized member, or
one thing, Steve wears a beard—and we are reminded the member with a beard, or “the only character
that facial hair is a sign of being out of step with whose skin isn’t a perky shade of pink,” as one
LDS norms when Peg tells Wes, “Bishops aren’t reviewer puts it (Fox). Instead, as frequently occurs
supposed to have mustaches.” Whenever we see both in literature and in real life, the serial killer
Steve in church, he’s wearing a brown shirt with the turns out to be the last person anyone would have
top button undone beneath his tie, giving him a suspected: an insider, an Eagle Scout, a returned
somewhat unkempt appearance, in contrast to the missionary.
white shirts and blue business suits of the bish- But there we run into the catch: Terry isn’t really
opric. We learn early on in the film that Steve has those things. He isn’t who he appears to be or

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claims to be. Terry is an ex-con who has stolen the gence was blameworthy, but we forgive you”?
identity of a young LDS man who drowned in (Though in that case I’m tempted to ask: Will
Snowflake, Arizona. It’s not even clear from the Steve, or Judy Perkins, receive such ready forgive-
film if Terry (or whatever his name is) is himself ness?) Or are they saying: “We think your negli-
LDS. We’re told that “church folks” in Snowflake gence was blameworthy, but we recognize that
describe Terry as having turned his life around in we’ve all been guilty of that same negligence and
prison. Does that mean Terry was baptized? We gullibility”? It’s not clear.
don’t know. But it doesn’t really matter. In either What is clear is that this scene is meant to restore
case, Terry is presented to us as a fraud, someone our sense of the community’s innocence (meaning
merely posing as an insider, not really one of us. guiltlessness). All is well in Brigham City as the
Thus the LDS community is kept untainted. The final credits roll. The Saints have had a horrific
Saints are not forced to confront the reality that experience, but they’ve learned from it how to pro-
one of our own has proved capable of such heinous tect themselves, and their virtue, from the threat
crimes. The moment in the film when everyone, posed by the outside world. The black-and-white
LDS and non-LDS alike, was suspect has safely worldview, the siege mentality, has prevailed.
passed. Our hands are clean. The only failing that Brigham City could have been a highly thought-
can be imputed to our community is our overmuch provoking film. It could have been a film about
innocence, our overly trusting natures. We’re too complex LDS characters motivated by complicated
good for our own good. arrays of good and bad impulses. It could have been
The one Saint who attributes guilt to himself is a film about an LDS community grappling with
Wes, who believes that because of his failure to the reality that one of its own is a serial killer, or
check Terry’s background, he is as much respon- groping to figure out what would be a Christ-like
sible for the murders as if he himself had pulled the response to a series of horrific crimes against some
trigger (recalling Ralph’s statement, “It’s my own of its members, or struggling to move beyond
fault. . . . I deserved to get robbed” for having failed provinciality to work out a place for itself as part of
to check the background of the employee who a larger, more diverse society. But Dutcher didn’t
robbed him). But the film rushes to assert that Wes tell any of those stories. Instead, Dutcher told a
should not be condemned. “Nobody blames you,” story that reflects a siege mentality, an unabashedly
Meredith assures him. “You’re a good man, Wes. isolationist, unforgiving, “us versus them” approach
You really are.” Actually, Meredith is mistaken: to the world. After watching first God’s Army and
when Wes walks into sacrament meeting, we’re now Brigham City, my sense is that Dutcher wants
given the impression that the ward does blame his films to be seen as sophisticated, as tackling
him, especially Ernie and Evelyn, the parents of tough issues. But whenever his films begin to move
one of the murdered girls. into truly complex territory, Dutcher retreats to
The creative and moving scene which follows— safer, familiar ground. Ultimately, his films cannot
in which Wes declines to partake of the sacrament resist the impulse to represent the world in simplis-
and the rest of the ward stands in solidarity with tic, black-and-white terms.
him by likewise declining to partake—is clearly Granted that LDS cinema, and Dutcher’s own
meant to absolve Wes from condemnation. But it’s oeuvre, is still in its infancy. Granted that it is
not clear on what grounds this absolution occurs. thanks to Dutcher’s pioneering endeavors that we
When the ward refuses to partake of the sacrament, can even speak of such a thing as LDS cinema.
are they saying to Wes: “We don’t think you merit Granted that Dutcher is a talented filmmaker and
condemnation in the first place; on the contrary, that Brigham City is a well-crafted thriller. But
we think you’re such a good man that if you’re not Brigham City leaves me wondering: What does it
worthy to take the sacrament, then none of us is say about our community when our most cele-
worthy”? Or are they saying: “We think your negli- brated cinematic storyteller thus far—the man who

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is slated to go down in the history of Mormon let- E S S A Y


ters as the father of LDS cinema—tells stories as
reductive and unchallenging, however well told, A Response to John-Charles Duffy on
as this one? Brigham City
John-Charles Duffy lives in Salt Lake City, teaches By Scott R. Parkin
English at the University of Utah, and works on var-
ious writing and editing projects. He serves as treas- I didn’t hear John-Charles Duffy present his
urer of the AML. paper on Brigham City, but I did read the text as
posted to AML-List. I find John-Charles’s paper
Note both thoughtful and thought provoking, but my
own thoughts about and reactions to Richard
1. My thanks to Richard Dutcher and Zion Films for Dutcher’s film are substantially different.
allowing me to use a demo copy of Brigham City, which In short, Duffy’s paper seems to suggest that in
was not yet commercially available as I prepared this paper.
Brigham City, Richard Dutcher told a dangerously
provincial story that gives the essential message “All
Works Cited is well in Zion—or at least all would have been well
Fox, Ken. “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” Rev. of in Zion had not those cursed non-Mormons
Brigham City, dir. Richard Dutcher. TV Guide On- brought evil in with them from the outside; there-
line. http://www.tvguide.com/movies/database/Show fore we should shun and fear all outside influ-
Movie.asp?MI=42864 (26 Feb. 2002). ences.” Duffy finds fault in Dutcher’s presentation
McConkie, Bruce R. “Blood Atonement Doctrine.” both on the basis of perceived philosophical shal-
Mormon Doctrine. 2nd ed. Salt Lake City: Book- lowness and artistic nonadventurism. He com-
craft, 1966. plains that Dutcher oversimplified, resulting in a
Snow, Lowell M. “Blood Atonement.” In Encyclopedia of well-wrought story that didn’t satisfy Duffy’s desire
Mormonism. Vol. 1 of 4. Ed. Daniel H. Ludlow. New for complexity.
York: Macmillan, 1992. My responses to John-Charles Duffy’s paper fall
into several broad categories:
Dutcher told his story, and others can tell their
stories, too.
Did we see the same film? It appears we got dif-
ferent fundamental messages.
I make a counterargument on the nature and
sources of evil and Dutcher’s depiction of paradise.
Before I say anything else, let me mention that
it’s been about a year since I saw this film, and I
don’t have the advantage of being able to view it
again in formulating my comments here.

So What? It’s Dutcher’s Story


Let me quote a snippet from near the end of
Duffy’s paper:
My sense is that Dutcher wants his films to be
seen as sophisticated, as tackling tough issues.
But whenever his films begin to move into

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truly complex territory, Dutcher retreats to allow good people to struggle and doubt and won-
safer, familiar ground. Ultimately, his films der without requiring that they abandon their faith
cannot resist the impulse to represent the or lose their hope as a result of that struggle. Of
world in simplistic, black and white terms. course there are a wide variety of stories that can be
told in that broad area, some more and less com-
Of course we all interpret things through our plex, some more and less accepting, some more and
own filters and by our own methods, but I’m not less hopeful.
sure Dutcher sees his films as all that challenging or Which brings me to my main comment on
literarily sophisticated, although certainly more so Dutcher’s sophistication or lack thereof: So what?
than the vast majority of work being produced He told his story his way and according to the dic-
for/by Mormons in the film genre. I don’t think tates of his own conscience and/or concerns for
Dutcher is claiming any great complexity or market acceptance. Those who feel he missed the
sophistication, just more of it than we’re used to. boat should find ways to tell their own stories in
In my view, Dutcher has done a difficult thing— their own ways. Dutcher has never claimed to rep-
he’s expanded the audience for his films from a sin- resent the be-all and end-all of either cinema or sto-
gle viewership to multiple viewerships. He’s rytelling, and has in fact loudly proclaimed that
managed to build a film in Brigham City that can people who don’t see value in his stuff should rush
address different audiences’ esthetics at least par- out to tell their own versions.
tially on their own ground, from the faith-promot- So while Duffy has the right to wish for a more
ing-story crowd to the violent-murder-mystery complex story and presentation and to criticize
crowd to the literary-complexity crowd. He doesn’t what he sees as Dutcher’s underlying assumptions
give any of these audiences a story that fully satis- about the nature and sources of evil in a commu-
fies them individually, but he has managed to reach nity as well as our proper responses to that evil, I’m
each of them at some level, effectively expanding not entirely sure it’s fair to condemn Dutcher for
and redefining the market space for Mormon cin- failing to deliver on Duffy’s hopes for more com-
ema. I consider that an impressive feat worthy of plex storytelling. Evaluate against that wish, yes;
note, especially when his primary intent with this condemn, no.
film seems to have been to reach out to an even And I don’t think he does condemn Dutcher.
larger potential audience of both Mormon and Duffy ends his paper with the following lament:
non-Mormon viewers.
What does it say about our community when
Which raises the issue of artistic vision. Is Dutcher’s
our most celebrated cinematic storyteller thus
vision limited? Certainly—everyone’s is to some
far—the man who is slated to go down in the
degree and in some way. Does that limitation make
history of Mormon letters as the father of
his films trivial? Some will say yes (apparently that
LDS cinema—tells stories as reductive and
is how Duffy feels); others will say no (which is how
unchallenging, however well told, as this one?
I feel). Should Dutcher be criticized for the limits
of his vision? Absolutely! I think everyone who puts This suggests that Duffy’s real condemnation is
their work out for public consideration should be for the Mormon literary community that has so
criticized—which is not to say that I think all criti- loudly celebrated what he sees as a simplistic and
cism is fair or accurate, but rather that critical dia- reductive story. It’s also a broad Mormon social
log is an important and necessary part of the process criticism with Dutcher’s film functioning as the foil
of developing an expanding artistic offering. for that critique. While I can’t say that I agree with
I am a nearly ideal viewer for Dutcher’s films. either the social critique or the evaluation of
I have long wanted Mormon stories that could Dutcher’s film as a reflection of that critique, I do
admit to the presence and power of evil without believe that the most powerful condemnation here
claiming that we are helpless against it, stories that is of social Mormonism, not Richard Dutcher.

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Dutcher himself seems to fully understand his but I do want to comment on a few of those issues
role as one of the first people to expand the bounds as raised in the paper.
of “faithful” Mormon cinema into another level of Duffy writes: “One of the principal messages—
complexity, but he also knows full well that his is perhaps the principal message—this film sends is
only one of the first (of hopefully many) steps that the Saints cannot afford to be innocent, at
toward an expanded notion of Mormon film and least not in the sense of being gullible.”
storytelling. He freely admits to his limits and chal- At the risk of sounding catty, this summary
lenges others to go where he is (or at least has been) seems every bit as reductive and simplistic as Duffy
unwilling to go. Some might argue that such an accuses Brigham City itself of being. To me it’s akin
effort is really just an attempt to deflect criticism, to reducing Gulliver’s Travels to “One of the princi-
but I see it more as an attempt to lead by example pal messages this book sends is that it’s dangerous
with a full awareness of the many paths available. to travel by sea” since Gulliver finds himself in more
He’s far too cranky with far too many would-be than one of his odd locales after his ship founders.
hangers-on for me to believe otherwise. Certainly it’s in there and functions as a recurring
So while I’m sure Dutcher would like to be theme, but I’d hesitate to say that it’s a primary (or
known as a father of Mormon cinema, I also sus- secondary, or even tertiary) message of the story.
pect that he would be horrified to become known Still, on its surface I see nothing wrong with the
as the father of it. If he is sole patriarch, then I sus- idea of guarding against those who would take
pect he will feel that Mormon cinema has failed to advantage of us. There is more than a little wisdom
understand the path he has helped reveal. Fritz in keeping your eyes open and trying to avoid
Lang showed a new kind of complexity in film- being taken in by the dishonest or manipulative
making over eighty years ago with his ground- among us—especially when so many people equate
breaking Metropolis (an arguably reductive and innocence to stupidity and naiveté.
unchallenging film by modern standards), but he While I accept that the action of the story
certainly didn’t claim to show the ultimate extent of revolves around a closed community that has an
cinematic complexity—and neither has Dutcher. evident mistrust of the world outside that commu-
nity, I submit that such a story is neither uniquely
Did We See the Same Film? Mormon nor particularly condemning of the Mor-
mon culture over any other. Just a few months ago
As I read John-Charles Duffy’s paper I was I watched the Disney film Atlantis and saw the
repeatedly struck with how differently we inter- story of a paradisiacal society defined by shared
preted elements of Brigham City. While I certainly belief (and a certain mysticism) and founded around
can’t argue with the fact that Duffy found different an essential mistrust of outsiders. When outsiders
meanings and focuses in the film than I did, I do intrude and bring evil with them, the society must
want to offer different interpretations of some of choose whether to defend its own integrity or sub-
the events that he selects from the film. mit to the manipulations of those who care noth-
First, Duffy seems to be looking for hidden mes- ing for their unique hopes and beliefs.
sages in this film at the expense of the far more In other words, with apologies to Dutcher, the
overt expressions—hidden messages that I’m not essential conflicts are quite similar. Both of them
sure are really intended (or, I would argue, are tapped one of the fundamental stories of human-
really present). Of course that begs the entire argu- ity—how to deal with the Other, the alien, the out-
ment of whether the film reveals Dutcher’s subcon- sider, and the changes they often bring. As did
scious (or conscious) biases, and as such reveals Thomas Hardy in nearly all of his books. Or the
truths about the broader Mormon culture that we film Witness. As do the defenders of “deaf cul-
may not have admitted to ourselves. That argu- ture” against the ravages of “hearing culture.” The
ment is so subjective as to be impossible to resolve, struggle to deal with foreign influence and internal

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change has dominated cultural studies through- Mormon gospel tenet reflected in both the story of
out history. the council in heaven and the story of Adam and
The fact that at least one Mormon storyteller Eve; in both stories the best answer is not safety
chose to recognize fear of the Other in our own through isolation and ignorance but greater poten-
society and expose that recognition to a general tial through expansion and knowledge and the
audience suggests a social progressiveness on inevitable temptation that comes with it. It’s one of
Dutcher’s part that many closed societies still fail to the fundamental paradoxes of the Mormon experi-
recognize in themselves. It’s the first step toward ence and is one that each of us has to come to grips
change and recognition of common humanity. with in our own way and by our own method.
I can only hope cultural Mormonism will recognize Remembering that Ralph ran a construction
and respond to that challenge. company that hired a great many outsiders—both
in the sense of being from outside Brigham City
and from being outside the LDS religion and
The best answer is not safety culture—his mistrust was not of outsiders in gen-
eral but of outsiders who didn’t abide even by the
through isolation and igno- more liberal rules of their own culture. If an out-
sider could not be trusted to follow his own law,
rance but greater potential how could he reasonably be expected to follow the
through expansion and inside rules of a more restrictive culture? The moti-
vation for change is not there, because the outsider
knowledge and the inevitable enters the community not as a respecter of that
culture or cosupplicant with its members but as a
temptation that comes with it. profiteer coming to take value out of the commu-
nity. Temptation works both ways—presenting a
known wolf with a town full of tasty sheep is a risky
Duffy also writes: proposition at best. Simple pragmatism.
Ralph’s refusal to “hire [any] man with a Of course Ralph knows that hiding from poten-
shady history” implies a philosophy of “once tial trouble is not the best answer, either—not the
a criminal, always a criminal.” This philoso- most Christ-like answer. And he struggles with that
phy denies the possibility that a person can question, feeling that somehow he’s not living up to
change, which is to say that it denies the prin- the highest possible law himself. Yes, he justifies
ciples of repentance and forgiveness. And the that response on the basis of self-protection, but he
film knows this. Ralph admits that his approach struggles with the issue at a personal moral level.
“may not be Christ-like.” He knows better, and that collision of knowledge and
action is one of the recurring themes in the film.
Again, I think the leap from enlightened self- Ralph’s role as a man trying to live his religion
interest—or even mistrust of the Other—to social collides with his role as a man trying to carry out
eugenics and social determinism is a very, very big the business of making a living in a world that largely
one. Ralph struggles with his own mistrust as evi- disrespects his religious life, hopes, and goals. Even
denced by his admission that he’s not sure he’s then, he works to physically expand the commu-
doing the most correct thing. nity—partly to make money, and partly because he
Far from glorifying the idea of separatism, this knows the change will come and the best he can
suggests recognition that it’s just not possible to hope to do is manage it. In Brigham City, the Saints
remain separate while enjoying the benefits of the are not helpless victims of expansion; they actively
wider world. The cost of greater knowledge and participate in it even as they try to manage the
opportunity is risk of ultimate spiritual failure—a change and adapt to it on their own terms.

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This theme carries out through the rest of the Again, I think this is intended to be a bit ironic.
film and is especially embodied in the sheriff, Wes Wes has gone into something of a shell since his
(played by Dutcher). The lines between his role as wife and child died. He has tried to ignore the
bishop and sheriff are quite thin in his mind and wider world that has already cost him so much and
amount to the same thing in both cases—the social in so doing has stood idly by while the serpent
and physical protection of his people. He is forced entered his paradise. He has fallen asleep while on
on a daily basis to confront the collision of his pri- watch, lured into a complacency of wishful think-
vate religious life with his role as a public servant ing by his own desire to be separate from a danger-
and employee. That he finds it difficult to separate ous world that brings corruption along with
the two is arguably both his greatest strength and opportunity. I think the viewer is expected to rec-
his most desperate weakness. ognize the grotesque oversimplification of Wes’s
Which Wes seems to understand. When Steve proclamation as a desperate naiveté, a hope that if
(the porn collector) calls him “bishop” while Wes is he closes his eyes the evil will just go away.
searching his house for the missing girl, Wes snaps Which makes the remainder of the film an
at him not because Steve dared to identify himself exploration of Wes’s individual search for redemp-
as a member of Wes’s closed religious community tion after falling prey to that sin of complacency.
but because Wes desperately wants to keep the two If he didn’t believe it to be literally true, I think Wes
parts of his life separate as much as he can. He really hoped that all was well in Zion—a sin that
wants this evil (the serial murderer) to be from out- he would be required to face along with the
side his social and religious world and is coming to remainder of the citizens.
realize that there may not be much—or any—dif- I don’t see the perfect sinlessness of the people of
ference between the two, either literally or concep- Brigham City. Yes, we have the guilt of the woman
tually. He reacts in fear and anger for his own at the beginning of the film who feels a need to
crumbling worldview, not disgust for Steve. Find- confess her apparently trivial sins to her bishop
ing the relatively benign sin of pornography behind right now, even though Wes is currently acting as
the locked closet door was a relief of sorts, a mild sheriff rather than bishop. To her there is no differ-
taint in comparison to the evil of serial murder. ence; her religious life appears to be fully integrated
In fact, this broad concept is where my primary with her secular one. Perhaps we’re expected to see
interpretation apparently differs most widely from this as evidence that there is no real sin in Brigham
John-Charles Duffy’s view. Far from advocating City, that the small errors of this innocent people
the isolation of the Saints from all temptation (the are silly, meaningless failures that amount to noth-
outside world), the film seemed to me to empha- ing in the end.
size how thoroughly Wes failed both himself and But we don’t ever learn exactly what sins she
his community by trying to ignore the inevitable confesses, and thus we can’t really evaluate the qual-
change that had to come. Had Wes recognized ity of her error. What we do see is that she feels
that change was inevitable and taken even ordinary unworthy to commune with the Saints at the next
precautions to deal with it, he might have averted sacrament meeting, and so we know her guilt to be
some or all of the many tragedies that occurred on a poignant one for her. She has separated herself
his watch and under his protection. from the community of the Saints by choice and in
Duffy argues: recognition of error. She feels unworthy of paradise.
The Saints of Brigham City are depicted as Even Steve (the porn collector) is sheepish around
representing all that is good and innocent—a the bishop and feels guilt around him—because he
Mormon Mayberry, a “paradise.” By contrast, knows that he hasn’t turned away from his sin.
the film’s hero sums up the outside world as Conscience is working in him, and he knows that
“murderers, rapists, robbers, kids with guns . . . he is also unworthy of paradise. So Steve labels him-
the same story over and over again.” self with his dark shirt and loosened tie, as opposed

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to the white-shirted uniform of the mainstream. one who has no goodness in his soul. Every other
Steve removes himself from the mainstream, choos- character, from Wes to Steve to the barkeep to the
ing to live at the edge but unwilling to give up all repentant woman, struggles with questions of right
connection to this community. Perhaps the outside and wrong, with shades of gray that they wish they
world feeds his desires, but the inside community could resolve into black and white. Even in judging
feeds his soul. He is conflicted between his carnal his own actions Terry can only offer a simple black-
desires and his spiritual ones. and-white solution—to kill the murderer and thus
Contrast this with Terry who uses the facade of put an end to his sin. Terry is the only one who
righteousness to mask an unrepentant heart. There truly believes that there is no redemption; every
is no struggle for him, no difficulty reconciling his other major character only fears the impossibility
religious life with his secular one even though we of it while still hoping desperately for its reality.
eventually learn that he has committed murder Guilt only happens among those who still have a
before the film begins. Terry is the doppelganger, hope of redemption.
the evil spirit who goes about in the guise of right- Duffy observes:
eousness so that he can prey on the trust of the In a conversation with Meredith, the non-
innocent. LDS federal agent from Manhattan, Wes says,
Every appearance we have of Terry comes in the “I’ve heard it all my life. Because we don’t
context that though we don’t know it, he’s an unre- want to experience some of the things out
pentant serial murderer. Every utterance that comes there, some people think we’re naive.” In what
from his mouth is part of the facade that he knows we are apparently intended to see as a clever
quite well to be false. He is at best an unreliable rhetorical move, Wes flips the accusation of
observer; at worst he is the father of lies. Every naiveté, maintaining that, actually, the Saints
word he speaks is suspect. So when Terry claims are experienced in the things that truly count,
that the people of Snowflake never forgave his ear- and that it’s the world who is naive because
lier sin, I find that I have to doubt his honesty—or they don’t share those experiences. “We have
read his evaluation as a reflection of his own soul our own experiences,” Wes insists. “We get
more than theirs. When he claims that he has no down on our knees, and say our prayers, and
control over his craving to kill, I have to take it as we do our best to live the way God wants us
yet another lie, a weak justification for giving in to to live; and every now and again, He gives
the urges that all of us face. us a little experience.” Wes adds, “I guess we’re
Terry’s lack of conscience even goes so far as to both naive to one extent or another, just
allow him to perform a baptismal ordinance that he about different things.” Note that while that
knows he’s unworthy to perform. His act is an overt last statement sounds egalitarian, it isn’t really,
blasphemy, a wanton mockery of the things his because the kind of naiveté Wes attributes
neighbors find holy and intimate. He didn’t just here to the Saints is desirable, while the kind
bring sin into Brigham City—it was already of naiveté he attributes to the outside world is
there—but he brought unmitigated evil. When undesirable.
Terry later tells Wes that it’s his own fault for let-
ting Terry into paradise, he once again mocks Wes’s I had a bit of a hard time with this when I first
hope for goodness in Terry’s soul by playing games heard it because I saw it much the way Duffy did—
with Wes’s conscience. And Wes falls victim to as a weak justification of the self-imposed naiveté of
Terry’s shameless manipulation, taking guilt on many Mormons, a way of saying, “We’re better
himself that Terry would never dream of taking for than you and refuse to find value in your version of
his own acts. experience.” I tend to find the idea of intentional
In other words, the only person in the film who naiveté to be repugnant and maybe even a little
truly sees the world in black-and-white terms is the antigospel. Which is not to say that I think we

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should immerse ourselves in ugly experience, but of his victims a chance to choose their own fate.
rather that to my mind pride in our unwillingness Passionless murder as opposed to agonized self-
to seek any new experience is a sin in its own right. protection.
But I changed my mind on that. Had the Saints Duffy continues:
self-imposed naiveté saved them from the evil that The film could easily have ended more peace-
attacked their community, I think Wes’s arguments fully: Wes could simply have wrestled Terry to
would have rung hollow. But their lack of immer- the ground and cuffed him instead of stand-
sion in the outside world explicitly did not save ing there, ordering Terry to cuff himself while
them, though their immersion in seeking an inti- Terry calmly reassembles his gun, until things
mate communion with their god did provide them have reached a point where Wes is forced to
with the tools to survive their naiveté. Maybe that shoot Terry in self-defense. But the film seems
faith was just a crutch. But at the very least it was determined to bring about a violent ending.
an effective crutch, and in my mind it was the In fact, this ending looks uncannily like an act
foundation of a powerful moment of grace, of blood atonement, a notion the film itself
redemption, and growth at the end of the film. brings up early on.
It’s Wes’s desire to remain naive that creates the
opportunity for evil to thrive—something he Again, this is a case where I interpreted the film
knows at some level throughout the story and is quite differently than Duffy did. In my mind this
forced to deal with directly at the end. His choice is the moment of climax for Wes, the moment
to remain apart, to pretend that if he didn’t see evil where he actually commits the sin that tortures his
it would somehow cease to exist, was his great sin soul in the final scene.
and his great failure. I think the film makes this Of course, a simple response is to say that evil
abundantly clear before it ends. must be utterly destroyed, and Terry has proven
It’s why Meredith could not join in the catharsis himself to be exactly that—unrepentant evil. Sin
at the end. Her utter lack of experience with the exists in Brigham City, but so far only Terry is truly
spiritual upheaval she witnesses leaves her unable to evil. Still, I don’t think that’s actually what the film
interact with it. She leaves because she knows that wanted to communicate, and I think other elements
this is a thing outside her experience. When she of the film argue for a different interpretation.
absolves Wes of guilt, she can only speak in terms Remember that Wes carries tremendous guilt
of the legal definitions, not the spiritual ones, and about the car accident that killed his wife and
she knows it. She can’t offer Wes the communion child, an accident that he has absolutely no mem-
that he needs because they do not have enough ory of. He fears that he somehow caused their
shared experience. She never mocks his experience, deaths and certainly bears the survivor’s guilt for
but she also realizes that she must remain an out- living even though they are dead. This fear is the
sider to it despite her other shared experiences with thing that has seeded his complacency, his ongoing
Wes as a lawman. She could be in his world, but inaction in the face of encroaching evil. He is des-
not of it. perate to not cause the death of anyone else—per-
Duffy argues: “The film’s most horrific act of on- haps part of his motivation in staying in Brigham
screen violence comes, of course, at the climax of City where he hopes he will have no need to kill in
the film, when Wes shoots Terry, blowing him out the line of duty.
of his chair, in the presence of his wife.” I hadn’t considered the ending as an act of blood
To me the most horrific act of violence was when atonement until Duffy suggested it, but I may be
an unseen gunman brutally kills Stu with no pre- willing to accept that interpretation, if not in quite
amble and no opportunity for self-defense. Unlike the way he describes it, because I don’t think Wes
Wes’s repeated pleas that Terry stop the process that ever considered the idea of blood atonement when
must inevitably lead to his death, Terry gave none he confronted Terry; it’s an inside reference for

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those deeply familiar with Mormon culture, and a Even if I’m pushing too far in reading Terry’s
possible reflection of Dutcher’s own belief. death as an act of blood atonement, the fact
In the end the only possible act of contrition remains that Brigham City adopts a shock-
that could save Terry’s soul in the eternities was ingly violent response towards those who are,
willingly giving his own life in atonement for his or who are merely suspected of being, enemies
sins, so I think Dutcher actually provided Wes with of the community of Saints. We saw that same
the one conceptual out that would allow him to kind of response in God’s Army: the violently
shoot Terry and still find a way to forgive himself. angry reaction of Dutcher’s character to Elder
Because in Wes’s mind his own great sin was in not Kinegar, the doubting missionary. Dutcher’s
doing something earlier to stop Terry from com- films are not about turning the other cheek, or
mitting what amounts to assisted suicide—just as loving our enemies, or burying the weapons
he had failed to do anything earlier to stop Terry of violence. As we saw earlier, the philosophy
from murdering the citizens of Brigham City. promoted in Brigham City is that such Christ-
This is the sin that Wes struggles with in the last like behavior is impractical in our dangerous
scene—the act of omission that allowed his own world. If we, the righteous, are to survive in
family to die, that led to the deaths of Stu and oth- the midst of the wicked, we need to learn mis-
ers of his congregation, and that finally required trust. We need to learn to be unforgiving. We
that he kill Terry. I believe Wes knows that he could need to learn violence.
have stopped it earlier, that he could have wrestled
Terry to the ground and forced him to comply. But To me Terry knew quite well what the expected
Wes is also keenly aware of the issue of free will, of behavior of Mormons was—to turn the other cheek
his bishop’s duty to give people every opportunity and take it like good sheep. Both Terry in Brigham
to repent before pronouncing the condemning sen- City and Elder Kinegar in God’s Army were betrayers,
tence. That awareness is illustrated in Wes’s interac- people who wore the facade of inclusion in the
tions with Steve, a man who will not turn away community of the Saints primarily so they could
from his sin of pornography but who Wes has not use that inside position to mask their own sins.
yet separated from the community of the Saints; They used their inside knowledge to ensure their
Wes reserves that condemning judgment time and own safety and to manipulate the reactions of
time again. people they had come to see as silly and con-
I believe that Wes feels as guilty for killing Terry temptible.
as he does for allowing the conditions that enabled But even the Savior was roused to righteous
Terry to kill others. It’s all part of the same sin, the anger, and even Saints are justified in utterly
same paralysis in the face of predictable evil. It’s the destroying unrepentant evil from off the face of the
fundamental conflict he has in reconciling his role earth. More importantly, though, neither version of
as judge—both as a law officer and as a bishop. It’s Dutcher (as either Wes or as Elder Dalton) reveled
the ongoing struggle to integrate his spiritual life in his violence. Both characters believed their vio-
with his secular one. I think Wes really does fear lent reactions were justified, but neither believed
that he may learn to enjoy meting out lethal pun- that violence was the best response to the situation.
ishment and fears what that means in terms of his Both struggled with the issue and sought repen-
own spiritual health. That the people who have tance for it after the fact.
most right to fear him choose to stand with him in Far from advocating violent response, I believe
love and forgiveness at the end is a powerful reso- Dutcher suggests that violence—even when justi-
lution to this fear that has driven him since the very fied—is among the least favorable of responses and
first scene in the film. That he finally forgives him- is a matter of deep introspection and contemplation,
self is even more powerful to me. both before and after the fact. Again, we just had
Duffy further argues: radically different interpretations of the same scenes.

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Duffy suggests: Wes proves to be honest, to be broken-hearted.


But the film rushes to assert that Wes should He arrives late, disheveled, and clearly distraught. He
not be condemned. “Nobody blames you,” doesn’t take the pulpit to justify himself and asks
Meredith assures him. “You’re a good man, no one to forgive him. Perhaps he doesn’t believe
Wes. You really are.” Actually, Meredith is mis- he’s earned anyone’s forgiveness. But he certainly
taken: when Wes walks into sacrament meet- doesn’t believe that he has a right to ask for it—not
ing, we’re given the impression that the ward while he stands condemned in his own eyes.
does blame him, especially Ernie and Evelyn, But then the moment of grace occurs. The Saints
the parents of one of the murdered girls. discover a thing in both themselves and in each
other that they had not imagined: they discovered
Followed by: the capacity to set aside fear for just a moment—
When the ward refuses to partake of the sacra- fear that they had been betrayed by incompetence
or evil intent, fear that they were spiritually led by
ment, are they saying to Wes: “We don’t think
a man who could kill without remorse, fear that
you merit condemnation in the first place; on
after being hoodwinked by one of their own they
the contrary, we think you’re such a good man
might discover yet another imposter in their midst,
that if you’re not worthy to take the sacra-
fear that evil had entered among them and would
ment, then none of us worthy”? Or are they
destroy them.
saying: “We think your negligence was blame-
Instead, they learn compassion. They learn to
worthy, but we forgive you”? (Though in that
mourn with those that mourned. They learn to for-
case I’m tempted to ask: Will Steve, or Judy
give even when they have justification not to. In
Perkins, receive such ready forgiveness?) Or
seeing a man they know to be good in heart con-
are they saying: “We think your negligence
demn himself, they come to understand the need
was blameworthy, but we recognize that we’ve to treasure their community over their fear. They
all been guilty of that same negligence and stand in solidarity with their bishop. They judge
gullibility”? It’s not clear. the judge with more compassion than he judged
What is clear is that this scene is meant to himself, and so teach him to forgive himself.
restore our sense of the community’s inno- In other words, the community changed. It grew
cence (meaning guiltlessness). All is well in beyond the passive, complacent faith in its own
Brigham City as the final credits roll. The security to a more tested, active faith in its ability
Saints have had a horrific experience, but to survive and grow despite the evil they now knew
they’ve learned from it how to protect them- they could not avoid. Rather than returning to
selves, and their virtue, from the threat posed the same old pattern, the community has been
by the outside world. The black-and-white drawn together in a way they had not anticipated,
worldview, the siege mentality, has prevailed. a way they could never have planned for—and that
they would never have sought on their own.
I’m not sure that it matters whether the ward Are they happy for their pain? Certainly not. But
condemns Wes or not, or what basis they use in I think they are aware—or at least they become
offering him their forgiveness. When he enters the aware—that this pain has led to a new level of spir-
room, Wes condemns himself, and all other con- itual understanding and growth they could not
demnations are to some degree irrelevant at that have known by any other means.
point. There is no room in Wes’s heart for self-for- Restored the community’s guiltlessness? Not in
giveness; he knows he has failed his own expecta- the film I saw. Restored the community’s faith
tion. Perhaps every single person in that room also in itself, perhaps. But the world had already
condemned him—certainly several would be justi- changed forever, and they knew they could never
fied in such condemnation. go back. They grew up a little and in the process

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were forced to put away some things that belonged in terms of right and wrong, black and white. Evil
to a former age. Evil dwelt among them and tested must be violently suppressed or we risk losing our
them, but they survived—changed but intact. Not innocence.
the same, but better. But in my mind innocence is already lost; now
Would the ward forgive Steve and Judy so read- the question is whether we can regain compassion
ily? I don’t know. We have no evidence that the and overcome fear and condemnation—both of
ward has ever condemned them because we already ourselves and of the Other—in light of that loss.
know that Wes has kept confidence about Steve’s To me Brigham City tells a story not about how all
sins. But I think the ward learned that they have is well in Zion and all evil resides outside of it but
the capacity to forgive—a critical knowledge that rather how evil is inevitable and the best we can do
they could never have discovered had they not been is prepare to deal with it, because there is no hiding
tested by their brush with evil. from either the evil within or the evil without.
Since they perceive that evil to have come from Paradise, like Zion, is a glorious concept to be
within, I question whether they really see evil as an sought after with all our hearts and strength and
external phenomenon. We already know that Wes faith—an act of overt creation through pain and
will not share what he has learned in confidence, so joy and struggle and hope, not a thing that occurs
I have no reason to believe that they even know to us passively. Intentional naiveté can be survived,
that Terry was an imposter. Maybe they do; maybe but it’s neither a good thing nor a desirable one.
they don’t. The only way we can truly build paradise is by con-
I think it’s irrelevant because I don’t think this is fronting our fear and pain and passing through it;
a film about how Mormons should insulate them- only by confronting evil can we make it irrelevant.
selves against the outside world but rather is a film Only by leaving the paradise of someone else’s
about how people should prepare themselves to creation—often forcefully (who would willingly
deal with whatever evil it is that penetrates the veil leave paradise, after all?)—can we hope to learn the
of complacency, wherever that evil comes from. To tools to build a paradise of our own creation, a par-
me this film is not about petty judgmentalism and adise not of naiveté but of the knowledge of good
seeing the world in black and white but rather is and evil.
a story about discovering forgiveness within our- Brigham City is a story of loss, but it’s also a story
selves—and perhaps even a little nobility of spirit— with a powerful promise. A story of sin and per-
and finding the capacity to become more than we sonal failure and not only the hope of redemption
were through a direct interaction with both good but the very real fact of it as well. A simple story,
and evil. perhaps—but not simplistic.
Remember that for Mormons the fall of paradise
was the beginning not only of this vale of tears Short-story and technical writer Scott Parkin lives
but also of our greatest hope to learn and grow with his wife and children in Santaquin, Utah. He
and become even as the gods, knowing good from serves as awards chairperson for the AML.
evil and choosing our course in knowledge, not
superstition.
We appear to have seen two very, very differ-
ent films.

A Counterargument
I accept that Duffy sees Brigham City as a sim-
plistic object lesson about how evil only comes in
from outside and how Mormons see the world only

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M E M O I R President Gardiner approved gladly, as long as I


E X C E R P T
was never alone with just one of the elders or never
alone, period. That was fine with all of us.
Everyone in both of Tainan’s districts saw Sister
Converting Oneself Bingley off at the station. I cried when her train
by Holly Welker left, but within minutes it was as if she had never
existed: people simply disappeared once they left
Note: This excerpt is from a memoir titled The Rib the mission field. As soon as the train was out of
Cage, forthcoming from Signature Books. sight, an elder in the other district turned to me
and said, “Welcome to the west Tainan district for
a week, Sister Welker.”
Ah! It is so easy to convert others. It is so difficult
“I’m staying in the east district,” I said.
to convert oneself. He started. “What?”
—Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist “I’m doing a trade-off with my elders,” I said.
“You’re what?” he asked.
Early one Friday morning, my district leader “It’s a regular split. We thought it would be bet-
Elder George and his companion Elder Larkin ter this way, and the president said it was OK for
buzzed our apartment and said they needed to talk me to work with Elder George and Elder Larkin,”
to us. “Bad news,” Elder George said when we got I added, seeing how aghast the elder looked.
down to the street. “There’s no move sheet and no Elder George had a huge, engaging smile. You
move. The missionaries at the MTC didn’t get their didn’t notice how big his mouth was until he
visas, and President Gardiner is going to wait to do smiled, but then you were struck by the evenness
the move until their visas come through. It’s easier and whiteness of his teeth, by the genuineness of
just to leave everybody where they are—easier for his pleasure, although when he laughed he sounded
everyone, of course, except those people who have like he was choking to death. He was from Mesa,
a companion with a plane ticket out of here.” Arizona, which meant that if you got on Main
That was me. My trainer and companion of four Street in my town, Thatcher, and drove west for a
months, Sister Bingley, was finishing her mission hundred and fifty miles, you’d end up on Main
and leaving Taiwan on Monday. “Great,” I said. Street in his town.
“What am I going to do? I don’t want to work with As most Mormons know, missionaries are for-
my roommates. Sister Steele and Sister Ma don’t bidden to touch anyone of the opposite sex, except
get along, and it’s not going to help matters to have for the occasional friendly handshake. Since some
me tagging along. Plus I just don’t want to go to human touch is necessary to basic emotional
their ward.” health, missionaries often become physically affec-
“I don’t think you have much choice,” Sister tionate with their companions, at least if they get
Bingley said. along well. It’s not quite like being in the navy, but
“I wish the president would let me work with you get the idea. I have pictures of myself draped
you guys,” I said to Elder George. over other sisters, or kissing them on the cheek. We
“That would be OK with us, wouldn’t it, Elder never thought anything about it. But Sister Bingley
Larkin?” Elder George asked. and I were never very affectionate—in retrospect I
“It would be really fun,” Elder Larkin said. have to say that I don’t know why not—and when
“The president wouldn’t really allow that, would I first began working with the elders, it was jarring
he?” Sister Bingley asked. for me to walk around with two men who were
“Why not?” Elder George said. “One AP or one constantly draping their arms around one another.
ZL can go on a trade-off with two sisters, so why We were, after all, human, and missionaries some-
can’t one sister go on a trade-off with two elders?” times flirted with the opposite sex, or even wound

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up in a serious romance; every so often missionaries even a few thousand) characters. Studying written
got in touch after they went home, started dating, Chinese requires diligence and discipline, as well as
and got married. A few elders developed crushes on an understanding of certain principles about how
me later, and for the last six months of my mission characters are organized and identified. I never cul-
I was nuts about Elder Churchill, a grinning, affable tivated enough diligence to work seriously at learn-
guy close to seven feet tall. But there were no roman- ing to read Chinese—I preferred using my study
tic overtones to my friendship with Elder George. time to read scriptures in English—but Elder
I have a campy photo of him kneeling imploringly George explained to me the formulas I needed to
before me on the beach, as if he’s proposing, but we study written Chinese, even in my haphazard way.
both knew there was nothing behind it. Our regard One morning we taught a discussion to Hwang
for each other felt very fraternal. Hwei Ru, an earnest, efficient housewife whom Sis-
In the first discussion I taught with the elders, I ter Bingley and I had been visiting for a few weeks.
was confronted with the different way they handled She asked to hear our true and honest feelings. “I’ve
things. First of all, their Chinese—especially Elder been to testimony meeting,” she said, pulling her
George’s—was excellent, good enough that he him- little boy onto her lap, “but not everyone sounds
self could read the passages of scriptures we used in sincere. Some people sound like they’re following a
teaching our discussions, something plenty of mis- formula. And I know you tell me things you’re sup-
sionaries never learned to do. The ones who did posed to tell me, but I want to know what you
were usually elders willing to spend most of their really feel.”
time memorizing characters. As for the rest of us, So Elder Larkin bore his testimony, eloquently
we marked important passages with red pencil, and convincingly, I thought, but Hwang Hwei Ru
handed the bible to the investigators, and had them just nodded. “What about you?” she said, turning
read the marked passage aloud. Because Elder to me.
George had more control over the language, he I frowned and shrugged. “Well, the simplest,
could relax more during a discussion; it made his most honest thing I can tell you is this: even though
teaching seem less mechanical than the discussions I sometimes wish it were otherwise, I still know I
I’d taught with Bingley. have to try to obey the commandments because
But Elder Larkin’s Chinese was also very good, I know the Church is true. I know its teachings are
much better than mine had been when I’d been on designed to make us happy, and I’ve seen it work in
the island for two months, and I soon discovered a lot of people’s lives. It doesn’t matter how I want
why: since the elders almost never cooked (Sister the world to be; it matters how it is. And that’s why
Bingley quite liked to cook and we ate many meals I’m here.”
at home) and always tried to talk to someone while She bent to pick up a toy her son had dropped,
they ate their meals out, they managed to avoid but her eyes were fixed on my face. “I believe you,”
using up the time off allotted for meals and thus she said. “That’s the first time I’ve really felt touched
felt entitled to take a two-hour break every after- by what someone says when they’re talking about
noon to study. the Church.”
During this daily study break, Elder George The elders made arrangements to visit her hus-
began teaching me about characters. It was impos- band, who was not as interested in Christianity as
sible not to learn a few characters simply by paying she was, but she thought meeting the elders might
attention: the character for middle or center, for help him. At that point I was happily certain she
instance, is a box with a line drawn down the middle, would be baptized.
and since China calls itself “the center kingdom,” Although I enjoyed the split with the elders, I
you saw it fairly often. But Elder George qualified soon began to tire of it—it took more work to
as what the elders called a dz wang, a “character coordinate three people than two; and since I had
king,” someone who knew several hundred (or promised the president I would never be alone, the

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elders couldn’t go home at night until my room- with, but I looked for women pushing strollers; all
mates showed up at our apartment—and I wasn’t the women I spoke to understood me. Whether or
allowed to let the elders wait inside. As of Thursday not they were interested was another matter; but
evening, there was still no word from the MTC not one of them turned to my senior companion
that the missionaries had received their visas, so a and asked, “What’s she saying?”
chance remained that I’d have to continue with the At 6 P.M. Elder George replaced Elder Cobalt
split for another week. I wasn’t excited by the again and said to me, “Guess what. The president
prospect. I was having fun and learning a lot, but I called this morning, and you get a real companion
wanted the normal routine back. on Monday, a really good real companion: Sister
My journal entries from the week I spent with Ming.” I’d seen her at mission conference; she
George and Larkin are generally meager: I was too spoke excellent English and three dialects of Chi-
busy and too tired when I got home to write. nese; President Gardiner was always having her
There’s one exception, however: I wrote a lot about translate things.
Friday, December 6, because it was the day I fig-
ured out that maybe I did know something about
being a missionary, that maybe my heart was in the I can be even more sincere
right place a lot of the time, and that maybe I did
a few things right. That morning, Elder Larkin and effective than I ever knew
showed up with Elder Cobalt, a quiet elder I had
known briefly at the MTC. Elder George traded off I could be, and people are still
with Elder Cobalt’s companion, Elder Cole; it was
one of the last chances they’d have to work
going to be bored because the
together, since Elder Cole was going home in mid- vocabulary is too hard or
December. This left three junior companions
working together, with no clear-cut figure of because they just don’t care.
authority. As we stood on the landing outside my
apartment for our companionship prayer, I said,
“Who’s da tungban [senior companion]?” I was glad to know that the split would end
Elder Cobalt said, “You are. You’ve been here the soon, but I still had to get through my English class
longest.” That was fine with me. We had no appoint- that night. It had been a long day, and as senior
ments and no definite schedule during the day, so companion I’d had to think more than I ever had
we visited members in the morning. As I talked to before on my mission; I was exhausted. Before
the people we visited and explained why we’d class, a student who was also an investigator
come, I was astonished to realize how much Chi- stopped me in the hall. “Can you talk about Easter
nese I understood and dismayed at how much I tonight?” she asked. “I know Christmas is coming
had let Sister Bingley translate for me in the past. up, and I want to know how Easter is different
I had never been called upon to translate for some- from Christmas.”
one before, but several times that afternoon I trans- “OK,” I said. Because I felt more confident, I
lated for the elders. In the afternoon we went to the decided to push the spiritual aspect: I put on my
park to first-contact new investigators, and I was best missionary attitude and dragged up all I could
surprised that not only did I not need someone to remember about Palm Sunday, Judas Iscariot, Pon-
translate Chinese into English for me, I also didn’t tius Pilate, Gethsemane, Golgotha, the angel
need someone to explain in more fluent Chinese rolling away the stone, and Mary Magdalene’s tears
what I’d been trying to say with my rudimentary when she found the tomb empty. A strong emo-
vocabulary. Elder Larkin and Elder Cobalt looked tional current filled the room—what we typically
for men they could hand pamphlets to and talk identified as “the Spirit”—and I could see from

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their faces that a few people were touched. I spoke effective than I ever knew I could be, and people
carefully about the importance of seeking Christ as are still going to be bored because the vocabulary is
one’s savior and invited them to study more about too hard or because they just don’t care. It stinks.”
his death and resurrection. “Any questions?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said. “The just not caring part is the
One man—one of the people who looked as if worst.”
he’d been moved—raised his hand. “Who did you “Well, this translation business doesn’t help. I could
say killed Jesus?” he asked. “Also, are there any be such a better missionary if I could speak English
other holidays that have to do with Jesus Christ?” to people who understand me,” I said. “I mean, I
“Christmas is the main holiday about Jesus,” really have studied this stuff.”
I said. “That’s about his birth. Easter is about his “You’re still a pretty good missionary, even speak-
death and resurrection. The Romans crucified Jesus, ing Chinese,” he said.
at the request of the religious leaders who consid- I shook my head.
ered Jesus blasphemous. Anything else?” “Listen, I’ve watched you teach all week. I’m not
“Can you tell us more about this Judas?” just trying to make you feel better. Don’t you think
“He hanged himself after Christ was dead. He she’s a good teacher, Elder Larkin?”
got 30 pieces of silver for revealing who Jesus was, “Of course,” he said. “You rock, Sister Welker.”
and he threw the money away and then hanged I smiled. “Thanks.”
himself. Other questions?” I asked, expecting more “In fact,” Elder George said, “our next discus-
inquiries about the spiritual lesson I’d just taught. sion will help you see what a good missionary you
A woman in the back said, “Next week, can we really are. You’ll love this guy. His name is David
talk about something besides Jesus?” Gau. He’s older. His English is terrific. He’s ready
I felt my back sag as I absorbed her question. to be baptized except that he smokes. You’ll just
I looked at her, then looked around the room. Sev- love him.”
eral people were frowning, and a few were already And I did. He was just what I had imagined a
closing notebooks and preparing to leave. I frowned classical Chinese man would be—refined, kind,
myself. “Some of you didn’t like this much, did you.” sincere, gracious, educated, quiet, dignified—in a
She wrinkled her nose. “The vocabulary was too word, a gentleman, truly a gentleman. The furni-
hard.” ture in his home was the huge, heavy classical Chi-
At that point, two of my favorite students—two nese stuff, and the walls were covered with
girls in high school—looked at each other. One paintings and calligraphy he’d done himself.
said, “Can you tell us about Woodstock? About”— One of the things we had to do all the time was
she peered at a sheet of paper—“Janis Joplin?” ask people to renounce their vices—or at least what
Normally I loved talking about pop music, but the Church considered vices, including coffee, tea,
suddenly I had nothing to say. “All I can tell you alcohol, tobacco, and premarital sex. One of my
about Woodstock is that Jimi Hendrix played ‘The friends who served a mission in Costa Rica said the
Star Spangled Banner’ at it. I don’t know much about Church was unpopular there because so many
Janis Joplin. She was never my scene.” I dismissed people made their living from coffee production.
class before anyone could ask another question. In Taiwan, a lot of people were willing to agree to
I felt I’d been stepped on. I went in the bath- our requests—they’d read the Book of Mormon;
room and started crying, then found an empty they’d pray—until we reached the fourth discus-
classroom to pray in. Eventually Elder George sion, which included the explanation of the dietary
knocked on the door. “What’s going on, Sister code, the Word of Wisdom. Then, when we asked
Welker? Why are the lights off?” them to give up tea and tobacco, they’d balk.
“Oh,” I said, wiping my nose, “I just had a lousy As luck would have it, the fourth discussion was
English class. I mean, it was great until the end, what we were to teach David Gau that night. After
until I realized that I can be even more sincere and the opening prayer Elder George said to me, “You

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teach the Word of Wisdom.” I about died. I’d He smiled and spread his hands. “But before
known this man for ten minutes and I was sup- God, I am just a little boy.”
posed to help him overcome his main baptism As the elders and I rode our bikes home, we
obstacle? Sure. I taught the concept in Chinese and talked about humility and being receptive to guid-
asked a few questions, then turned to Elder George, ance. Elder George asked if I had learned anything
expecting him to take over. But he said, “Do you about the topic. “Do you remember that perfume
have anything else you want to say?” commercial,” I said, “the one that goes, ‘If you
“Yes, but I don’t know what it is.” want to capture someone’s attention, whisper’? I’ve
“Keep talking,” he said. had spiritual experiences before, but I always felt
So I told David Gau in English how impressed I the Lord had to hit me on the head with a saucepan
was by him and that I hoped he didn’t think I was before I knew what they were. Today, he whispered
presumptuous but I knew the Lord would help him to me. And I heard it.”
quit smoking if he’d work on it, and I asked if I But the next day I was, as Elder George put it, a
could help. He said, “Yes. Please pray for me.” bag of garbage to be dropped off as soon as pos-
I turned to Elder George again, signaling that I sible. I was sluggish, and when Elder George asked
was finished, and he said, “Is there anything else in what was wrong and I said, “Menstrual cramps and
that heart of yours that you want to say?” a headache,” it prompted a spiritual minicrisis for
“Yes, but I can’t figure out how to get it out.” him. I don’t know if he felt threatened by the work-
“Just keep talking, Sister Welker, keep talking.” ings of the female body or embarrassed that he
I took a deep breath and thought, Fasting. Ask hadn’t been more sensitive to mine, but he shrank
this man about fasting. So I said, “Have they taught into himself and declared that he had nothing more
you about fasting?” to offer that day.
“Fasting?” he repeated, drawing back and shak- I taught a discussion alone while Elder George
ing his head. “I know that some religions claim it is and Elder Larkin talked in another classroom of the
a source of spiritual discipline, a way to test and chapel. They phoned their roommates and asked
increase the limits of the body, but it has never that someone else work with me for the rest of the
seemed to me particularly healthy.” day; Elder Black and his companion showed up at
“I admit it’s not my favorite thing,” I said. “A lot 5 P.M., and the three of us passed an absolutely
of the time I find it really difficult. But it can give wretched evening. I’d met harder workers: I hadn’t
you a kind of clarity. In certain ways it makes you thought of myself as particularly gung-ho until I
feel really strong.” worked with Elder Black. “I have seven months
He sat silently, his gaze turned inward. “A way to left, and I can’t wait to go home,” he said. “Taiwan
test and increase the limits of the body,” he repeated and Chinese people just aren’t for me. I’m not sorry
to himself. I wasn’t even sure he’d heard my last to be on a mission, but I wish I’d served in the
remark until he turned to me and said, “A kind of States. Once I get back to Utah, I hope to sleep in
clarity would be nice. Maybe I will try it.” He my own bed every single night for the rest of my
looked at the elders. “Perhaps you would do it with life.”
me?” he asked. We knocked on doors with little enthusiasm and
And then I felt I’d said what was left in my heart no success until it started raining. “What do you
to say. want to do, Sister Welker?” Elder Black asked. “It’s
David Gau offered the prayer that closed the dis- only 8 o’clock.”
cussion. “And thank you, Lord,” he said in English, “I don’t know,” I said. “I feel so lousy. But I
“for sending this lovely woman to help me with my know Sister Ma and Sister Steele won’t be home for
difficulties.” at least another hour.”
“I’m so pleased to have met you,” I said when he “We could wait for them outside your apart-
finished. “You’re such a gentleman.” ment,” he said, “in case they come home early.”

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So that’s what we did. On the way home I “You know I requested you,” Elder George said.
stopped at a flower stand and bought some roses, I looked at him. “What?”
one for Elder George (Elder Black delivered it) and “When your paperwork came through, I was sec-
one for my roommate Sister Steele, whom I retary in the office. Since we were both from Ari-
depended on for comfort in situations such as this. zona, President Gardiner let me read your letter of
Of course my roommates were late getting home. introduction. It was so funny. People are usually just
When they did arrive and I could go inside, I bus- trying to be all spiritual, but you actually talked
tled around the apartment until midnight, feeling about your life. And you were funny. I kept laugh-
unhappy and confused. I made cookies for the eld- ing and saying, ‘I want to work with this person!’”
ers to show my gratitude for how they’d accommo- “I’m just so glad it happened,” I said.
dated me during the week. I was willing to break “Do you have any advice for us?” Elder Larkin
curfew because I knew I wouldn’t sleep, and I fig- asked.
ured I might as well test the dictum that if you’re I reflected a moment. “Well, something you
unhappy, doing something for someone else will guys do really well is explain. You both have such
make you feel better, or at least it will distract you good Chinese. I think sometimes you rely on your
from your own melancholy. excellent Chinese too much and you explain all this
Sunday was better—Sundays were usually better, doctrine, but you pass up opportunities to talk
because we had meetings all morning and because about what the Church means to you. I guess I’ve
it was the day before P-day. But I felt better—my realized that I have more of a testimony than I
cramps were gone—and the sun was out. Elder thought I did, and I’ve realized how vital it is to
George recovered from his funk as well. The talks share it when teaching about the Church. Does
and lessons were good enough, and my investiga- that make sense?”
tors with baptismal commitments all showed up, “It makes a lot of sense,” Elder George said.
and while I had to do a lot of running around to “Thanks.”
take care of them, it was better than having noth- I felt different about my whole mission after that
ing to do. And I felt that in the end, the horrible- week, more committed to the right things and more
ness of Saturday just made me appreciate how excited to be there. As I wrote in my journal, I was
fantastic the rest of the week was. “ready to set it all on fire.” Unfortunately in only a
At lunchtime, all six elders said to me, “We all few months I would be the one to get burned.
decided that we don’t care if you come in our
apartment, and we also don’t care if the president Holly Welker served in the Taiwan Taichung Mission
finds out, so have a seat on the couch while we from 1985 to 1986 and later earned a Ph.D. in Eng-
make you lunch.” We discussed all kinds of things, lish literature from the University of Iowa. She lives in
though we carefully avoided topics such as mar- Thatcher, Arizona.
riage or polygamy that day, subjects about which
we had argued in the past. The rose I had given
Elder George stood in a vase at the center of the
table. “Thanks,” he said. “No one else has given me
flowers on my mission.”
As we rode our bikes around that evening, Elder
George, Elder Larkin, and I talked about what a
good week we’d had. “I’ve seen your confidence
grow so much, Sister Welker,” Elder George told
me. “It’s really been a privilege to watch.”
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s been a privilege to work
with you guys.”

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M E M O I R But I can’t help but wonder: if Dutcher is so


righteous, why did he renege on a promise to write
Dutcher and Me a blurb for the back cover of my novel Angel of
the Danube? I never talked to the man directly,
By A. R. Mitchell but Dutcher’s assistant (let’s call her Friday) said
he would read it and decide. Then, after the other
Okay, I stole the title from the movie Roger and blurbs were in, Friday called me to say Dutcher
Me about the laid-off autoworkers in Flint, Michi- was sorry but he didn’t have time to read the
gan, during the recession of the eighties. Roger manuscript.
Smith was the CEO of General Motors, and the “But he agreed,” I reminded Friday. “We had a
director spent the whole movie trying to interview contract of sorts.” I offered to let him write the
him. It didn’t happen. The show was not well blurb without reading the manuscript. Friday said
known, but seeing it came in handy when the sixty- no. I then offered to write the blurb for him, but
something welfare missionary came to our ward Friday said it would be immoral to recommend a
and ended up pulling calves from mama cows at book without reading it. From my perspective,
the church farm. When he said he was Roger Smith Dutcher reneging on reading my book was an
and had worked in Detroit for thirty years, I immoral act. A damnable offense. He needs to
accused him of being the CEO. repent. And I say that with the utmost charity.
“No, but we had the same name,” he told me. • • •
“And we both worked for GM. And every time we Fast-forward a year. The list for AML (Almost
went on strike, the TV news would interview me— Mormon Lit) is an electronic discussion group of
Roger Smith—holding a picket, wearing my union literature-loving, codependent, Scott Card wannabes
cap. And my wife used to have fun with it, calling who eagerly anticipate the birth of the Mormon
the plant and asking for her husband, Roger Smith.” Oprah Winfrey who will market their art. One
Dutcher and I have a relationship much like the evening the computer monitor blinked at me—I
two Rogers. They both worked for GM—we both blinked back and there was an e-mail from a sec-
work for Zion. We attend church, pay tithing, and ond Dutcher assistant (let’s call her Saturday) ask-
occasionally home teach. And we tell stories. ing for a female author to write a novelization
Dutcher produced the Great Mormon Missionary sequel from the sister missionary’s perspective.
Movie and made a million bucks. I wrote the Great Technically, I’m male, but I have the perspective.
Mormon Missionary Novel and made $713.45. On a mission, I held the same approximate rank as
Don’t get me wrong; God’s Army was a great flick. a sister missionary. My sister was a missionary.
A mission is a right place for a coming-of-age story. I married a sister missionary. When I was ward mis-
The Hollywood setting was awesome, almost as sion leader (twice), they assigned me to work with
colorful as my Vienna. Adding the sister missionary the sister missionaries (twice). I once wrote a short
as a romantic interest played well—of course, her story about sister missionaries.
character was a one-dimensional blonde who Sometime before, I’d been thinking maybe the
dumped her fiancée and went on a mission so she Deseret News columnist who reviewed Angel was
could meet and eventually marry a greenie three right. He said my book might have been popular if
years her younger. I would have replaced her with a it had been the story of a sister missionary. Since
dark-eyed, folktale-spouting investigator with more my mission, I had gradually acquired the viewpoint
romantic appeal, but the blonde worked for him of a mature woman, and this enabled me to com-
and the people showed up at the theaters and prehend Mormon male silliness. In the instant
Dutcher made money and lived to produce another when I saw Saturday’s evening post, the Spirit told
day. Yeah, a lot of people think Dutcher is God’s me I was perfect for the job. And it wouldn’t hurt
gift to cinema. to have Dutcher’s marketing machine.

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But Saturday was emphatic that Dutcher was in a makeshift office somewhere in Utah County.
emphatic about wanting a female writer. Most of Probably Dutcher’s niece. Probably supporting her
the men on AML-List were emphatic—there was a husband through school. Pregnant and covered
bad strain of emphaticarrhea running around—that with acne from all the chemical imbalances. She
good writing isn’t dependent on gender. Soon it would like flowers. Or maybe she was a single 39-
became a hot discussion topic on AML-List, right year-old mother of five. She desperately needed
up there with 1) What constitutes Mormon litera- flowers. I signed the card, To Saturday, from the
ture? 2) The morality of viewing R-rated movies, Great Mormon Missionary Novelist.
and 3) Anything that Eric Samuelsen writes. The Second, I called Saturday and let her thank me pro-
next round of posts came 24 hours later. The women fusely for the flowers. I had the distinct impression
emphatically protested, “You’ve taken everything she hadn’t received a flower since last Mother’s Day
else in the world; do you have to steal our feminin- at the close of church. Then she emphatically said
ity, too?” Dutcher wanted a female writer. I told her that I
was just the woman for the job and would send the
outline. She couldn’t guarantee Dutcher would
Dutcher spoke emphatically read it. Like I hadn’t heard that line before.
A testimony is a funny thing. Over the next two
of a vision of a Mormon days I was overcome by the Spirit—I knew I would
genre that is unapologetic write the Great Mormon Novel and that it would
be about a sister missionary. I even went so far as to
in telling our story. formulate a female pen name: Alexis Mitchell.
(Yeah, call me Lexi.) I would show those cliquey
women on AML-List. I would be the Mormon
The next day the men responded, “It’s not the Joanne Steinbeck, the Mormon Gloria Steinem,
writer—it’s the perspective.” Another day, and the Mormon Brönte sisters! The novel would have
the women pointed out that only females could every good quality from my first novel and be
truly be in touch with femininity. Finally, Scott graced by the feminine mystic. I’d put a liberated
Bronson (the brawny actor, talented playwright, woman on a mission, have her yearn for love, and
director, and novelist) emphatically wrote about give her a companion named Lenny who wants to
the time he went into labor and gave birth. It was raise rabbits and alfalfa and, of course, baptize.
great writing—it silenced the women for at least Who would know the author’s real sex anyway?
a day. Bronson is great! Like in his play Stones Does it show in the ink? Is there an Olympic-
where the boy Jesus actually wins an argument with inspired urine test for writers? In Tooele, there is a
his mother. And Bronson doesn’t give up easily. county employee who puts on a dress and does his
When he couldn’t land the female writer gig, he hair and carries a purse, and he/she is ugly but, hey,
went out and got cancer so he could write about I’ve seen worse. If he can do the woman thing, I can
another character from the movie. Lost his hair— certainly write the woman thing. Sure, if the book
the whole works. Bronson’s great! (He got better.) had to be written longhand, one could tell the dif-
Dutcher, on the other hand, would be hard to ference: the handwriting would have to be faked
crack, and I knew better than to enter the fray. with more swirls, lighter ink, bigger, neater letters,
I decided to take the moral high ground (i.e., the fewer misspellings—but this is the age of word pro-
feminine ground). I would write an outline for the cessing. I’m liberated!
Great Sister Missionary Novel, and I would beat their I e-mailed my ideas to my editor—a former sis-
sexist attitude with faith, hope, charity, and bribes. ter missionary. She wrote back, “Forget it, Lexi.
First, I wired Saturday a bouquet of flowers. What are you going to say about the sister mis-
Undoubtedly she was a poor receptionist at a desk sionary character? That she is blonde and beautiful?

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That she bakes good cookies? That she will make for my printer. And she advised me about peddling
an awesome Relief Society president some day?” it to a publisher, worked in the production aspects,
Undaunted, I wrote the outline for the Mormon edited it—in other words, she is a faithful co-
Grapes of Wrath. It was unapologetic. Colorful. Hon- dependent. Marilyn has written and published a
est. Poignant. Comic. Tragic. And it was kind and dozen books herself while running two theaters,
gentle, like Anne of Green Gables but with a little editing books every afternoon, and sending daily
Bette Midler thrown in. The sister missionaries letters of encouragement to AML-List members.
enter a Hooverville and tract out the ex-con Tom The Great Cheerleader of Mormon Literature—
Joad and his younger brother Al, who quit smoking she is sixty going on sixteen. She is such a fireball
and swearing and take the missionary discussions. that her name “Brown” doesn’t quite fit her—she
They shave, go to church, and accept a baptism should change it to Marilyn Magenta.
date. The church welfare system takes over and gets
them housing and jobs. The book concludes on the
Sunday that Rose-of-Sharon’s baby is blessed and As he waxed poetic about our
Ma Joad is called as the Relief Society homemaking
leader. I e-mailed it to my editor. vision of Mormon arts, it
“Wow!” she wrote back. “You are a genius!”
I slipped the outline in a manila envelope and
occurred to me that if he
mailed it to Saturday. keeps speaking so honestly,
• • •
Two weeks later, the envelope came back he will need a friend someday.
stamped INSUFFICIENT ADDRESS. I called Saturday.
Seems the street address was correct, but I had neg-
lected to write Suite 209. I tried to explain to Sat- I hadn’t seen Marilyn since we were together on
urday about my calling as the Great Mormon Sister the streets of Springville between the Read Leaf
Missionary Novelist. Saturday responded, “Don’t bookstore and the Magenta Theater and she flashed
bother—we’ve already selected a sister missionary a two-fingered peace sign at Scott Card and ran
writer.” Ouch! away as fast as her sixteen-year-old legs could carry
I asked her, “What am I supposed to do with the her, leaving me with a two-dollar paperback copy
Great Mormon Novel?” of Ender’s Revenge that Card politely autographed.
• • • The next thing I knew, I was sitting between Mar-
Fast-forward a month. I crashed the Sunstone ilyn and the publisher of Signature Books in a Sun-
symposium with a dozen copies of Angel to sell at stone session and listening to Richard Dutcher
their book table. A local psychologist was address- address the subject of Mormon film. He was dressed
ing the group on the challenges facing returning like a movie mogul in a sport jacket without the tie.
missionaries and was using my novel as a specific He spoke emphatically of a vision of a Mormon
example of the general neurosis. Just my luck, the genre that is unapologetic in telling our story. That
speech was rescheduled to the following day. With destroys stereotype with colorful characters. That is
nothing to do, I planned to leave after visiting the honest in its portrayal of the culture, but with
table selling the full text of the Book of the Brother poignant moments of understanding. That depicts
of Jared, when I serendipitously met Marilyn Brown. both the comic and tragic sides of the Mormon life.
Marilyn’s great! She had sponsored a Mormon He explained how it felt to be Columbus discover-
novel contest with a $1,000 prize that had prompted ing the brave new world of Mormon film.
me to finish Angel and become a novelist. She hon- I was mesmerized by his every word. He was
ored my book with runner-up status and awarded describing my book! Didn’t he realize we were of
me 35 dollars, which I spent on an inkjet cartridge one mind? One brain in two bodies. One in pur-

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pose. The Great Mormon Filmmaker meets the whom can you trust? A week later the U.S. Postal
Great Mormon Novelist. Dutcher and Me. We Service sent it back marked NOT RECEIVED BY
comprehended the Mormon experience, the role of SENDER. Didn’t Franz Kafka write a story about a
evil in art, the relationship between testimony and fearsome guard at the gate? Kafka didn’t tell us
trials. Our minds were opened, and we perceived about the shimmering blonde hair and the gor-
the future, the past, and the present in one giant geous black dress.
orb. We were tight, like Joseph and Hyrum, Urim • • •
and Thummim, Cheech and Chong. Dutcher, the other half of my mind who doesn’t
Except for that little thing of him dissing Johnny know I exist, will have to travel separately from me
Lingo. Yes, Lingo may be racist and offensive to spe- for a while. As he waxed poetic about our vision of
cific Pacific Island cultures and to women in gen- Mormon arts, it occurred to me that if he keeps
eral, and probably to cows, but this just shows that speaking so honestly, he will need a friend someday.
great works of art can be interpreted on so many Dutcher’s great! Unapologetic. Colorful. Honest.
levels. On the flipside, its ugly-duckling storyline Poignant. Comic. It’s going to get him in trouble.
and message of kindness to homely women have See, he’s just pretending he’s a director with the
made it a powerful cultural symbol. Did Dutcher long, slicked-back hair, the sport coat, and the effi-
really think his movie’s motto “Let’s do some good” cient secretary. But we know that underneath it all
was going to outlast “Mahanna—you ugly! Come he is the over-mature district leader with white
down from that tree!” shirt and tie, filling us with his artistic visions. And
And there was that trifle about Dutcher ignoring he’s going to suffer us till we get it right. Just watch:
me. He was, in a sense, treating me a little like a someday he’ll collapse, end up in the hospital, then
district leader treats a sister missionary. Zion Films escape and raise someone from the dead, start a
indeed! In Zion, we should all be on equal footing. movement, get thrown in jail, and die at the hands
Marilyn whispered to me that they had also of a painted-face mob. Dutcher’s great!
rejected her novelization bid. I comforted her by And tragic. We’ll meet someday on the yellow-
saying that if Dutcher and Saturday had done their brick road to Hooverville. Dutcher won’t know me,
homework, they would have begged us to write for because he didn’t read Angel. But that’s okay,
them. Then I confided to her my obsession with because I always carry a copy.
the Mormon Grapes of Wrath. Marilyn told me to
write it anyway. “I have to now,” I confided. “I have Alan Rex Mitchell was raised in rural Oregon and
a testimony about it.” served an LDS mission to Vienna, Austria. He lives
Then Marilyn said, “Look, there is Saturday!” on the historic Bennion ranch near Vernon in western
How can I say this discreetly? Saturday was not Utah with his wife and children. He welcomes e-mail
the lonesome niece with acne. My first thought at alan@trilobyte.net.
was: Repent at once for the flowers! My second
thought was: I bet she drove the elders crazy on her
mission. My third thought—let’s not dwell on my
third thought.
Afterward, Marilyn introduced me to Dutcher,
and I may have been wrong but I didn’t think it was
the time or place to counsel him in love and truth.
Besides, all my copies of Angel were out in the hall.
Then Saturday gushed all over when she realized it
was me who had sent the flowers. Later I mustered
the courage to ask her how she liked my outline.
She said she hadn’t seen it. If you can’t trust beauty,

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E D I T O R I A L S T O R Y

A Note on This Issue’s Fiction Habits


By Tory Anderson, Fiction Editor By Karen Rosenbaum

While perusing the fiction submissions looking “Are you a nun?” asked the nurse practitioner,
for stories for this issue, I noticed a theme among who had a faint but distinct mustache, like Erlene’s
three of the stories. That interested me because this old high school gym teacher. Erlene flushed and
is not a themed issue and I have not been soliciting exhaled. She had just requested the speculum for
fiction along any particular theme other than that virgins.
of exploring the Mormon experience. The coinci- “No,” she whispered and put her head back on
dental theme is loosely that of “Woman Bearing the examining table, her feet back in the stirrups.
Child.” Each story differs in subject (within the She closed her eyes and clenched her fists. Still, it
theme), in purpose, in style, and in tone. No doubt wasn’t as bad as before she discovered there was a
each of you readers will respond differently to each speculum for virgins.
story. Some of you may find one too conservative “Can’t ever tell nowadays,” said the nurse practi-
and traditional for your tastes. Others may find one tioner. “I mean, I guess some nuns still wear those
too liberal and a little unsettling. However, as I read head pieces and—what are they called?”
these stories I found legitimate experience in each “Habits,” said Erlene through her teeth. Cold
case and felt that I had a wonderful, but brief and metal slid out of her. A gloved hand was now prob-
certainly incomplete, glimpse of what crosses dif- ing her insides.
ferent Mormon women’s minds when the subject “Last week I was doing a nun who was a teacher,”
of woman bearing child comes up. said the nurse practitioner. “She had slacks and a
The story titled “First” may be the least unset- sweater. She was going skiing the next weekend.
tling of subjects and approaches. “Room for Maybe she was wearing a pin or something with
Solomon,” about a teenage pregnancy, may be an a cross so Catholics would know, but I couldn’t
uncomfortable subject in some Mormon circles, tell.” The nurse practitioner stood up and peeled
but the approach taken to this story is not unset- off her gloves. “We’ll let you know if anything’s
tling. “Habits,” in my opinion, will catch more irregular. Call about two months ahead for next
readers off guard by communicating experience year’s appointment.”
that is perhaps uncommon. I hope the authors take “Thanks.” When the door closed, Erlene
no umbrage at my ultra-short critique of their style stepped into her black bikini underwear. Maybe
and subject, for all I am trying to point out is that even nuns wore bikini underwear now. She pulled
each of their subjects and approaches to the sub- her knit dress over her head and put on her glasses.
ject, while different, is legitimate and valuable. A nun, she thought, as she ordered a large carrot
I must add that there is a fourth story written juice from the health bar across from the clinic. She
from a woman’s point of view included in this grabbed a package of low-cal pretzels to munch on
issue. It doesn’t have the element of woman bearing the way back to the college. An intermittent Mor-
child in it, but is a whimsical piece about one mon nun. She slid into the driver’s seat, and her
woman’s experience in the afterlife. Coincidentally, dress bunched up on her thighs. No modest gar-
this story was written by a man. ments of commitment. Occasional Sunday meet-
Note: This issue also includes a story selected by ings if Mom requested an escort. Last month when
IRREANTUM’s speculative fiction editors: “Harden she was searching for the source of “fruit of the
Times” by Susan J. Kroupa. womb,” to settle an argument she’d had with
Denise, she’d discovered she couldn’t even find her

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leather-bound, monogrammed-in-gold scriptures. but the landlord was converting to condos, and
She pulled into the staff parking lot. She was hold- that was such a scary decision, and besides, she still
ing onto something still. Was it only what she and hoped things would work out with Grant, and then
Denise referred to as “the chains of chastity”? Dad died.
A young woman with blue hair and enormous The gate squeaked open. She turned the second
hoop earrings was pacing in front of the office as key. Mom was rolled into an afghan on the couch.
Erlene unlocked the door. “I have to see the dean,” She glared at the television and punched the mute
she said. button on the remote. “The A’s have died and gone
“I’m sorry.” Erlene slipped her purse into the desk to hell. How was your day?”
drawer and draped her sweater on the back of her
chair. “She’s in Sacramento at a conference. Can I
make you an appointment for tomorrow afternoon?” “You’re complex and
“Tomorrow.” The young woman mumbled
something, then looked up. “I don’t know what interesting. You’ve had the
time I can come tomorrow.” She dropped her chin
to her chest, and the earrings flattened against the experience of doubt.”
collar of her jacket. “I’ll just drop by when I can
and see if she has time for me.”
Erlene watched her go. The problems these kids “Fine.” Erlene collapsed on the ottoman. “Yours?”
had. Yesterday there was a guy from a campus band “Well, I talked to Carrie for an hour and I called
called the Leghorns. He wanted to withdraw from all the church ladies I’m supposed to visit and then
classes and move to Modesto. His stepfather had I made a big pot of split pea soup.” She stopped.
shot holes in all his drums. “But it’s Wednesday. You’re going to dinner with
• • • Denise, aren’t you?”
The big key was for the security screen; the small Erlene nodded. “How’s Aunt Carrie?”
key was for the front door. Four years ago, after the “You don’t want to know,” said Mom. “That
break-in across the street, Mom had insisted on the woman doesn’t have the sense of a centipede. She’s
screen, ugly and heavy as those storefront protec- started advertising for boyfriends. You’d think that
tion gates in Chinatown. It was probably only a three husbands would be enough for any woman in
matter of time before she would want bars on the one lifetime. But no, Sidney’s just settling in under
front windows as well. She had the right to insist— the stones, and she’s out there advertising.”
it was her house. And though it was a handsome Erlene chortled. “She using a blimp?”
house—random-plank floors and built-in book- “Those personal ads in the Bay Guardian. She
cases and china cabinets—the neighborhood was figures since Hyrum took her to the temple, she’s
getting shabby, weeds taking over front yards, paint set for the hereafter. She wants company for the rest
peeling off the house next door. All the kids Erlene of the here and now.” Mom glanced back at the tel-
used to play with had grown up and grown old, evision set. “Sure you and Denise wouldn’t like to
and their parents had long since moved—to Texas, eat here? There’s lots of soup.”
to Oregon, to retirement condos in the suburbs. “I’d like some tomorrow. Should I make reserva-
The Schultzes and Mr. Handley were dead. tions?” She pushed herself up. Mom grimaced and
Erlene paused a minute before inserting the big punched the A’s back on.
key. Most of her life, this had been her home. Well, • • •
after college, she’d had an apartment down by the She could tell Denise about the humiliation at
lake with Milly and Denise, and after Milly mar- the gynecology clinic. They’d had similar religious
ried, she’d found that studio off Park Boulevard odysseys—mild rebellion at 15, disillusionment at
with the bay window. She’d wanted to stay there, 29, moderate heresy at 34, ambiguous alienation

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at 40 when it was too late to really do anything. I believe sin exists. Sin is whatever I do that makes
They discussed the church and its crazy hold on me not like myself.”
them. Should they be loyal to it, this aggregate of Erlene considered this. “You know what makes
Victorian values, this factory of freaks? “We’re me so angry? All those ‘sinful’ experiences I never
probably too old to change now anyway,” she’d told had. The experiences that make people complex
Denise once. “It’s in the genes. Besides, where would and interesting even if they repent afterwards.”
we go to learn how to fornicate and mix drinks?” “You’re complex and interesting.” Denise stirred
• • • her soup. “You’ve had the experience of doubt.”
Every week at the Cafe d’Etoiles, Denise ordered
coquilles St. Jacques; Erlene alternated between the
cassoulet and the trout. Was God up there some-
“Sometime we ought to have a glass of wine.”
Erlene held up a stemmed water glass. “That would where, beyond the sparkles?
be a start.” Was he directing this perform-
Denise pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “I don’t
feel the need,” she said. She cleared her throat. ance? If he wasn’t up there
Erlene looked up from her bowl of vichyssoise. keeping track of them, then
Denise was staring at a bronze-framed Mary Cassat
print on the wall. “How’s Bismarck?” she was very, very alone.
Denise seemed startled.
“Bismarck Bent,” Erlene said. “Your gentleman
admirer.” “Yeah, well, doubt’s not very gratifying. No
“Oh, Bismarck.” Denise pushed her half-full thrills.” Erlene shrugged at her empty bowl. “Not
bowl towards the center of the table. “Do you think even any calories. Look at my mom. She still has
it’s wrong for me to go out with him? He’s so fun. When she chooses not to go to church, it’s not
ancient—it’s a little like going out with your grand- because she questions doctrine. It’s because she’d
father. He doesn’t want anything but a little com- rather watch a baseball game.”
pany. We shake hands very solemnly when he brings Denise laughed.
me home.” “Me,” said Erlene, “I’m driven by doubt. I hear
“I don’t think it’s wrong for you to go out with a sappy talk in church and I end up with a purse
him.” Erlene smiled. “Define wrong.” full of soggy Kleenexes. But part of me always
“I wasn’t thinking of sin.” Denise paused. whispers, ‘This is sappy.’” She gulped a little water
“Wrong. Mean. Hurting people.” from her goblet. “You knew me when I’d go with-
“Then it’s definitely not wrong to go out with out food all weekend and pray, pray, pray that
Bismarck Bent. Curious maybe. Bizarre. But not I could know what other people said they knew.”
wrong.” She leaned back in her chair. “All I got was sore
“Thank you,” Denise said. “I don’t mind being knees. And someone, usually Grant, saying I wasn’t
bizarre.” humble enough.”
Erlene tapped an empty spoon on the lip of her They stopped talking and watched the waiter
bowl. “What about things that don’t hurt other take away their bowls. Erlene refolded her napkin
people? The things that are just against the rules. in her lap. Both women breathed an “I” at once
Religious rules. What if we’re careful not to hurt and both exhaled. Erlene motioned Denise to go
anyone, but we break a few rules? Is there really ahead. The nun story could wait.
even such a thing as sin?” “I had a prayer answered this week,” Denise said
“I don’t believe in Satan,” Denise said. “He went softly. “And I didn’t even pray. Erlene, I need to talk
right after Santa Claus. But I believe in sin. That is, to someone about it. I’ve never told you, but—”

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The waiter appeared with the trout and the after they got her, so she had a real family.”
coquilles St. Jacques. Erlene felt an unreasonable “A Mormon family,” Erlene said, with awe and
sense of panic. Denise had closed her eyes. When irony.
the waiter left, she breathed out, opened her eyes, “Yes.” Denise shrugged. “It all worked for her.”
and took another deep breath. Her eyes were glossy “Where does she live?”
with tears. “L.A. She’s had two years of community college.
“I’ve never told you that I had a child when I She says she’ll go back someday and finish, maybe
was 19.” when her own kids are all in school. She wants a lot
Erlene put her fork down beside her plate. of kids, she says.”
Denise’s face looked full and shining. She looked “Will you,” Erlene pulled her hand out from
like someone new. under Denise’s and patted Denise’s firmly, “will you
“It was when I was going to school in San Jose. get to meet her, then?”
I went through the church adoption program,” she Denise nodded and hiccoughed tears.
said. “They sent me to Seattle, and I lived with a • • •
nice family and had the baby, a little girl, and I Mom was watching the evening news when
signed all the papers. I never even saw her. But Erlene unlocked the security screen and the oak
I never stopped thinking about her. And every door. She pushed the mute button. “How was din-
April 7, I would try to send her a message, you ner? How’s Denise?”
know, kind of telepathically, that I hoped she was Erlene leaned for a moment against the door-
well and happy and doing all the things she wanted frame. “Both fine. But I’ll bet your split pea soup
to be doing.” Denise had been twisting her napkin. was better than my trout.”
She dropped it in her lap and reached across the “A’s really bombed,” Mom said. “I could tell in
table to take Erlene’s hand. the third inning. Guess how much they lost by.”
“She is 21 years old now, 21, and she called me Erlene tried to remember how baseball was scored.
Monday night!” Her voice sounded almost, but not “Twenty points.”
quite, out of control. “The agency had to check “Well.” Mom rubbed at the gray cuff of her
with me first. They called me last Thursday, and bathrobe. “No. But nine!”
I’ve been crazy with excitement and dread and joy “Oh, awful,” Erlene said. “They ought to cut
and I don’t know how to express it.” She let out their salaries down to five million a year.” She
another breath. leaned down and kissed her mother’s cheek. “I’m
“You’re doing fine,” Erlene said. worn out, Mom. I’ll see you in the morning.” She
“Her name is Becky, Rebecca, and she is married shut her bedroom door quietly behind her.
already, and she’s going to have a baby. Erlene, I’m She slipped off her shoes and rubbed one
almost a grandmother!” She wiped her eyes with stockinged foot over the sheepskin rug that she’d
her napkin. “I know it’s ridiculous. I’m an old maid kept by the side of her bed since high school when
and I never raised a child, and I’m going to be a Aunt Carrie had brought it to her from New Zea-
grandmother! I can’t believe it. Can you believe it?” land. She lay down on the bed. There were still
“No,” said Erlene. “I can’t believe it.” a few nubby sparkles in the ceiling. She’d stuck
“She said now that she’s going to be a mother she them up there in the ninth grade. When she took
wanted to know about her own biological mother, off her glasses, the sparkles got dimmer. Was God
the woman who gave birth to her and who gave her up there somewhere, beyond the sparkles? Was he
up. She wanted to thank me and ask me how I ever directing this performance? Was he writing the
had strength to do it.” script or at least the stage directions? If he wasn’t up
“How did you?” asked Erlene slowly. there somewhere, beyond the sparkles, if he wasn’t
Denise seemed not to hear. “She’s had a good up there keeping track of them, then she was very,
life. Her parents adopted twin boys a couple of years very alone.

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The phone rang, and she sat up quickly and the top of the page above the list of January’s reso-
picked up the receiver. “Hello?” lutions. Under “Lose ten pounds,” she started a
“Sister Erlene,” boomed a male voice. “Are you new list: Urgent Things to Do. “Take a bird-watching
feeling better now?” class.” She printed neatly. “Get a new haircut.
She hesitated. “Better?” she asked. Maybe color it.” She chewed on the eraser. “Volun-
“You’ve been very sick, I hear.” teer at the Sierra Club.” “Observe Aunt Carrie.”
“No,” Erlene said. “I haven’t been very sick. At the bottom, she wrote down a deadline—by
Who is this?” the end of the year, she would have checked these
“Brother Jenkins,” said the deep voice. “Oh, things off. By next pelvic exam, she would be soar-
I must have misunderstood. I thought you had ing over the sheepskin rug with the knee prints,
been very sick.” above the house with the double gates, past the
“No,” she said coldly. “I am very well. Do you glitter on the ceiling—she would be soaring on a
wish to talk with my mother?” speculum to the moon.
He stuttered a little. “I, yes, thank you.” She
buried the receiver in her pillow and carried the A recently retired college English teacher, Karen
hall phone in to Mom. “Church,” she mouthed. Rosenbaum lives with her husband in the San Fran-
“It’s the manager of the A’s,” she said aloud. “He cisco Bay area. She earned a B.A. in English from the
wants to apologize.” University of Utah in the Bill Mulder–Brewster
Back in her bedroom, she quietly replaced the Ghiselin period and an M.A. in creative writing
receiver on her nightstand, then looked at herself in from Stanford during the Wallace Stegner–Richard
the mirror. Her skin had been pretty, clear, but it Scowcroft era. Some of her latest short fiction has
looked drier now. She used to spend many minutes appeared in Dialogue, Exponent II, The Rockford
each evening by the mirror, pretending all kinds of Review, Kalliope, and Writers’ Forum.
pleasures, rehearsing all kinds of scenes—love scenes,
prize scenes, weepy martyr scenes. Did everyone do
that? Sometime this past year she had stopped day-
dreaming; she wasn’t sure exactly when. She
remembered her night dreams though, and they
were almost always urgent, disturbing. Last night,
maybe in dread of the pelvic exam, she’d dreamt she
was grocery shopping in a lab of some kind, with
aisles of big pharmacy bottles filled with shriveled,
bladder-like organs, and she was frantic because she
was supposed to prepare dinner for ten people in
the studio apartment off Park Boulevard.
She kissed the mirror lightly, rubbed off the
imprint, and pulled back. She did look pale,
depleted. Maybe that Brother Jenkins had the gift
of prophecy. Maybe she was ill. She lay back down
on the bed and closed her eyes. She had hugged
Denise and stuffed Kleenexes into her hand, but
she hadn’t been able to cry with her. She felt her
cheeks. She was crying now.
She only let herself cry for a few minutes. Sniff-
ing, she sat up and felt for the pencil and pad in her
nightstand drawer. Things to Do, she had written at

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S T O R Y shoes she’s worn since the seventh grade. Between


her fingers she twirls a pine needle. All around her
Room for Solomon girls rise, one after the other, and broach the center
of the circle, each lifting her voice in praise of the
By Lisa Torcasso Downing God who made this beautiful forest, who created
them, who loves each. Her pine needle falls to the
As the light snaps on, its sharp reflection in the earth. Does God still love her? Her eyes may point
window strikes the woman’s eyes, and her bare feet forward, but her heart cannot look upon the faces
scurry soundlessly forward. She tugs the cord to the of these other girls.
blinds, and down they fall, shunting the darkness There is a secret growing inside her.
which presses in. She pauses, hoping the noise has This teenage girl who has never smoked a ciga-
not disturbed her husband’s sleep. But the only rette or had a sip of beer is pregnant. And alone,
sound she detects is the faint ticking of the new the boy nothing more than the sour reaction of
kitchen clock, which seems like the secretive tiptoe indecision, fifteen minutes of behavior based in
of an invisible child. The muscles in her back relax, doubt and the fear of being thought a fool. Now
and she studies the room, a place she knows by she feels more a failure than a fool. She couldn’t
heart. Her eyes linger upon the crib smothered in even make sex pleasurable.
teddy bears, then move to the changing table, and So her mind had shut it down, like locking a
on to the padded rocker nestled in the corner. It is wheel so that it can no longer turn. Thinking about
here that her feet take her. She eases down. The soft her situation is hard. Feeling it is even harder. So
tick, tick, tick continues, lending rhythm to her for nearly four months she has blocked it out, hid-
rocking. She stares at the dresser beside the rocker. den it. But under a moon which glows ripe and
Goose bumps rise on her arms. In it lies a simple, full, she realizes that her days of secrecy are very
white blessing gown. She warms herself with her limited. She looks around the circle. Soon they will
palms, focusing on the Peter Pan nightlight, resist- all know.
ing the temptation, though only momentarily. Her attention is drawn toward the circle’s center
Slowly her hand reaches for the drawer. by the thread-like voice which currently speaks.
Across her lap she spreads the delicate gown. Her The campfire, burning in the background, shadows
right hand wafts downward and caresses flat that the face of the young woman bearing testimony,
pucker on the sateen collar, a reminder that her but nothing can cloud her words. They are familiar
machine’s tension is too tight. Her chair glides and clear, having been repeated many times by many
back, then forth, and back. She fingers the lace young women, including the girl in the worn-out
overlay, strokes the ribbons that dangle from the Nike shoes. Sparks flare as another log is added to
bodice. She dreams wide-awake dreams of a baby the blaze. “Sometimes I wonder what my life
who laughs and who cries, unsure if what her would be like if I didn’t have the gospel of Jesus
dreams awake within her is pleasure or pain. And as Christ to guide me.”
she dreams, she rocks, and as she rocks, the clock A trembling begins beneath that lavender sweat-
ticks. Together each will move through this long shirt, and a firm, sharp pressure in the girl’s chest
night, marking time against the arrival of the sun. interferes with her breathing. Her eyes sting. Her
• • • legs straighten. She is standing, unaware that those
And as this woman waits, somewhere else a around her anticipate her move toward the center.
hundred and seven girls form a circle under the Instead she breaks away and darts into the trees.
same night sky. Pine trees rise above them, straight There in the darkness her heart snaps in two like
and strong. Stars glimmer overhead. Among these a dried twig, and she screams at the feeling, and
blue-jean-clad teenagers sits one particular girl in falls. On her knees. On her stomach. On her baby.
an oversized lavender sweatshirt and a pair of Nike Her fingers reach, claw into the fallen needles upon

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which she lies. Her fingernails fill with dirt and she he committed in his life that exacted a toll anything
cries out again—and again—as the weight of it all like the toll she was being asked to pay?
crashes down upon her. “Pray for understanding.”
Her wail thrashes through the circle like a wind- Understanding. She drops the remote, picks up
storm through the trees. The girls bend one toward the top folder. Understanding. Isn’t it bad enough
another; whisperings occur, but each remains where that she now understands why a woman would
she is and the testimonies continue. A man (a bishop, have an abortion?
someone’s dad) slips quietly from behind the circle.
He finds the girl in the Nike shoes curled up on the
bed of needles. Her tears are so thick that he can- Aren’t church people always
not understand her words. But still he understands.
He holds her across her shoulders as she vomits the preaching that we are supposed
sin from her soul. to live with and learn from the
• • •
The woman is roused by her husband’s hand consequences of our actions?
gently shaking her shoulder. “Come back to bed,”
he murmurs. She feels him pull the blessing gown
from her lap, but her body feels too heavy to On the tab of the folder is a meaningless code,
protest. She hears him tuck away the gown, hears written in black.
the drawer slide closed. “You need your rest.” He Now they want her to seek a peaceful feeling
raises her at the elbow and, still groggy, she sub- about giving away her own flesh and blood? How
mits, passing quietly from the nursery. He flips off could she do that? How could anyone?
the light. She glances into the darkness one more • • •
time before he pulls the door closed, leaving the The woman pulls an armful of dirty clothes
rocker to sway until stilled by natural law. from the hamper and heads toward the laundry
• • • room. Up ahead is the still-vacant nursery, its door
Now, three months later, the girl enters her bed- closed. To enter the room has become a painful
room, kicks those Nike shoes into her closet, and mistake, so she hurries along, reminding herself to
drops three manila folders onto her bed. This meet- live in the moment. Just as she comes parallel with
ing with the bishop had gone just like all the oth- the doorknob, the silky something which has been
ers. She plops onto the bed and wiggles awkwardly rubbing against her leg lands on her foot. A rogue
until her back is propped against the headboard, pair of her husband’s garment bottoms has dropped.
comforted by the extra pillows her mother had pur- Frustration rises along her seams. Concentrate on
chased at Wal-Mart. She can still see the bishop the task at hand.
gazing steadfastly at her over his big, important • • •
desk as he repeated that repentance is not an easy The girl opens the folder, sees thousands of little
thing. Avoiding the folders, the girl snatches the typewritten letters which together define the
remote and points it at the TV on top of her dresser. strangers who want to take her baby. Married in
News. She surfs channels. Nothing but news. the temple ten years ago. Farmers. He hunts and
“Remember the counsel of the prophet. There are fishes. She writes poetry. Perfect strangers. Who
hundreds of faithful LDS couples, unable to conceive, already have a three-year-old adopted son who wants
who are waiting to adopt.” to teach a sibling about dinosaur hunting. Perfect.
She hits the mute button and watches the color The girl cannot believe she is reading this. Until
images in silence. Just what exactly does this bishop moments ago, she thought she’d made up her
know about repentance? She glances at the top mind—definitely—to keep the baby. It hadn’t been
folder: even its appearance is barren. What sin has anything the bishop had said that moved her

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toward the folders. It had been the ride home with course the girl remained in the car, boiling mad. In
her mother. fact, it was a good ten minutes before her steamy
Most rides home from the bishop’s office were tears of self-pity simmered down and she saw, for
quiet, but not this one. The girl had questions, the the first time, the possibility that she was being a
kind that don’t really want to be answered, and she burden to her parents, that this child would be
trusted her mother to know that. Why, she wanted their problem as well as her own. Yet neither her
to know, would Heavenly Father send her this baby mother nor her father had made a habit of com-
if He didn’t want her to have it? “Lots of girls have plaining about the stresses her decision might bring
sex,” she said, “and don’t get pregnant. But I did. upon them, the embarrassment they must feel in
Aren’t church people always preaching that we are front of their peers, LDS and not. “We’ll support
supposed to live with and learn from the conse- you regardless.” Suddenly she hated them for it, for
quences of our actions? Why isn’t the bishop saying everything.
that to me now? I mean, come on. Won’t raising a She sulked into the house. Her mother was wip-
child as a single, teenage mother—without any help ing the kitchen counter as though today were any
from the father—be enough penance?” ordinary day in their ordinary life. “I’ll read the
They parked in the garage. The mother removed damn profiles,” the girl huffed, picking up the three
the keys from the ignition and sat listening until manila folders from the spot on the kitchen table
her daughter completed spewing her distress. What where they had sat since her Friday visit to LDS
remained was a pool of silence, thick like tar, that Social Services. She stared at her mother’s back,
neither had the energy to move away from. Finally, expecting a reaction, at least to her language. Her
her mother made the effort to punch a button on mother didn’t turn, said nothing, only bunched her
the visor. As the garage door slowly descended, she shoulders in that way that told the girl her mother
turned sideways, saying, “How would you feel had tears of her own to fight.
about me if I considered your birth a burden The girl didn’t want to know why her mother
instead of a blessing?” cried. She dashed up the stairs, a queasy feeling in
• • • her stomach that was not morning sickness.
The woman bends sideways, snags the under- And so she reads.
wear with her pointer finger, but loses the remain- • • •
der of the dirty laundry as it topples from her arms. While the woman throws the whites in with the
She stands, swears mildly, stares at the closed door. colors because it never makes any difference, and
How is it that she, like Super Woman, seems to be washes everything in cold.
able to see through the wood, see every detail of the • • •
little room? Quickly she turns her back and gathers Folder two: He is a tax attorney; she works in a
up the mess. flower shop. He is 6'2", she is 5'5". He has brown
The woman throws all the laundry back into the hair and green eyes, she has brown hair and blue—
hamper, then hoists the entire contraption and car- The girl slams her eyelids shut, refusing to imag-
ries it awkwardly through the house. She stubs her ine this woman’s face. She turns her head so that
toe against the laundry room door and cries, even as she opens her eyes, she looks toward the televi-
though in her life she’s felt pain that is much worse. sion screen. The news program has cut to a grainy
• • • film, a surveillance video, apparently of a conven-
As she sits on the bed, the girl can still feel the ience-store robbery. She sees two thieves, a man,
scorched edges of her heart, put there by the bolt of his girlfriend. The man is holding a gun to the
anger caused by her mother’s question. How dare clerk’s head as the girlfriend grabs handfuls of cash
she say that? from the register. She can’t help but draw a parallel
Of course the girl had looked away as her mother between these thieves and the couples who want
opened the van door (“I love you”) and got out. Of her child.

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There comes a knock at her bedroom door. “Can “Once I told some girls I was thinking about
I come in?” Her mother is already in. She, too, adoption, and they accused me of being selfish, said
looks at the screen. Both see the black square sud- I just don’t want to miss prom, stuff like that.”
denly appear, censoring the clerk’s head and the “That’s ridiculous.”
gun pointed at it. The girl and her mother cringe as “Everybody at school says it. That if I gave the
the clerk’s body flails, falls. baby up it’d be because I’m too selfish to accept
“How awful!” her mother exclaims. She snatches the responsibility. Maybe you adult-types think I’d
the remote from beside her daughter, points and be some kind of hero, but my friends don’t.”
clicks. “Sometimes I’m tempted to think it a shame “I think you’re overreacting. A girl in my high
that Heavenly Father lets people rob and maim school got in trouble and gave the baby up. We kids
like that.” all thought she had done the best thing.”
The baby twists within the girl. Lets people get “Mom.”
pregnant. Her gaze remains on the black screen as if “What?”
the image of the robbery were replaying there. “That was like a thousand years ago. In Utah.”
“The worse part is,” her mother continues, “that The mother’s eyebrows move closer together,
nowadays you can’t tell who the bad guys are. I and her chin dips slightly. “Not quite a thousand.”
mean, that gunman had on a State University shirt! “Okay”—there is a smile—“a hundred.”
If I’d passed him on the street, I’d have thought, “Better.” Her mother winks. “I came up to see
‘What a good-looking kid.’ And he’s a murderer!” if you wanted company while you read the
The girl’s chin suddenly jerks up as a frightening profiles.”
thought punches its way into her brain. The The girl inhales deeply, shakes her head—“I’m
thieves, they aren’t the couples who want to fine”—but doesn’t look her mother in the eye. Her
adopt. Her throat goes dry. It is she. She’d broken mother pats her leg in a way that reveals as much
into Heaven; she’d stolen this baby. From God. relief as disappointment. “All right then,” she says
She can’t breathe. She had no right to conceive it. and leaves the girl.
Oh, God. So alone. The teen returns to the second folder:
The girl feels a stab in her ribs. Her breath This couple loves sports. They water ski in the sum-
comes again in tight spasms. “Mom.” Her voice mer and snow ski in the winter.
sounds desperate to her own ears. “I already love What child wouldn’t enjoy a life like that?
this baby.” Still . . . isn’t it best for a child to be with his real
“I know you do.” The mother takes her daugh- mother?
ter in her arms. The third folder is much like the other two. This
“How can I give it up?” couple was married in the temple eight years ago.
The mother pulls back and says what they both He is a fireman and comes from a family of ten
fear is a lie. “You don’t have to.” boys. She is a kindergarten teacher and a convert,
The girl swipes at her tears with the heel of her baptized at sixteen.
hand, nods. Sixteen. The girl runs her fingers across their
“I’m proud of you.” paperwork. What different choices she and I made at
The girl scoffs. the same age. The paper feels smooth.
“I am. To even consider giving up a child for What makes a mother anyway?
adoption is a selfless gesture.” And then she cannot think any longer, cannot
The girl’s laugh is monosyllabic and sardonic. read anymore. She closes the folders, tosses them
Her mother appears puzzled. “What?” on the floor. Her head teeters forward, her eyes ease
“Its just that that’s not what they tell me at shut, and as the tears descend, she somehow finds
school.” the courage to transform her fears into prayer.
“What do you mean?” • • •

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The atmosphere in the birthing room becomes The grandmother cuddles the baby nearer her
business-like as the nurse quickly drops the bottom cheek as her daughter nods her head.
edge of the bed. The girl’s mother—her coach— “You okay?”
rubs her shoulder as the doctor bustles in. He Silence. “Not a fair question, is it? Well.” The
speaks quickly to the nurse, then smiles at the girl. woman hands the new mother the clipboard and
“Are you ready to meet your baby?” he asks. points a bare fingernail at a line near the bottom.
She wants to nod, but the pressure in her hips Her mouth is moving: she is explaining the form,
is too strong. then the second form. The girl notices the pen in
“I’m going to tell you to push,” the doctor is her own hand. (How did it get there?) It’s a Bic. She
saying. . . . clicks it and applies it to the paper, signing away
• • • her parental rights, passing them on to a hand-
The girl’s hair is matted as she sits up in the hos- picked couple in an undisclosed state, a couple who
pital bed, holding her healthy seven-pound, three- have no idea they are about to be entrusted with
ounce baby boy with jet-black hair and a slightly the care of the most beautiful, most wonderful,
webbed toe on his right foot. The crease between most magnificent baby boy in the whole wide
his eyes deepens as he yawns, and his pink hands world. Her boy. . . .
turn white as he grips her finger. She smiles down
at him before passing him into his grandmother’s
open arms. The teen looks at the clock on the wall. Time heals all wounds,
A nurse bustles in and wraps a blood-pressure
cuff around the girl’s arm. Her business-like chin doesn’t it?
tilts down as she takes the reading. She crosses
to the foot of the bed. After she scribbles on the She is no longer sure.
chart, her professional demeanor melts away and
she reaches toward the baby in the grandmother’s
arms. She pulls the blanket below his chin and Their son.
clucks at him. The nurse is petting the baby’s cheek The woman receives the clipboard. “You’re giv-
when the hospital door swings open. Standing ing two people the greatest gift of love that any
there is the woman in the sensible heels. The nurse woman could give. They will cherish him.”
bustles out. The girl nods, though she only vaguely hears the
“You look good,” says the woman in the door- woman. She is battling a trembling which is begin-
way, smiling. “How do you feel?” She approaches ning deep inside her, but it is a battle no mother
the bed and takes the girl’s hand. could win. The trembling overcomes her and, as
The girl answers that she is fine, but perhaps she the caseworker hugs the baby’s grandparents, the
is not. She looks up into the face of the woman, painful reality curls the girl into a ball on her bed.
past the frame of eyeliner and into the circles of The tears pour out and her mouth falls open, but
colored concern that have monitored her all these no sound emerges. The woman sees it first and taps
months. The woman grins softly, but this does the grandmother’s shoulder, then points to the bed.
nothing to relax the stiffness the girl feels. “He’s The grandmother quickly hands the baby to her
beautiful.” husband and crawls into the bed beside her daugh-
Silence. The woman pulls the clipboard away from ter. The two, like twins in the womb, hold one
her chest. “I’ve brought the papers. The hospital another and weep.
has a form you need to sign, too. It’s so I can take “The baby will stay with you until tomorrow. I’ll
the baby from the hospital when the time comes.” leave you alone now,” says the woman in the sensi-
Silence. The grandparents of the baby lock eyes. ble shoes before slipping quietly from the room.
“Are you ready?” • • •

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In another place, another woman is standing She searches the many feelings that wander
upon a chair replacing the battery in the kitchen through her, then she smiles at her reflection.
clock when the telephone rings. She calls for her Although she feels many things, a sense of selfish-
husband to answer it, but quickly remembers he ness is not among them
has gone to a neighbor’s to help mend a broken fence. She may never know her baby’s name, but if she
With an annoyed sigh she steps from the chair did, she would be pleased. For that woman and her
and picks up the receiver. husband are today tenderly dressing their precious,
Her breath catches again and again and again as newly adopted baby boy in that tiny white gown
she listens to the voice on the other end. and will soon give him a blessing and a name, a
After hanging up the phone, she bursts from name that will remind them daily of the loving
their front door and flies across the lawn. Six sacrifice of a young woman who grew wise. The
houses down and she is running as fast as she can. child will grow tall and strong and brave and bear
The sky is so blue. the name of Solomon1 in her honor.
Her husband is leaning his weight against the
neighbor’s fence when he hears her scream his Note
name. He turns. She stops on the sidewalk, then
falls to her knees on the grass. 1. 1 Kings 3:16–28.
He panics, lets go of the fence, and it falls.
“What is it?” he asks as he rushes toward his wife. Lisa Torcasso Downing lives in the Dallas, Texas, area
Tears drip off her chin. He is terrified. with her husband and three children. She is a full-
She sucks in a deep breath. Suddenly the most time, stay-at-home mother and a graduate in English
wonderful news in the world pours from the lips of from Brigham Young University. Her short stories
his wife. “We’ve been chosen,” she says. have appeared in the Friend and New Era.
“What?”
She nods a great big nod and a smile splits her
face. “We’ve been chosen!” She shouts it so all the
world can hear. “A boy! A son!”
He stares at her, grabs her arms.
“A son,” she whispers, the tears flowing freely.
“He’ll be here on Tuesday.”
He wants to speak, but he cannot. Instead, he
leans against his wife, his arms around her, and
together they fall back onto their neighbor’s lawn.
And they weep with joy.
• • •
Now the girl stands before the mirror and runs
her hand across her stomach. It isn’t flat yet, but in
time it will be. Time heals all wounds, doesn’t
it? She is no longer sure. Truly repentance isn’t
easy. Every day she will face what has happened:
She bore a son out of wedlock and gave him away.
This isn’t something a young woman can forget.
Suddenly, the voices of her peers come barreling
back to her, and she cannot help thinking, “Was I
selfish to do it?”

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S T O R Y out.” She peered closer. “I can see the exact place


where my own umbilical cord was tied off and cut.”
First “Can’t be,” he said. “The cord piece dries up and
falls off.”
By Linda Paulson Adams “Would you just look at this thing?”
He looked, grunted, went back to his reading.
“Do you think maybe it’s a tumor?” she asked He was substitute-teaching Sunday school in a few
her husband. days and was working on his lesson.
He laughed. “Do you think I should ask the doctor if he can
She’s heard of such things. But no tumor can stitch it down for me? So it’ll lie flat?” Earlier in the
squirm, stretch, and have a heel permanently pressed week she had tried placing masking tape over it to
up against her ribcage such as this. hold it in; it was too uncomfortable, and she ripped
This was the first time she’d been so large. it away before her husband could discover her
She lost three before. They were born a mass of attempt and laugh.
blood and tissue unrecognizable as anything human. “Joanna,” he said with a sigh. “Just finish read-
Each one. She remembered the cramping, the clot- ing your scriptures. It’s getting late.” He put his
ted flow rushing out between her legs, the tiny sac hand on hers, giving it a gentle squeeze.
she found among it, which was the embryo. She sat She let out a puff of air. She opened her Book of
and remembered the anguish of knowing, each Mormon, trying again to read. Alma 32, a sermon
time, that her body had failed her. Again. She won- on faith. Now faith is not to have a perfect knowledge
dered if the upcoming labor could possibly torture of all things . . . The words blurred.
her more than the emotional suffering she had She picked up the baby-care book she had checked
already been through. out from the library instead. But those words blurred
Multiply and replenish the earth... multiply, also, meaningless. It was not yet reality. Schedules
replenish... These things, they were taught during and diapering, bathing, late-night feedings, cir-
their wedding in the Chicago temple, were a vital cumcision, all these things were incomprehensible.
part of their marriage covenant. They had “I can’t be the only woman this has ever hap-
attempted the multiplication part, with mutual pened to,” she said, putting the books away, look-
vigor, but the replenishing, until now, had not ing down at her bare belly again.
worked out so well. “Does it really bother you all that much? I think
She was as tired now of all the congratulations it’s cute,” he said, and laughed. He leaned over and
at church as she was of the questions that came kissed it with a loud smack, grinning.
before—the pursed lips from older women who “Oh, stop,” she said, smiling, and ran her
plainly thought they were waiting too long, she was hand through his soft hair as he rested his head
too focused on her career, she was intentionally on her belly.
delaying the natural process. Because of this, she “I felt that,” he said, as the baby kicked inside.
kept her miscarriages private, nursing the wounds “Yeah, I did too,” she said, less excited.
of her soul alone. She felt guilty the protruding navel annoyed her
Her nightshirt stretched so tightly across her belly so much, when the life she carried was such a bless-
that her navel poked obscenely through the fabric. ing. Truly. But every time she passed the mirror or
She sat in bed looking down at it. “Looks like I looked down, there it was. Several times a day she
grew this giant third nipple,” she said aloud, grumpy. pushed on it, futile attempts to push it back in.
“Huh?” said her husband, beside her, reading. She no longer consciously realized she was doing it.
She pulled up her shirt, pulled down the mater- “You know,” he said, “lying here like this reminds
nity stretch panel covering her belly. “Look at this me of something.”
thing,” she said. “It’s turned itself completely inside “What?” she said.

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He grinned, looking up with more than mischief for baby-fine hair. Her mother had told her the
in his eyes, and pulled her maternity bottoms the bows stick on the baby’s head with corn syrup. Her
rest of the way off. friends told her they stick on better with K-Y Jelly.
“David!” she said, giggling. “Stop that. It’s late.” She’d wondered which was more accurate. Now she
“You need cheering up,” he mumbled, and his would not find out.
books spilled off the bed to the floor as he moved
closer to her.
She rolled her eyes back in her head and relaxed. She still worried, daily,
“I never could say no to you anyway,” she said.
“You’re like magic.” that something would go
“I know,” he said.
• • •
terribly wrong and her womb
Later, when he’d finished cheering her up and would deliver not new
she’d cheered him up some too, he held her in his
arms. On display on their dresser in their tiny bed- life but more death.
room were several small baseball caps with his
favorite team logos on them: Jazz, 49ers, Suns.
There was also a regulation-size official football for Before the last test one month ago, she bought a
when he grew old enough. Her husband brought gallon of pale-pink paint. It sat unopened, by itself,
these items home after the last sonogram, one in the far corner of the nursery closet. It could not
month ago. She stared over at them. be returned.
She said, “Are you sure it’s a boy?” “What do you think it means, my dream?” she
“Sure looked like a boy,” he said, smiling. “Takes said. “It was so vivid . . . so real.”
after his dad.” David’s eyes were heavy, sleepy. “Hmm?” he said.
She mussed up his hair. “You’re sure proud of “My dream. The one about the little girl,” she
yourself.” said, giving him a shove.
“You bet,” he said, and mussed her hair right back. He thought a moment and said, “So this one
“Takes a man to make a man, you know.” He laughed. isn’t Jessica, that’s all. We’ll see in due time.”
“David—you’d better not ever say that in front “Time,” she said, with a sigh.
of Brother Knudsen!” Six girls, the Knudsens, and “You want to watch the sonogram video again?”
it looked like a seventh on the way. he said.
“Jo, of course I wouldn’t—you know me better “No,” she said. “That’s all right.”
than that.” They planned to name him James Allen, after his
“I guess.” father and her father. Once, after the sonogram, she
He laughed again, smiling wide. “But I can had tried to call him that, but it sounded strange
think it!” in her ears to speak it aloud. She felt funny talking
“You’re impossible,” she said, and batted him to an unborn child, assigning its sex so positively.
with her pillow. It didn’t matter that with this particular ultrasound
After plumping and readjusting her feather pil- photo, there was no doubt remaining. She was still
low back into place—a meticulous process, for glad she had been alone when she tried calling him
her—she said, “I’ve tried to imagine it, and I can’t. by name.
That dream I had . . .” She sighed. “I was so sure it A son.
was a little girl, and we’d name her Jessica . . .” Her The waiting, she felt, would kill her.
voice trailed off. At the beginning she kept her • • •
mind busy imagining tiny dresses ruffled with lace She was due June fourteenth. June nineteenth
and ribbons. Miniature pink tights. Tiny lace bows arrived, and labor showed no signs of beginning.

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She had quit her job two months before, to rest much was already evident. She could not run from
and prepare herself for motherhood. She would stay the store in a screaming frenzy as she felt inclined.
home with the baby as she had always wanted to She must wait.
after the delivery; David had recently got a promising With a small pretend smile, she picked up the
raise. They felt the raise was a blessing from God. nail clipper from the rack and held it along with
Budgeting would be tighter, but not unbearable. the stick of deodorant. “Thanks.”
She avoided going out after her due date, feeling The woman kept talking.
too large, obvious, and cumbersome in public. She She did not make eye contact, hoping the woman
was tired of strangers patting her belly. Tired of would go away as soon as her purchases were rung
questions. up. But she stayed.
The morning of the nineteenth, she got out of The checker put the deodorant and nail clipper
the shower and dried off. As she opened the lid to in a little bag and handed her the change.
her solid deodorant, the insides fell to the floor and The woman followed her to the car. Her story
broke into many unusable pieces. It was the last in was not yet finished.
the house, and it was annoyingly hot: this meant “So I’m lying there hemorrhaging, right? And
she must venture out. She groaned, frustrated. the doctor says, we have to do a C-section right
It was difficult maneuvering down to scoop the now. And the nurse says to him, she says, Doctor,
pieces up. She accidentally squashed some of it into we don’t have an anesthesiologist on the floor.
the floor with her knee, and the piece stuck. Pulling He got called down to ER. And our backup is in
herself up, holding on to the bathroom counter, ICU. And the doctor says, Nancy—that was the
she stepped on the squashed piece and it slipped nurse’s name, it was—Nancy, there isn’t time. This
out from under her foot. She was lucky to regain baby is in distress. And so I’m getting wheeled
her balance instead of falling with a splat on her into the OR, and they’re prepping me for surgery
bare backside. with iodine—”
“Damn,” she said, loud, then corrected herself. The car next to her had parked too close, and she
“Darn.” could not open the driver’s side door all the way.
All this did not place her in a very good mood. This situation made the maneuver of squeezing
At the store she got in line behind a middle-aged herself and her belly inside the car quite a chal-
woman with bright-orange, tightly permed hair. lenge. She squashed herself through the narrow
The woman asked when she was due. space as fast as she could.
She considered lying, but it was not in her nature. “So this guy comes running in just in the nick of
“June fourteenth,” she said. time, but then the doctor doesn’t even wait for the
“Oh, well, only a week late,” the woman said. ether to kick in before he starts making the inci-
“My third baby was overdue more than a month.” sion, and I—”
She proceeded to tell about it in great detail. “Hope you got a nice settlement,” she said, try-
It was hardly the first time a stranger had ing to say it brightly.
embarked on telling her a story of some traumatic She closed the car door and pulled out quickly.
delivery. She tried to back away from the conversa- The woman stopped mid-sentence. She saw the
tion, make some excuse. dumbfounded look on the woman’s face and felt a
“Oh, shoot, I forgot nail clippers,” she said. twinge of guilt for being rude. She let it pass.
“They have some right here, dear,” the lady said, She tried to smile politely and waved good-bye.
and pointed to them. But the recitation alarmed her more than she cared
Ignoring her, she tried to back out of the aisle, to admit.
but it was narrow and two people were now in line • • •
behind her. She had no room to turn around with As her due date slipped farther into the past, she
her belly. And she must buy the deodorant. That and her husband made love nightly and sometimes

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again in the morning. She was frantically insistent She still worried, daily, that something would go
about it: her doctor and three friends, separately, terribly wrong and her womb would deliver not
had informed her the chemistry of sex might bring new life but more death. This fear made it impos-
on labor—if her body was ready. sible for her to visualize his birth, to feel much
Her husband was beginning to wear out. excitement over gifts of baby-blue clothing. She
At a doctor’s appointment they learned there was could not imagine anyone living inside those
no change yet, no softening or dilation of the cervix. clothes, could not picture the tiny white tube socks
“Do we have to?” he said, later that evening. in the laundry. She refused to purchase any such
“David, please,” she said. “I told you about my things herself. Not even one package of newborn-
nightmare last night. Please.” She had dreamed the size disposable diapers.
baby calcified in her uterus and she grew old with She was so afraid to hope.
it dead, inside her. The pain began again, startling her. Then she
“Okay, honey,” he said, and kissed her. “I’ll try.” knew. Of course.
In the last week it had become less romantic and Labor.
far too functional to be very pleasurable: a duty. This was far worse than the cramping she expe-
It was reminiscent of the one unfruitful year they rienced with the miscarriages. It frightened her.
spent trying to conceive, and he said so. Her husband held her in his arms and said,
“I know,” she said. “I feel the same way. But imag- “Breathe,” as he had been taught to coach her in
ine—if it works tonight, you’ll have six weeks off.” the childbirth classes. “In . . . Out . . . Hee-hoo.
He laughed, smiling. “I don’t want six weeks off. Hee-hee-hoo.”
Just one night, for pity’s sake, Jo.” She sensed through her pain, by his posture, his
She laughed too. “The six weeks aren’t very touch on her arms, that he was also afraid. “You’re
negotiable, I don’t think. Come on, let’s just try to nervous,” she said, cranky.
make it fun.” “Of course I am. Breathe,” he said.
And so, although her abdomen created logistical Waking up this way startled her. She was disori-
difficulties as it had grown larger, they managed the ented. Convinced she would never go into labor on
maneuver yet once more, and at the end of it found her own, she had imagined that her body simply
they were both surprised to be refreshed and invig- did not, would not, know what to do.
orated. The baby inside her developed the hiccups When the contraction was over he got up and
and they both felt it, laughing together at the small turned on the light. She blinked in the sudden bright-
bouncing motions within her womb, separate from ness. He put on garments and pajama bottoms, got
themselves. his watch out from the nightstand drawer.
After the heat between them dissipated into a “What are you doing?” she asked, panicking that
peaceful, sleepy satisfaction, they lay together kiss- he had left her side, afraid the next pain would
ing before falling fast asleep. begin any moment, yet grumpy with herself for her
• • • sudden fierce dependence on his presence.
Later the same night, pain arrived—a severe pain “Timing contractions,” he answered with his
in her belly, tearing at her sides. She screamed when familiar wide grin.
she awoke and realized it was not a dream, startling It was that grin which had first attracted her;
her husband out of sleep. now it irritated her. She did not smile back. “Those
It was gone almost as quickly as it began; per- two were less than five minutes apart!” she squealed.
haps she imagined it after all. She sat up in bed, At that moment she realized she was not dressed,
wide awake, feeling for the baby’s movements. She and tiredly remembered why. Well, she had wanted
placed her hands on her swollen belly to be sure she it to work. Hadn’t she?
could feel something. The baby kicked her hard in She reached under her pillow and pulled out her
her ribcage, and she was reassured. He was not dead. clothes, then put on her garments and pajamas.

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“Call the doctor—the hospital—tell them we’re “Remember, they said slow and deep,” her hus-
coming!” Pulling her head through her nightshirt, band said.
she looked around their tiny room for the bag she “I’m trying,” she said.
had packed weeks ago. It was still there, in the cor- • • •
ner by the dresser. It had gathered dust. It continued; two and a half hours later she was
“Did I pack a toothbrush in there?” she said. checked into the hospital, changed into a pink floral-
“I’m sure you did, sweetheart. Listen. I think we print hospital gown, and a nurse was checking her
should wait for at least one more contraction before dilation, again. The invasion of the nurse’s hand
we call,” he said. through her vaginal cavity was far more uncom-
She agreed, halfheartedly, with a grunt. fortable now than previous checks made in the
They waited twenty minutes. doctor’s office. This was not a quick check, either.
He paced the small bedroom holding his watch, The nurse grunted, struggling to get proper hold of
ticking seconds off with each footstep. There was her cervix.
nowhere to go in the tiny room but around the bed “Keeps slipping,” the nurse said. “Sorry.”
in a horseshoe shape, back and forth. She was too tired to do more than mumble her
“Your pacing bugs me as much as sitting here discomfort.
waiting does,” she snapped. The nurse removed her hand and said, “Feels
“Sorry,” he said, and stopped, but in a few like she’s still a six to me.”
moments he was pacing again. Another contraction began while the nurse was
“It’s a false alarm,” she said with despair, and speaking.
started to cry. She lay back down. “Turn off the Her husband said, “We’ll get there!”
light,” she said. “Shut up,” she said, viciously, a catch in her voice
“Why?” as the pain swept her away.
“We might as well go back to sleep.” The nurse strapped a three-inch-wide elastic belt
“I can’t sleep now,” he said, staring at his watch. over and under her belly, fastening it on with Velcro.
“Are you sure you don’t feel anything?” A hard-plastic monitor was attached to the belt.
“I’m sure,” she said, sobbing. She pulled up her Dangling wires connected this to a machine near
nightshirt and put her hands directly on the stretched the wall, and the room was filled with the loud whish-
skin of her abdomen, underneath the stretchy mater- whish sound of the baby’s heartbeat. The rhythmic
nity panel. “Nothing. Except the baby’s hiccups noise gave her a slight sense of reassurance.
started up again.” When another contraction ended, she noticed the
Ten more minutes went by. Her hands stayed belt itching. She moved to scratch it, and the speaker
fixed to her belly, feeling. Waiting. She was not made a loud noise like someone dragging the needle
anxious to feel that particular pain again. But she across an old phonograph record. It was as jarring
knew its meaning: perhaps this baby would be born as fingernails dragged across a chalkboard. Then silence.
after all. The nurse made an exasperated sound and read-
For the first time this idea became real. justed the monitor on her belly. “Try not to scratch,
She felt her belly harden into a taut basketball at honey. That monitor’s very important.”
the same time she recognized the pain was return- The sound of the heartbeat returned to the
ing. She signaled her husband with a low moan. room, and the nurse went out.
He looked up from his watch at her sound and “Did she say anything more on the epidural?”
sat down next to her. They breathed, together, the she asked.
way they practiced in childbirth classes. “His heartbeat’s still irregular,” he said. “Doctor P.
After this contraction ended, her back ached says no. Plus the nurse said you’re dilated too far for
fiercely, a dull dark pain between her hips. She an epidural anyway. It’s hospital policy not to give
breathed in hard, rapid gasps. them after five centimeters. It could stop labor.”

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“So?” This did not sound like such a terrible idea “I can’t tell what you need from me,” he said,
at the moment. complaining for the first time.
“I’m sorry, honey,” he said. As he leaned toward “Just stop that,” she spit at him. “And go brush
her, she noticed his shirt and pants did not match. your teeth. You stink and you’re breathing on me.”
It was a combination he’d put on before that he “Sorry,” he said, miffed. He dropped her hand
believed matched. Before, she had always managed and went to the sink.
to tell him there was a spot on the shirt or make The doctor came to check her while he brushed,
some other excuse to interest him in changing it. and they were disappointed. Still eight centimeters.
Now it bothered her. Part of her brain realized it No progress since the previous hour.
was incongruous that she should notice it at this After this check, she noticed a trickle of fluid flow-
moment, irrelevant that she should care. ing out of her. Dimly she realized what must have
“I wish you’d worn something else,” she said, happened. “My water just broke,” she murmured.
irritably. There would be pictures, later. He called the nurse and told her.
A new panic struck her. The camera. “Did we The following contraction was blistering by
bring the camera?” she said. comparison; all before had been merely practice for
“What’s wrong with my clothes?” he said. “Cam- the real thing. She screamed in pain and instantly
era? We put it in the bag when we packed it, didn’t heard two voices, one in each ear, both very close.
we? Yes, I’m sure we did.” Then, “I thought you It was an order, from both her husband and the
liked this shirt.” nurse. “Breathe!”
“I like that shirt,” she said. “I can’t!” she gasped, weeping. “I can’t! I want
“What, then?” my epidural!”
“Never mind,” she said, loudly. The nurse forced her eyes open and turned her
It sunk in that there would be no pain relief, and head. “Look at me. Breathe!” All she could see was
she began to cry. “I never imagined no epidural,” the nurse’s large hazel eyes.
she sobbed. She assumed the pain would continue Helpless to avoid those eyes, she copied the
until they arrived at the hospital, and shortly she
nurse’s steady rhythm. Slowly the contraction sub-
would be free of further pain until after delivery. As
sided, and she was left whimpering.
all her friends had experienced. For her, Lamaze
“This is too hard. I can’t do this anymore,” she said
was simply something to do in the meantime—not
aloud, miserable, to no one in particular but herself.
the entire time. The horror story from the red-
haired woman at the supermarket floated through “You must,” the nurse said firmly. “It’ll all be
her brain, tormenting her. over soon.”
“I don’t like seeing you like this,” he said. He “It will?” she said.
held her as best as he could with the bed railing in Somehow that thought had not occurred to her,
the way and stroked her hair. that there would be an end.
“I don’t like it either,” she said, sobbing. “It will,” the nurse said, more gently, and nod-
• • • ded her head, smiling.
Three hours of this went by, then four. She felt “Please give me an epidural,” she said, begging,
the stretching inside her, the pulling, all the mus- whining like a baby for candy treats.
cles combining to form the necessary passageway. “I’m sorry, honey, but if we have any more fetal
Her back ached relentlessly. distress than this, or find meconium in the water,
Dawn slowly came, filtering its light through the we’ll have do an emergency Cesarean,” the nurse
window of their room. said. “Can’t risk it.”
She clung to his hand with white knuckles as a “No. Oh, no,” she said, her eyes widening,
new contraction started. He reached for her hair, remembering again the story from the woman at
matted against her head with sweat, but she the store. “Not that. Anything but that.”
brushed his hand away fiercely. “Is the baby okay?” her husband asked.

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“Fine so far,” the nurse said, looking over the her. In an instant she comprehended his fear; it was
volumes of paper spewed forth from the fetal heart similar to her own. She sensed his alarm, his anxi-
monitor. “Looks like the water’s clear—good sign. ety, and felt a sudden unity with him. They were
Just have to watch him closely, that’s all.” one in this journey through the unknown.
Similar contractions followed. Mentally she It was at this moment of her deepest physical
fought against them. Unprepared for this elevated anguish that she first realized how much she loved
level of pain, she tried to force it to stop with him. Perhaps she had always known it, somewhere
sheer will. inside herself. Perhaps she had only been afraid to
It continued relentlessly. There was no escape. let the feeling live. She had blocked it out, not
allowing these thoughts in her mind before: that
she would be with her baby soon, that she would
Intense fears of his dying, hold him in her arms, that she loved him very
deeply. Intense fears of his dying, of her subsequent
of her subsequent mourning, mourning, of her devastation, had prevented her
from bonding with the child growing in her belly.
of her devastation, had It dissolved in this one instant, and her love poured
prevented her from into her soul like water from a dam breaking. This
pure, maternal love surged upward and took over
bonding with the child her being, strengthening her with a power far
beyond her own.
growing in her belly. James, she called to him—at once it felt the most
natural thing to say. She told him with her mind
that it would be all right, that this was necessary, it
She ceased feeling sorry for herself, ceased think- must be so. That they would be together in a very
ing about her other friends with babies who did not different way soon. She became desperate to con-
have to endure this to get them, those who were nect with him, to communicate these important
granted the mysterious, elusive blessing of the things to him somehow. Nothing else mattered.
epidural block while she was not. She no longer She must tell him how much she loved him.
had time or strength to devote to these pointless She sensed the feeling of alarm subside.
thoughts. I love you too, Mom.
She heard other voices, she believed it was the Had she heard it? Was it only her imagination?
nurse’s, along with her husband’s. The voices told She was unsure. But she could feel his love. Of that
her: Work with the pain, use it, help your body do she had no doubt.
what it must to accomplish his safe delivery. She redoubled her effort to work with the
Finally she listened. Her consciousness went deep muscles of her body, to open the passageway that
inside her body. She reached out with her mind, would release him from his temporary home to her
through the pain, to comprehend what her body waiting arms.
was doing. She felt the muscles stretching, tighten- “Joanna? Joanna?” Her husband’s frightened voice
ing, and relaxing, and instead of fighting their efforts reached her ears. It was only with great effort that
she now commanded them to open. she brought her consciousness back up to respond.
As her mind searched, sensing the internal “Joanna, breathe!” he said, his voice urgent, anx-
motions of her body, she slowly became aware she ious. “You’re not breathing!”
could feel the soul of her baby reaching out to hers “I am breathing,” she mumbled, fumbling to pat
for guidance, for comfort, for affirmation. She his hand. She returned her mental energy to the
sensed the powerful squeezing he was feeling and task, channeling all her energy. For her baby.
caught her breath as the sensation overwhelmed Her son.

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A new strength came to her, a current flowing A new contraction began. The nurses told her to
along with the current of the pain, weaving itself wait, but she did not listen, pushing.
around and through it. From where it came she did “Quiet,” the doctor said. “Try to blow, not push.
not know. It was exhilarating. I’ll check you during this one.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Her husband’s voice He put his gloved hand inside her.
came to her ears faintly, as through water or great She was aware she did not like this and that it
distance. His pitch was elevated; she sensed his hurt. “Stop it, and let me push.”
nervousness but she could not relinquish her exer- “Hang on,” the doctor said. “Give me a minute
tion to reassure him, much less try to explain the here.”
tsunami of emotion washing over and through “I can’t!” she yelled.
her soul. “Blow,” her husband said, demonstrating.
“She’s doing much better,” the nurse’s voice replied. She tried panting along with him. It was too
“Much better. She’s breathing very deep. Good. Let hard, and she pushed anyway.
her work.” “Whoa,” the doctor said, withdrawing his hand.
She had felt as one lost at sea, the waves of pain “Yes, I’ll say, she’s complete. Station plus three.
crashing down relentlessly upon her, drowning her. Here we go.”
Now she was able to rise to the crest of each wave, The contraction subsided. The nurses took care
riding above them, no longer allowing them to sub- of procedures at her business end, dousing the
merge her. opening and surrounding areas with iodine, scrub-
At once she was aware of a need to push. She bing. They draped her legs with sterile drapes.
must. There was no choice. She did not announce Another urgent pressure built. In spite of the
the fact or wait for the nurse to approve. She painful throes of these contractions, they were dif-
pushed. Hard. ferent: she was empowered by them, exerting a
Her unabashed grunting alerted the staff in the strength she was unaware she possessed.
room and created a flurry of activity. She scrunched She concentrated, pushing the baby through her
herself up in the bed and gripped the handrails body, willing him to be born. She felt his body
tightly, giving herself better leverage for the pushing. moving through hers. It was an odd, fascinating
She heard nurses pleading with her to wait. sensation even through the pain. She concentrated
“No!” she yelled. “I can’t!” on the sheer wonder of it.
When this first press to push subsided, there was In the next interval she looked over at her hus-
a break from all pain and contractions. It was the band, whose face was pale. She managed to smile at
first relief she had felt since her labor began in him. He placed his hand on hers and squeezed it.
earnest. She felt strong, weak no longer, and breathed Then the urgency was upon her again, and the
in deeply. whish-whish sound of the monitors, the hum of
With an effort she raised her awareness back up the lights, the rolling out of equipment, the
from where she had been concentrating, deep cacophony of nurses’ voices calling directions and
inside her body. She opened her eyes. The bright- giving orders, all faded as she focused on birthing
ness of the light surprised her, and she remem- her son.
bered: morning had come. More lights were on in Her husband’s knuckles whitened as he gripped
the room as well, and there was equipment present her hand.
that was not there earlier. The doctor said, “Good—almost there—
Her doctor stood before her legs wearing surgi- crowning—”
cal greens, pulling on latex gloves. Two nurses put A burst of blinding pain struck her conscious-
each of her feet into the stirrups at the end of the ness as a white light in the darkness of her closed
bed. She remembered the doctor coming in earlier eyes, and she cried out. For an instant she was
to check on her. aware of nothing but the burning, fiery white

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sensation stretching, tearing her perineum wide doctor handed a pair of scissors to her husband.
and apart. She was momentarily paralyzed by it, The cord was thicker than she expected.
sucking in air in a great, electrifying gasp. “Cut close to the clamp,” the doctor said.
She was grateful it faded quickly. She saw a squeamish expression come over her
The doctor said, “Good, there’s the head—” and husband’s face. He gingerly held the scissors, snip-
a second white blinding pain like the first burst ping them open and shut to get the feel of them.
upon her as the baby’s shoulders slipped out, away He made a nervous, quiet laugh. She smiled up at
from her body. him and noticed he, also, had tears streaming down
Then it was over. his cheeks.
Her entire body shook violently, and she was The doctor said, “Go ahead.”
suddenly intensely conscious of her surround- He attempted the cut. It was slippery and rub-
ings again. bery and slid away from the scissors. He grabbed
She heard it before she saw him. A raucous new- the cord and held it tightly, cutting firmly through
born squall filled the air, and her tears flowed freely the strange, resistant tissue.
on hearing her baby’s first sound. The cord fell away. The baby lay free on her
She opened her eyes and looked at her son. Her chest. He began to settle down and opened his
first child. eyes, which were a bluish black. Their eyes met. He
Her relief was as intense as her agony had been. was hers forever, born a child of the covenant; she
The doctor gently handed him to her. She took his knew this beyond any doubt. She believed he knew
tiny naked body in her arms and cradled him as she it too.
wept over him. A thought slipped into her mind, We are three now, she thought.
from scripture: O then, is not this real? It was a consummation of joy.
He was slippery in her hands, wet, his reddish
skin wrinkled and somewhat bloody. Dark black Linda Paulson Adams lives in Jackson County, Mis-
hair was matted to his head from the birthing souri, with her husband of thirteen years, six children
fluids. His eyes were squeezed shut, and his body ages eleven and under, three cats, and a dog. She pub-
was rigid from yelling. He took deep breaths lished her first novel, Prodigal Journey, with Corner-
between cries, loudly protesting his loss of warmth stone in July 2000, and she is currently working on
and comfort, the shock of this radical change in his final revisions of its sequel, Refining Fire, due out
environment. later in 2002. She has previously published poetry
She’d never seen anything so beautiful. in IRREANTUM, and other recent credits include Fric-
She held him tightly to her chest, shivering, tion Magazine, Lynx Eye, and Limestone Circle.
shaking, both with chills and raw, newly born emo- She serves as Primary pianist and choir director in
tion. She stroked his wet, sticky hair and spoke her ward.
soothing words, words she remembered her own
mother using with her brothers and sister, words
she was certain her mother said to her as well.
He continued to cry.
She laughed watching his movements, drinking
in his strange smell, the peculiar scent of amniotic
fluid which clung to him. She noticed the minia-
ture thumbnail peeking out from a tightly clenched
fist, his tiny toes, the feel of his solid, real weight
and slippery soft skin in her arms.
She watched as the doctor and nurses quickly
clamped his umbilical cord in two places and the

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S T O R Y “But I guess you were one of the choice spirits


saved for the latter days.”
The Salvation of Audrey Johnson “A fine mess I made of it too, rejecting an oppor-
tunity to hear the gospel, and from my own son
By Edward Hogan too.” Audrey’s face reflected her frustration with
herself, as she let out a little sigh.
Audrey Johnson was deeply disappointed with “I made many mistakes myself, Sister Johnson,”
the celestial kingdom. For one thing, and admit- replied Bishop Winthrop, shaking his head as he
tedly it was a small one, she hated wearing white all bit his lower lip. “I deeply regret that whole busi-
the time. She was by no means excessively vain, but ness with Sister Hutchinson—oh my, yes. I botched
she had always been a good-looking woman and she that up something fierce. Thank goodness for the
couldn’t help but be pleased with having her twenty- principle of repentance. Without it we’d all be lost.
year-old body back. And of course her body was The important thing now is that you’ve accepted all
perfected; gone was the unsightly mole on the side the ordinances for your celestial glory. And, for that
of her neck, which had caused her considerable matter, your husband has too. What a marvelous
mortification when she was fifteen. Her fingers, reunion that will be.”
which had always had a funny curl to them, were Audrey had missed Norman and was glad that
now long and straight. It was frustrating to be so shortly after her death he had taken the missionary
attractive again and yet be stuck with wearing discussions and accepted the gospel. After he joined
white all the time, a color that just didn’t suit her her, they could go to the celestial kingdom.
complexion. Although Audrey knew there would be work
Still, she had accepted the drabness of her involved with being a god, she hoped that in the
wardrobe rather well, as she had her lot in spirit celestial kingdom, at last, she might get a little rest,
prison. After all, she had been wrong. Her son, on perhaps on Sunday afternoons.
more than one occasion, had told her how won-
derful the Church was and asked her if she During her mortal existence, Audrey was the
wouldn’t be interested in taking the missionary dis- oldest of seven children. Her mother died when
cussions. Unfortunately she had never gotten past she was twelve. From that time on, she essentially
all that tripe about seeing angels and golden plates raised her brothers and sisters and did most of the
and polygamy. cooking and cleaning for the family. Audrey’s
When she got to spirit prison, however, she siblings lent a hand, of course, but the responsibil-
quickly repented of her earthly attitude. Typical of ity for running the house was completely hers.
her, she went right to work once she heard and Although she accepted this responsibility without
accepted the gospel. Well before her husband had complaint, there were times when she wished she
been baptized down on earth and had the temple could wander through the department store down-
work done for her, she was herself an active mis- town with her friends, or get a part-time job so she
sionary. Laboring under Bishop Winthrop’s direc- could afford a new dress or a phonograph.
tion, she brought many souls in spirit prison to the Audrey’s father worked in a lumberyard. He
true and everlasting gospel. always worked any extra hours that were available
She was, of course, happy when her own endow- there and usually worked a second job. Even with
ments were done for her. At that point, she could the extra income, the family was always short of
have gone to paradise, but she thought she might money. Yet Audrey sometimes felt that her father
as well wait for Norman to pass to the other side. worked long hours not to support his family, but to
Bishop Winthrop was certainly pleased to have her avoid it. He often seemed happy to escape from the
working with him. “I wish we’d have had you with small house filled with seven children. Audrey
us in the Massachusetts Bay Colony,” he told her. would bounce from being angry with her father

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to feeling guilty for suspecting her father of doing handling the money for her family since she was
such a thing. sixteen and working for two years as an accountant
Her feelings were not mixed, however, about her for Christensen’s Department Store, Audrey found
father’s gambling. She did not know how much he having to go to her father-in-law every time she
lost on the horses, but in a household that always needed fifty cents particularly galling. Norman,
lacked money a dime lost on gambling was a dime however, seemed to think it was the natural way to
too much. She could not, and did not, feel that his operate a farm.
gambling was an innocent pastime and that he After they had been married a year, Audrey sug-
deserved to spend a few dollars on it. Indeed, as she gested they might build a small house of their own,
grew older she became increasingly convinced or even get a trailer. Norman was sympathetic, but
that the family’s poverty was not the fault of a his father said, “Why would you want to do that?
father who made an insufficient income, but of There’s plenty of room in the house.” Norman was
a father who squandered it. disappointed but, as usual, accepted his father’s
With this realization came an increasing hatred decision with equanimity. It wasn’t that Norman
of gambling. Audrey herself never bet on anything, was a wimp, far from it. With anyone but his father
not even a dime or a nickel on who would win a he stood up for himself just fine.
football game at school, or whether Frank Sim- Norman’s mother, Gladys, suffered from bad
mons would ask Janice Franklin to the prom. As health. Audrey suspected that more often than not,
Audrey matured, she developed a dislike for other she was not as sick as she claimed to be. “I’m terri-
vices as well and found great support and strength bly sorry, Audrey dear,” she would say. “I feel so
in the weekly sermons of Reverend Robins. Even as sick that I don’t know if I can get out of bed today.
a child she had enjoyed going to church. As she got Do you think you could bring some tea and toast
older she not only looked upon church as a support up to me when you get a chance?” When Audrey
for her own moral views, but found activities at trudged up the steps with a tray, her mother-in-law
church one of her few refuges from her heavy would say, “Thank you, Audrey dear. I’m so glad
responsibilities at home. Norman and Henry have you. I really don’t know
Despite these responsibilities, Audrey managed how we got along before you came.” Gladys would
to get good grades in school and, after high school, spend the morning in bed or lounging about the
studied accounting at the local business college. house in her robe.
After she had worked in a department store for a In the afternoon, Gladys usually made a remark-
year and a half, she met and fell in love with Nor- able recovery. After the noonday meal, just as Audrey
man Johnson. When she was twenty-two she mar- was wiping up the kitchen and wondering if she
ried Norman, who was a dairy farmer. He lived on had time to work on the farm’s books before she
a farm with his father, mother, and two hired men. started in on dinner or the washing, Gladys would
After the wedding, Audrey went to live with the appear in the kitchen looking quite well in one of
Johnsons. She cooked three large meals a day and her nicest outfits. “Marge just called and asked if I
did the cleaning and washing for the family and the could go into Scranton to shop with her. I do feel
hired men. She also kept the books for the farm. a bit better this afternoon, and I think a little shop-
As a young bride, Audrey was not happy living ping might be just the thing I need to lift my spir-
on the farm. Even under the best of conditions, liv- its. Besides, I hate to be so selfish as to let Marge
ing in the same house with in-laws is usually diffi- down. She does so many nice things for me.”
cult, but conditions were far from ideal. Norman’s Yes, we all have to make sacrifices, Audrey would
father, Henry, regarded Audrey as an intruder from think but never say. When Gladys returned from
the moment she came to the farm. Norman shopping, she was, of course, exhausted, and unless
received no salary. If Audrey or he needed money there was some engagement that appealed to her,
for something, they asked his father for it. After she would be too tired in the evening to do anything

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but claim the most comfortable recliner in front disapproved of this, and even if it rained heavily the
of the TV. following Monday, she would say with firm con-
Both Norman and Henry were always solicitous viction to anyone within earshot, whether they
to Gladys when she was feeling poorly. “You just would listen or not, “It’s still wrong, and you don’t
rest today. If you need anything just ask Norman’s know what would have happened if they hadn’t
wife. She’ll be glad to bring you anything you brought in the hay. If they hadn’t brought it in, it
need,” Henry would say. “Oh, I’m so glad Mother just might not have rained at all.”
was feeling better,” Norman would say when he Despite the fact that Audrey had worked quickly
heard that his mother had gone to play pinochle in and efficiently since she was twelve years old, she
the afternoon. had almost never had time to relax. Even when her
Audrey was not sure which galled her the most, work on the farm was completed, there was always
the additional work her mother-in-law caused her a sick friend to visit, or a batch of beans to bake for
or Henry and Norman’s being taken in by it all. a church supper, or, for that matter, a church sup-
Audrey bore all of this quietly and did her best to per to organize and run. She was widely admired
please everyone. It was difficult for her, however, for her industry, but she often wished she could
when she was pregnant or not feeling well herself. just sit out on the porch on a warm summer’s after-
When Audrey’s son was telling her about the noon, or sit by the fire and sip hot chocolate on a
restored gospel, one of the things that Audrey had cold winter evening.
found least appealing was that families could be Audrey’s favorite time of the day was at the end
together forever. Although Audrey loved her own of meals. After everyone else was served, she would
children, she was glad she no longer lived with her sit and eat slowly, savoring every mouthful. Often
in-laws, and a religion that provided the possibility she would be the only one left at the table when she
of their reunion was not one that she wanted to was finished. Cleaning up after meals was not diffi-
have anything to do with. Audrey couldn’t help but cult for her. Before the meal began, she had already
feel just a little relieved when she arrived in the celes- washed the pots and put the kitchen back in order.
tial kingdom and found that her in-laws were not After she finished eating, she merely had to put the
there—not that she wished them any harm, of course. dishes in the dishwasher, put the food away, and
Although raised a Christian, Norman had sel- wipe up.
dom gone to church before he married. His parents Vacations from the farm were few, and Norman
felt that visiting the church on the principal Chris- usually felt anxious about things when he was away
tian holidays if they were caught up with the farm from it. “I sure hope the cows are okay.” “My good-
work was more than adequate. Audrey, however, ness, this is the best weather we’ve had all summer.
insisted before she married Norman that they I should be home getting the hay in.”
would go to church together and both live Christ- Audrey liked the vacations the family did go on.
ian lives. She might put up with a dictatorial She liked going out to eat. But, oddly enough, the
father-in-law and a hypochondriac of a mother-in- few times she had been in the hospital were among
law, neither of whom had any regard for her, but the happiest times in her life. There she could lie in
she and her husband would go to church! And go bed while other people waited on her. Many of her
to church they did. friends came to visit her, and she got a large num-
Norman enjoyed being active in the Methodist ber of cards. When she was sick, someone always
church as much as she did. It was not until her brought her a sunshine basket. She never thought
father-in-law had passed away, however, that she of all the sunshine baskets she had delivered and
could persuade Norman to do only the essential felt like she had one coming; she just took great
farm work on Sundays. Before then, Norman’s delight in getting one.
father had insisted they bring in hay on a Sunday Audrey had always thought that heaven would
afternoon if it looked like rain on Monday. Audrey be something like being in the hospital. A place

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where she could rest, lie back on a cloud, and play and Norman find a nice cloud to sit on. It’s high
a harp. As she found out immediately, however, time you did, if you ask me.”
that was not the case. When Norman joined her “Really?”
and they entered the celestial kingdom, they imme- “Really.”
diately set to work creating a world over which they Audrey lost no time in seeking out her husband
had dominion. And of course there were all of the to tell him the good news. “Norman, Bishop Win-
activities with the other gods—the seminars on cre- throp said we could spend some time just sitting
ating worlds, discussion groups on the best ways to on a cloud resting and playing a harp. Isn’t that
populate them, the continual controversy over wonderful?”
whether to let their newly created worlds evolve by “Well, I don’t know,” replied her husband as he
natural law or be formed by direct creation. scratched his chin. “It doesn’t sound very exciting
Audrey’s baked goods were in great demand for to me. Besides, you’ve never been particularly musi-
these meetings. “No one can make a devil’s food cal, Audrey. You play no instrument; you can’t even
cake like you can, Sister Johnson. I sure hope you carry a tune. Why would you want to spend all day
can whip one up for our meeting Tuesday.” “We’re playing the harp?”
counting on you for the coffee cake for next “Well, the harp isn’t the important thing,” said
week’s meeting.” Audrey, looking greatly disappointed. “I really don’t
After one of these meetings, she was sitting by care about the harp. I’d just like to sit on a cloud
herself looking quite forlorn, while all the other and rest. That’s how I always thought of heaven.
gods and goddesses were enjoying Audrey’s heaven- Can you come and rest with me on a cloud?”
famous chocolate-chip cookies and discussing “I suppose I could. Tuesday afternoon we could
problems with wayward chosen peoples. Her old take a short break while we’re organizing the Nephi
friend Bishop Winthrop noticed her sitting there. Galaxy and do a few minutes of cloud sitting.”
“What’s the matter, Sister Johnson? You look glum.” “Well now, Norman. That isn’t exactly what I
“Oh, I’m just a bit tired, I guess. This has been a had in mind. I just want to sit on a cloud for as
big week.” long as I please and not worry about a thing. I don’t
“Are you sure? You look more than tired; you want to be thinking about the mathematical laws
look sad.” of astronomy or the interaction of gravity and light.
Audrey was tempted to just smile and say that I just want to sit on a cloud and rest.”
everything was fine, that after a good night’s rest “Well, I don’t know. I can’t just drop every-
she would be perfect, but instead she said, “To tell thing.” Norman shook his head. “We do have that
you the truth, I had always hoped that when I got problem with the Nephi Galaxy. And Thursday the
to heaven I would be able to rest a little bit. I gardening club meets; I don’t want to miss that. I
thought I could sit on a cloud and play a harp all was hoping you’d make a couple of pies for it.
day. I know that’s a terribly Protestant thing to I don’t see how I can get away.”
think, but I can’t get over it.” “Bishop Winthrop said we could just drop
“Why don’t you do it then?” things, that some of the other gods would cover for
Audrey was astounded. She sat for a few us. Can’t we go?”
moments, her mouth open without saying any- “I don’t know, Audrey. I don’t want to leave that
thing. Finally she asked, “You mean I can?” galactic problem to anyone else. And then Friday
“Of course you can; you just have to do it.” there’s a board meeting for the celestial library. I’d
“But, but what would happen to the world I hate to miss that.”
have dominion over? Who would fix the lasagna for When it was clear to Audrey that Norman wasn’t
Saturday’s celestial social?” going to go with her to rest on a cloud, she decided
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll find someone to she might as well go into the serving area and start
take care of things for you; just leave it to me. You cleaning up.

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“So, what did Norman say?” she heard Bishop surrounded her, and she could look down at the
Winthrop ask as she washed out a large Tupper- earth below her and see anything she wanted. Then
ware bowl. an angel came with her breakfast. It was Audrey’s
“I’m afraid he didn’t think much of the idea. favorite: eggs over easy and little link sausages, with
I guess there won’t be any cloud sitting after all.” toast and orange juice. This was wonderful. She
“Hmm.” Bishop Winthrop stared down at the just sat there and ate very slowly.
floor for a moment as he thought and then said, After breakfast, Audrey introduced herself to a
“You could always go by yourself.” goddess who was sitting next to her, knitting. After
Audrey’s face lit up; then she frowned. “I don’t they’d had a nice chat about their children, Audrey
know how Norman would feel about that either. said, “I always wanted to learn how to knit, but I
Do you think it would be all right?” was always too busy. I’d love to knit myself a cardi-
“Why, of course. Look, I’m due for a little PPI gan—you know, with a cable stitch.”
with Norman anyway. I’ll talk to him about it. I’m “I can teach you in no time, dear,” replied the
sure that once he understands everything, he’ll have lady. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”
no objections.” A little after lunch, Bishop Winthrop came by to
Bishop Winthrop found Norman and took him ask if everything was all right.
into his office. “I think this is going to be good for “Why yes, it’s wonderful, but how long can I
Audrey. This is something she needs,” he said. stay here?”
“I’m not so sure,” replied Norman. “I’m going to “As long as you like; you have all eternity.”
miss her something terrible. You don’t think she’ll Norman came by to say hello the next afternoon.
be gone long, do you?” “How are things going?” he asked, looking a little
“I don’t know, but you can visit her as often as forlorn.
you want. Just don’t make her feel guilty about being “I’m having a wonderful time. I wish you’d join
there. What you can’t do is drop by and tell her about me.”
all the problems you’ve been having. You mustn’t “Well, not for a while at least. I went to the celes-
distress her in any way. You understand that?”
tial Rook club last night. Had a terrible night. Only
“Why, of course. Bishop, I wouldn’t think of
won two out of eight hands. That puts me down in
troubling Audrey about a thing.”
third place.”
As they walked home, Audrey asked, “Are you
“I’m sorry, but there are still a lot more games.
sure it’s all right for me to go? You’ll be fine with-
out me for a while?” You’ll probably do better next week.”
“Of course, if that’s what you want to do. I can “I hope so. Marsha made the pie,” said Norman,
handle things for a while. I don’t imagine you’ll shaking his head. “Just wasn’t the same as yours.
want to be sitting there on a cloud for long.” I don’t know what she does wrong.”
“I’m not so sure, Norman. I want to get my fill “Oh dear, I guess I should have made them. If
of it.” you’d reminded me I could have done it before I left.”
“You go ahead; I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about “Oh no, you’re not supposed to be worrying
me a bit. No, don’t worry about me at all.” about baking pies while you’re here. Don’t give it
Almost as soon as they got home, Audrey got a another thought. Don’t worry about the library
call from Bishop Winthrop. He checked to make board meeting either. They weren’t exactly happy
sure she and Norman had everything worked out about it, but they said you could give your report
and then said, “I’ll set everything up for you. Come on the condition of the collection for juvenile
over to my place tomorrow, and I’ll take you to the angels at another meeting.”
clouds myself. Don’t have breakfast first; I’ll arrange “I’d forgotten all about that.”
for a ministering angel to bring you your meals.” “Well, like I said, don’t give it another thought.
The next morning, Sister Audrey found her- I guess I’d better go and arrange for some refresh-
self resting on a cloud. Beautiful wisps of white ments, though. I’m trying to find someone to bake

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some peanut-butter cookies with the chocolate kisses S T O R Y


poked into the middle. You know, like the ones you
make. I’d better go make some phone calls.” Harden Times
“Oh my, I guess I should be doing that.”
“No, no, you just stay here and relax; don’t you By Susan J. Kroupa
worry about anything.”
Norman kissed Audrey and hurried off. Johnny Calico first saw Graylady on a mild
Audrey watched Norman walk away and felt spring morning, one so full of the damp scent of
momentarily guilty for not being there to help him life that he could almost believe its promise of magic
out. But then she said to herself, surely in all of and new beginnings. Spires of smoke rising from
heaven there must be someone else who can make south of Provo and from northwest of Orem told
good peanut-butter cookies. the truth, however. The fires still burned, a neigh-
For two days Audrey stayed on her cloud, chat- borhood here, a city block there, and would con-
ted a bit, learned how to knit, and took in the tinue to do so as long as there were houses to feed
beauty of the universe. It was marvelous. She the flames.
watched galaxies forming far away, hummingbirds He crinkled his nose against the trace of smoke
feeding on trumpet vines, lions hunting in savan- and ash in the air. Before he’d left the reservation,
nahs. She saw thousands of things she’d never taken he used to love the smell of smoke, pungent with
the time to notice before. Whenever she had a memories of fry bread and mutton stew and shelter
question about what she was looking at, she only from bitter winter winds. Now, it always smelled of
had to think it, and an angel appeared who death, even smoke from the clean fires that burned
answered all her questions. in the woods or brush far away from the homes.
She had been having such a wonderful time just Still, he preferred the outside air and was glad
sitting on her cloud that it was not until the end of that it would soon be mild enough to sleep outside.
the second day that she noticed her harp. It was a He hated sleeping in the houses, with the stink of
small harp, more like a lyre, really. Audrey had no blood soaked into the walls, and probably a ghost
idea how to play it, but she tentatively plucked one or two just looking for a ten-year-old Navajo boy to
string. The sound was beautiful. She looked at the torment. Once, Mom Tyler had told him that
harp, surprised. Anglo houses didn’t have ghosts. She had said it
“Go ahead and play it,” said a voice to her side. flatly as if she couldn’t possibly be wrong, but
Startled, Audrey looked up and saw a minister- Johnny wasn’t sure—his grandfather believed in
ing angel there. “You don’t need lessons or anything ghosts. He wondered if the Tyler home had ghosts
to play that harp,” said the angel. “Its sound reflects or if by now it had burned to the ground, but he
the beauty and harmony of your own life.” didn’t know. Since the Death, he had lived in
Oh dear, Audrey thought, what if it sounds ter- twenty or thirty houses and had wandered all over
rible? But then she recalled that it hadn’t sounded Utah Valley, moving every week or so, but he’d
terrible at all, so she plucked a few more strings. never gone near the Tylers’ neighborhood again. If
Then she ran her fingers across the harp; it emanated the men from the Church were still looking for
a joyous sound praising God and the universe. him, that would be the first place they’d check.
This time, he’d picked north Orem and, in the
Edward Hogan was educated at Hamilton College dark of the night, had ridden his bike with one of
and Syracuse University. He teaches mathematics at his packs hooked over the handlebars and the other
East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. on his back. He’d worn the precious rifle, found
just two weeks before, slung over his shoulder.
He hated riding in the dark. One big piece of
glass and he’d have a flat tire, which would mean

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endless searching to replace it and might delay his yard, as if it were coming home after a day’s ride.
trip just when it was critical to get started. But day- After only a few furtive looks in different direc-
light was too dangerous, so it had been in the dark tions, it began grabbing mouthfuls of grass. The
that he’d traveled north, picking a house at random horse was a bay, dark red with a black mane and
when he felt he’d gone far enough. It hadn’t been tail. Well bred, Arabian or thoroughbred, maybe.
hard to get in—it never was; people had been too Johnny couldn’t believe his eyes. It was the first
busy dying to worry about locking doors—and riderless horse he’d seen in the seven months since
Johnny had spent the night on the couch. the Death, and he wondered if it had run wild all
In the morning he’d gone into the backyard to this time or, if not, who could have been careless
breathe the spring air and to check out the neigh- enough to let it out.
borhood from the protection of the backyard fence. It didn’t matter. This was what he needed. A
Peeking through the old redwood slats, he saw her. horse would be much better than the bike. With a
She sat on the sidewalk of the house across from pair of wire-cutters to manage the fences, he could
him, the weeds around her making it look as if she ride cross-country and not have to worry about
were in a field, staring at something behind and being seen on the roads. He was sure he could find
above him, Mount Timpanogos, perhaps. She was some wire-cutters, and he remembered a house in
about thirty-five or forty, and despite her baggy Provo with several saddles and bridles. He watched
sweater Johnny could see that she was thin. the horse, barely able to contain his excitement.
Suddenly her shoulders began shaking, and Johnny This was what he needed, what he’d been searching
saw her raise a sleeve every so often and wipe her for, the unexpected miracle that would see him
eyes. He named her then, calling her in his mind back to the reservation and his grandfather.
Graylady, not because of her fair skin, paler even • • •
than Mom Tyler’s, or because of her dark hair that When the horse came, Rachel had been huddled
fell raggedly around her shoulders, but because, as in a chair by the living room, staring at Mount
he watched her alone in the weeds, it seemed that Timpanogos, hearing in the silence of the street her
her heart was as gray as the ash rising from the ever- children’s voices from another spring only a year—
present fires, her soul as burned and fragile. only a lifetime—before.
• • • “It’s a hairy frost,” Bessie had said.
The horse came almost a week later. Normally, “Hoary frost,” Jared had corrected. It was impor-
Johnny would have moved on by then, but he’d been tant to his ten-year-old sensibilities that his little
agonizing whether it was late enough in the spring sister get it right.
to begin the trip. If he waited too long, the desert “It looks hairy.” Bessie shook the mass of red
would be impossibly hot. But leave too early and he curls she’d inherited from her father and pushed
could get caught in a mountain blizzard. A two-day her lips into a pout.
rainstorm decided the issue. Rain in the valleys “Jared’s right, though. It’s hoary—white with
meant snow on Soldier Summit, which was the age,” said Aaron with a laugh in his voice. “It’ll be
only way he could get across the mountains. So he gone by noon.” Almost ten years older than six-
waited out the rain, opening the side and back win- year old Bessie, Aaron had the distance to be
dows at night to let in the cool, wet air. patient. With his dark hair and gray eyes, he took
The morning after the rain, the sound of hooves after Rachel as much as Bessie and Jared took after
on pavement jolted him awake. One of the bishop’s their father, David.
riders, he thought, finally catching up to him. He leapt “A fly-by-day frost,” Jared had said, laughing at
out of bed and ran to the window, heart pounding. his own joke.
To his relief, he saw it was only a horse—no trace Rachel blinked hard, trying to banish the mem-
of saddle, bridle, or rider. It came from the east, ory, trying to concentrate instead on the brilliantly
trotting down the road and straight into Graylady’s snow-covered Mount Timpanogos that her window

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framed for her. David had loved this view. She of nowhere. But, after a hasty check under the
blinked again. horse’s belly, she found it fit well enough.
And then the horse came, trotting onto her “No one to take care of you.” She ran her hands
lawn, interrupting both her thoughts and the view. down the long neck, drinking in the sweet horsey
Without thinking, Rachel threw off the blanket smell she remembered from her childhood. The
and stuffed her feet into her tennis shoes, then mare raised her head and nuzzled Rachel’s face with
opened the front door slowly and slipped outside. a flower-petal nose, and the softness of its touch
The horse jerked its head up and snorted, but moved something in the dead place of Rachel’s
after eyeing her for a moment it went back to eat- heart so that she knew suddenly that now the horse
ing. Rachel wondered why the horse had picked did have a caretaker. She had come out to catch a
her lawn—in every direction, she was surrounded horse, and instead the horse had caught her.
by empty houses whose wild yards waved with neg- She stroked Liza and talked to her in a low voice,
lect. It was always a shock to look down the street; but after a few moments she began to worry about
her eyes still expected trim lawns, carefully pruned being seen. To take care of the horse meant to get
fruit trees, April daffodils, and rows of red tulips, her into the backyard, out of sight in case the
and she had to shake off that memory in order to bishop or a member of the quorum rode by. One of
see the jungle of it all grown together and shot the first things the Church had done after the Death
through with weeds. How long would her eyes do was to confiscate all means of transportation,
this—trick her with the memory—or her ears lis- horses included. Rachel’s backyard had a privacy
ten for the sounds of traffic on the street? Her fence that would hide the horse from passersby, and
dreams and her memories conspired against her, from the neighbors—Sister Anderson, five houses
refusing to let her rest, and her eyes and ears still to the south, and old Brother Connolly, a block
lived in the past. and a half to the east. If she could just get the horse
Walking so slowly that her legs ached with impa- into the backyard.
tience, Rachel approached the horse until she was She gave Liza a final pat and then went inside to
less than an arm’s length away. Up close, she could look for a rope. She wandered through the house as
see the sweat matting its dark red coat, the knots if she might find one in the mattress and pile of
and tangles in the black mane and tail. blankets on the floor that served as her bed, or in
“Easy,” she said in a low voice. the kitchen cupboard among the stacks of plates
The horse’s head came up so fast that Rachel and cups that never got used, or in the living room
almost jumped in response. with the one chair facing the window. The rest of
“Easy.” She held out a hand. the rooms were empty except for the dining-room
The horse snorted again and shook its head, but table and two chairs, her other furniture burned for
didn’t back away. heat when the power went out during the early
Rachel let her hand rest on the horse’s neck for a days of the Death.
moment, then began stroking it gently. The horse But none of these places had a rope. She knew of
had gentle brown eyes that seemed somehow famil- only one place she might find one.
iar, though Rachel couldn’t imagine why. A glance out the front-room window assured her
To her amazement, it turned and stepped toward that the horse was still there, grazing, but she didn’t
her and began rubbing its face up and down against have much time. If Sister Anderson came out, she
the front of her, rubbing so hard that Rachel had to would see it and surely send a message to the
dig in her heels to keep from getting knocked over. bishop the next time one of his riders came by. Or
It finished by resting its head just below her chin. the horse could trot off down the street and be
“Stop it, Liza,” she said, half-laughing. She gone. Rachel sighed, made up her mind, and, for
scratched behind its ears, taking only a moment to the first time since the Death, opened the door to
wonder at the name that seemed to have come out the basement.

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It was dark, and without thinking her hand Now, surveying the room, Rachel was surprised
flipped the switch to the stairwell light. Nothing hap- to see a few plastic containers of wheat and oats still
pened, of course; her hands were as caught in the left. The shelves that once held canned goods were
past as her eyes. She felt her way down the steps, empty, and the pile of blankets and the emergency
until her eyes adjusted to the dim light filtering in candles were gone. But two industrial-size boxes of
from the basement windows, and tried to ignore the laundry detergent remained, along with eight or so
scurrying sounds of who knew how many rodents. containers of dish soap, rows and rows of empty
The long hall had two bedrooms opening off canning jars beside her old canner, and several
each side, the children’s, and beyond them a family packages of lids.
room on one side, a laundry room and storeroom All of this, with gaps where the bishop had
on the other. moved things upstairs, lined the shelves on three of
The children’s bedrooms. Rachel stared straight the storeroom walls. The fourth was heaped with
ahead, as if she wore blinders, and walked quickly personal things: old sleeping bags, tin scout dishes
past them, directly to the storeroom. She had no interspersed with some of David’s tools, dusty plas-
idea what might still be there. tic milk containers, and broken-handled peanut
Shortly after the Death, a young man had come butter buckets.
to her door and explained that he was now the bishop. There might be a rope in the scout stuff. Rachel
“Bishop?” she had asked incredulously. When began rummaging through the things piled on the
she’d married David and joined the Church, she’d shelf. She found an old can of nails, a roll of twine
had to get used to the idea that Mormon bishops that was too thin to use on a horse, two backpacks,
were leaders of congregations, like parish priests, a pair of rusted grass clippers, a can of congealed
not high-ranking officials. Even so, she’d never seen paint, a mud-encrusted table knife: odds and ends
one so young. from a world that had existed less than a year ago
He’d shrugged in embarrassment. “Nobody but now was gone forever.
older left,” he’d said, offering sympathy amid But no rope. She picked through everything one
apologies for not being able to do more. “We’re try- more time and was about to give up when she
ing to see that everyone has water. Gas and elec- noticed that one of the sleeping bags was bound by
tricity will be impossible for a while. There are so several coils of thick cord. It might just be long
few of us left. . . .” enough. She struggled to undo the knot. The bag
And Rachel, sitting alone in her empty house, unrolled as soon as she pulled the rope free. It slid
had nodded numbly. Nobody left. “Take what you off the shelf to the floor, exposing a dirty sock that
need from the storeroom,” she had said, thinking, had evidently been wrapped inside. She stared at it
And if you take it all and leave me nothing so that I a long time, then picked it up, aware that her hands
die, so much the better. were shaking. The size told her the sock had been
But he hadn’t taken any of it. Food was not in Aaron’s. For a moment, his image filled her mind—
short supply, people were. Instead he had moved fifteen and lanky, brushing his dark hair back from
David’s things downstairs to one of the children’s his eyes as he leaned over her chair asking when,
rooms. Then he’d lugged the five-gallon water con- when could he get his driving permit?
tainers up the stairs and brought much of the food She dropped the sock, grabbed the rope, her hands
up to the kitchen pantry, as if he’d known that the trembling so violently that she could barely hold it,
trip past her children’s bedrooms to the storeroom and ran out of the storeroom, past the bedrooms
was more than she could endure, too great a price and up the stairs, slamming the door behind her.
for survival. She leaned against the door until the shaking
That had been almost seven months ago. Since subsided and she had caught her breath. Then she
then, the bishop had dropped by from time to time, went back outside.
making sure that Rachel’s pantry was never empty. The horse was gone.

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With a little cry, she ran out in the yard, frantic off, but it’d gone right to her, almost as if it knew
until she saw the mare grazing on the side of the her. He shrugged off the idea. The horse was gentle
house, out of sight from the front porch. Rachel and well trained, which was exactly what he needed.
watched her eat, letting the relief flood over her He sat down on the living-room couch, relieved,
and her heart slow to a normal beat. Finally, she and, as he did with every house he entered, he found
approached the horse. himself comparing the floor plan and the furnish-
ings to those of the Tylers. He preferred the Tyler
home, done in what Mom Tyler had called “garage-
No one had been prepared for sale gothic,” to almost every house he’d lived in since
the Death. For a moment, he lost himself in the ache
the Death, and now the wheat to be back there with the smell of chicken baking
sat in the storerooms of empty in the oven and the noise of the younger children
squabbling. But the memory carried him quickly from
houses that stank of blood. those lost days to the image of Mom Tyler, her face
twisted in grief. The image haunted him relentlessly,
as if her ghost were following him from place to place,
Liza nickered a greeting and stood calmly while and he realized it didn’t matter whether ghosts were
Rachel tied the rope around her neck and led her real or not. Memories were ghosts enough.
through the redwood gate to the backyard. On the day that Dad Tyler had died, one of the
Then she set about to make the horse comfort- men from the Church had come by to offer help.
able. She found an old five-gallon bucket under the He’d cowered in the doorway of the room, looking,
cherry tree in the corner of the yard, dumped out with his gas mask, like some kind of fearful ant, lis-
the remains of last year’s cherry crop, and filled the tening to Dad Tyler’s dying words.
bucket a gallon at a time from her water supply in “He’s only nine. Find someone to take care of
the house. The mare drained the bucket in just a him.” Dad Tyler could barely rasp out the words—
few swallows, and Rachel realized water was going his body was swollen with pockets of blood that
to be a problem. The men from the quorum turned puffed out the skin like a balloon. Johnny knew it
on the city water for a couple of hours on Mondays wouldn’t be long until he’d burst, spewing his blood
and Thursdays, and Rachel filled her containers, over the whole room, just as every one of the Tylers
but now she’d need many more. She’d have to use had before him. Just as Mom Tyler had done.
every pot and bowl in her kitchen and the plastic “Find someone to take care of him,” Dad Tyler
milk containers in the basement. had said, panting from the pain and effort of speaking.
She grabbed a few handfuls of oats from her “His family’s on the reservation. Probably all dead.”
pantry and fed them to the mare, then went back Probably all dead. The words stung Johnny back
inside to search for a brush to groom her. to the horse he’d just seen Graylady catch. That
A few minutes later, while walking around front horse was his way back to his grandfather. Probably
to make sure both gate latches were secure, she saw dead. But the Dine weren’t like the Belagonas, stu-
Sister Anderson standing on her front porch staring pidly staying together in the house while one after
in her direction. Sister Anderson waved, and another died, stupidly taking care of each other
Rachel sucked in her breath and waved back, won- until everyone, everyone was dying and blood stained
dering just how long she’d been there and just how the floors of every home. Hadn’t his grandfather
much she’d seen. told him that in the old days when someone was ill,
• • • everyone left the hogan? And if the person died, the
Johnny Calico eased away from the window, tak- hogan was burned so the disease would die, too?
ing care to smooth out the gap between the drapes. No, he didn’t think they were dead. And the
He’d worried that Graylady would scare the horse horse would give him the way back to them. It was

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the first horse he’d seen since the men from the more backpacks and fill them with oats for the
Church had come and gathered up the animals left horse. And maybe some extra canteens if he could
in the fields in the early days after the Death. When fit them on the saddle. He’d have to find water
he’d decided to go back to the reservation, Johnny along the way, which would be harder the further
had considered trying to get one of the horses, but south he traveled.
there was always a guard on the corrals, rifle in But he had to hurry. If he didn’t act soon, the
hand, and he’d settled on the bike instead. men from the Church would find the horse, and
Now, a horse had practically been handed to him. then it would be too late.
He jumped off the couch and searched the kitchen • • •
for a few plastic bags and a can opener, then went “Liza, you’re beautiful.” Rachel pulled the comb,
down to the basement storeroom, a feature of almost an old hair pick now relegated to Liza’s grooming
every house in Utah. Johnny wondered how he ensemble, through one last knot. She had brushed,
would have survived the winter otherwise. combed, and groomed Liza for most of the after-
“What are you going to do with all of it?” he had noon, trying to coax the sweat and dirt out of Liza’s
asked Mom Tyler the first time he’d seen the shelves woolly winter coat, and although the mare still
of their storeroom spilling over with canned goods, looked shaggy, she had a new shine.
bottled fruit, and bucket after bucket of wheat. It With a start, Rachel realized it was almost dark.
was the day he’d arrived, and they were giving him The day, which usually stretched like a death sen-
a tour of the house. tence, had flown by without her even taking notice.
Mom Tyler had laughed, her face lighting up. Yes, you’re beautiful, thought Rachel, and she was
“Well, we’ve been told by the Church to store a surprised to find herself humming. She kissed the
year’s supply of food. To be prepared in case David mare’s nose and stroked her forehead. The whole day
lost his job, or there was a famine. For hard times.” had been beautiful. She gave Liza a final pat and
Johnny was six then and fascinated by her blond- then went inside, as happy as if she were in love.
ness, her blue eyes, the gray against the yellow in • • •
her hair. He learned later that she thought herself Johnny had the bike loaded and ready to go as soon
middle-aged and dumpy, but to him her very fair- as it got dark, when he heard the truck come down
ness made her beautiful. She was as mysterious to him the street. For a moment, he thought it had stopped
as this Church that drove the Tylers to sit uncom- in front of his house, and he stood frozen by the
fortably in endless meetings, that made them fill up side door, ready to run out in panic, leaving the bike,
their basements with buckets of wheat. saddle, and everything behind. But then he realized
“To be prepared,” Mom Tyler had said, but no the truck was parking in the driveway next door.
one had been prepared for the Death, and now the He stayed by the door, his heart pounding, his
wheat sat in the storerooms of empty houses that hand on the knob, wondering why the truck had
stank of blood. come, remembering the trucks that drove through
Johnny helped himself to a quart of bottled apri- the neighborhoods during the Death—men tossing
cots and some spoonfuls of peanut butter, and then gas masks onto each porch and instructing people
filled the plastic bags with freeze-dried apples and through the loudspeaker to stay at home. “Do not
oatmeal while he planned how to get the horse. go to the hospital or to your doctor’s office. They
He’d have to get the saddle and bridle as soon as it will be unable to help you. Your family’s rate of infec-
was dark, using the bike to bring it all back. A hal- tion will be much greater if you leave your home.”
ter and a lead rope, too, if he could find them. One The Tylers had not left their house. The infection
of the houses had had all sorts of tack in the store- rate in their home had been a hundred percent. And
room. He hoped he was remembering the right Mom Tyler had cared for every one of them. Stupidly
place. He had his supply of food and some canteens cared for every one until there was only her and
ready to go, but he probably ought to find a few Dad Tyler left, and then they were dead, too. Stupid,

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stupid, stupid. The first people to get sick should Rachel didn’t know what to say. She always had
have been locked away right at the beginning and a hard time when Bishop Mecham visited. His
kept far from the healthy. Anything else was stupid. presence seemed to suck all the words out of her.
The only other trucks Johnny had seen since the Maybe it was his age. He was only two years older
Death came right after it had hit, carrying men in than Aaron would have been, and here he was
space-type suits who went from house to house, called to serve a population a fraction of the size of
picking up the bodies to be burned, while the air in the church she’d previously attended, spread out
the city was thick with the stink of corpses. They over an area a hundred times as large.
missed a few of the houses. Every now and then, This time, his visit was more than awkward
Johnny came across one; the stench would hit him because as he had ridden up to her house, Liza had
before he barely had the window or door cracked thrown her nose up to the fence and whinnied
open, and he’d slam it shut and be gone. loudly. And Rachel had cursed her own foolishness
Now, from the truck outside, Johnny heard for thinking she could keep Liza secret, for not
some talking, a little muted laughter. He waited by remembering that of course horses would whinny
the door for a short time but couldn’t stand not to each other.
knowing what was going on, so he slipped back Rachel took a deep breath and then another, try-
into the house and found a window that gave him ing to calm the beating of her heart. “I’m keeping
a view. Two men were loading a dresser into the her,” she said.
back of a flatbed with built-up sides, while an older Bishop Mecham ran a hand over his neatly
man looked on. They were moving the old man, combed brown hair, stroked his chin that looked
Johnny guessed, and others, too, because the truck as if it took three days to grow enough beard to
was already three-quarters full. Where were they merit a shave, and cleared his throat for the sixth
taking them? Johnny wondered. time in the half-hour or so since he’d arrived.
The move stretched into the night; an argument “Have you thought about how you are going to
broke out between the old man and the movers; feed this horse?”
bits of conversation floated over to Johnny like sparks Into Rachel’s stony silence, he continued, “You
in the night air while he fretted over the loss of each know, I didn’t come about the horse. The quorum
minute of darkness. The horse would probably be has decided it would be safer and make more sense
gone, and the saddle, halter, and big, wonderful economically to move everyone in the valley to a
saddlebags he’d found with the other tack would all central location. The only reason we haven’t done it
be useless. He’d already lost one night because he sooner is, well—nobody knew if the Death would
hadn’t remembered correctly which house had the come back. But it seems safe now, and it just makes
tack, and he’d ended up searching half a subdivi- sense to move people close together. We can fight
sion. By the time he’d found it, it had been too the fires more effectively, defend ourselves better,
light to go outside. So he’d waited all day only to be make sure everyone’s taken care of. So even if we
trapped now by the stupid truck. What kind of luck take the horse to the corrals, you’ll probably be able
was it to have a truck arrive next door in a nearly to see it.”
empty city? Sometimes it just seemed too hard. Her, thought Rachel. See her. Had he talked this
• • • formally before the Death, or had his conversation
“Well,” Bishop Mecham said as he sat in Rachel’s then been cars and girls all clothed in slang? Would
dining room, shifting uncomfortably on the wooden Aaron have talked this way if he had survived?
chair as if it were only the seat of the chair that was “So,” he continued, fidgeting even more in the
painful. “We’ll have to get one of the quorum’s riders chair so that Rachel knew he was getting to the hard
to come and take it to the Church corrals in Provo. part, “so, we’re here to tell you to get prepared to
I haven’t heard of a missing horse, but then anyone move. We’re going to relocate everyone to central
keeping an animal illegally might not report it.” Provo. There are, of course, plenty of houses that

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are . . . ” He cleared his throat again. “That are . . . said, “Don’t you understand? There is no other
um . . . unoccupied. The quorum has asked every- wife, there are no other children for me than the
one to pack up their personal items and get ready. ones you took away, the ones whose blood flowed
They’ll be bringing a truck around, but they’re ask- until it ran in the streets, the ones I couldn’t even
ing everyone to limit what they bring to personal bury because the men came with pitchforks and
goods and a favorite piece of furniture so they can threw them in the back of a truck and burned them
move several families in a trip. Gas, you know, is to stop the plague that knew no stopping.”
very limited.” The bishop was staring at her, and Rachel real-
What could she say? She couldn’t think of a ized she was crying again.
single clear reason to tell him why she couldn’t “I couldn’t even bury them,” she said when she
“relocate,” couldn’t leave her house with Timpano- was able to speak again.
gos framed in the living-room window, couldn’t “Maybe it’s too soon,” he said, his own voice
leave the children’s rooms beneath her, couldn’t give hoarse. His head dropped, and as he watched his
up Liza. If only David were here, he would have feet Rachel remembered that he’d lost family too.
known what to say. If only David were here . . . her She remembered that for seven months he’d carried
eyes suddenly watered. Damn eyes! Always betray- her food up from the basement.
ing her, and now the bishop was squirming on the “Too soon,” she managed to say out loud.
seat looking genuinely distressed. There was a long silence. “You’ll have to move,”
“I’m not leaving,” she said. the bishop said finally. “It won’t be as bad as you
“I . . . I know it’s been lonely. . . . It’s been unspeak- think. The houses are nice. And the horse will have
ably hard for you.” He swallowed nervously. “I don’t to go to the corrals, but you’ll be able to see it still.”
think Job had it any worse than what we’ve been He had lost family, he had carried food up to
through. We’ve just got to keep the faith—keep on her, but there were things he didn’t understand.
trying.” He sighed and rubbed his hand over his “I won’t leave,” she said. “I won’t give up Liza.”
hair again. “One . . . one of the advantages of mov- Bishop Mecham rose to his feet with a heavy
ing all the survivors closer together will be . . . well, sigh and said, his voice hard-edged, “I wish we had
most of the people left are single now. You’ll make the luxury of choices, but we don’t. We have to
friends, and who knows? Maybe you will even meet move you for your own protection whether you
someone. . . .” want to go or not.”
The words turned her stomach, all his talk about He left then, without another word, climbing on
Job and meeting someone. She wanted David back. his horse awkwardly and riding down the road to
David and Aaron and Jared and Bessie. Meet some- Sister Anderson’s.
one! She wished she could find the words to make Rachel stood by the window and watched until
the bishop understand. he disappeared inside the house. Then, taking a table
This Job, she wanted to say, this Job must have knife from the kitchen, she went down to the store-
been pretty weak-willed, taking whatever God room to the shelves on the north wall. She felt along
dished out. And fickle. God stole Job’s wife and his the mortar line of the bricks above the top shelf until
children, wrenched them away from him on a bet her fingers met a crack. She poked and pried the
no less, and she had never understood why, when knife into the crack; finally the brick above it loos-
God came back and tried to make it all good, ened, and she was able to dig it and its neighbor
when God offered him a new wife and new chil- from the wall. A little cavity lay behind the bricks;
dren, why Job hadn’t shaken his fist at heaven and it contained a pistol and several boxes of bullets.
said, “You tore my heart out and scattered the Rachel had to wipe her hands against her pants
pieces, you took my babies and made them explode to get the sweat off, and her fingers were trembling
with blood and now you want me to start over? To as she loaded the gun, but she remembered all of
meet someone? Why hadn’t he spat into heaven and David’s instructions, remembered his arm lightly

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draped over her as he had explained how to load. eased the bridle out of his clothing, straightened
When he had bought the gun, she had insisted that the reins, and then slowly walked up to the mare.
he take her to a range and teach her how to shoot “Come here, come here, Liza,” he whispered under
it. “I don’t want something in my house that I don’t his breath. The horse stood still as he slid a hand
know how to use,” she had said. with a rein around her neck, knotting it loosely.
And David had grinned and said, “Does that With a tight grip on the reins, he gently pushed the
mean you’re going to learn to use the chain saw? bit against the mare’s teeth, worrying that she would
Program the VCR?” fight it. But she accepted the bit, mouthing it
The sound of his laughter echoed in her ears and peacefully while he pulled the harness over her ears
seemed to fill the room. Rachel wiped her eyes and attached the chinstrap.
and snapped the gun shut, and then walked back He untied the reins from around her neck and
upstairs to wait. led her toward the gate. What if it’s locked? he
• • • thought suddenly, and he could hardly breathe for
This is as dark as it’s going to get, thought Johnny. fear as he came up to it, worrying that Graylady
He was in the backyard of the house next door to might have chained it shut. Even with the moon-
Graylady’s, crouched in the bushes, bridle in hand, light he couldn’t tell until he reached his hand to
itching with frustration. Graylady had brushed the the latch and felt a rope.
horse, she had combed its mane, combed its tail, He sighed with relief. A rope he could manage.
combed its forelock, picked its hooves, talked to it, He began to work the knots—if they didn’t come
sung to it, and finally just sat and watched it until loose, then he’d use his knife. But the knot came
Johnny thought she would never go in the house. undone easily enough, and Johnny slid the rope off
By the time she did, it was well after dark, and all the latch.
Johnny got for his waiting was the knowledge that And then he heard Liza nicker, heard a rustling
the horse was named Liza. in the yard, and he whirled to see Graylady stand-
Now the moon was cresting the eastern mountains ing a few feet from him.
and it was going to be lighter than he wished, but “What are you doing with my horse?” she asked.
he didn’t dare wait another night. Seeing the bishop’s Her voice sounded rough, as if she’d been crying.
horse at the house earlier in the afternoon had scared She waved her arm at him, and he caught the
him badly. He thought he’d lost the horse already. glint of moonlight on metal and knew she was
With the extra time he spent finding the tack, holding a gun.
avoiding the movers, and then pushing the over- • • •
loaded bike across town, it had taken Johnny three Rachel hoped he couldn’t see how her hands
nights to get back. He’d stashed his gear and the were trembling. “Did the bishop send you?” she
saddle and blanket in a field about a half a mile down asked.
the road from Graylady—far enough away that the “No.”
noise of the horse being saddled wouldn’t be heard. Even in that one word she could hear his surprise
He stuffed the bridle inside his pants around his at the question. It couldn’t have been greater than
waistband so it wouldn’t rattle, pulled himself up to her surprise at seeing a boy no bigger than Jared
the top of the wooden fence, and dropped softly to holding the reins.
the ground on the other side. “Then what are you doing with my horse?”
There was a nicker and then the thud of hooves He was silent for a moment, and then said in a
coming toward him—he hoped fervently that low voice, “She’s not really yours. You just took her
Graylady was already asleep. a few days ago. When she came to your yard.”
It’d been more than three years, during his last So, he’d been watching her. Maybe living in one
summer on the reservation, since he’d caught a of the houses nearby.
horse. With his heart thumping in his ears, he “She’s mine now.” And always.

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He stared at his feet for a minute and then said her up to this boy who would probably get killed
in a low rush of words, “Please, I need her. I need trying to make it to some remote reservation where,
to get back to the reservation, to my grandfather, most likely, everyone was dead.
and I don’t have any other way.” “I’m sorry,” she started to say, “you’ll have to find
“You think he’s still alive?” Rachel flinched at the another way—” But she never got it out. She heard
hardness in her own voice. the scrape of metal as the latch was thrown back
The boy raised his head and said a little defiantly, and the whine of the gate hinge, and then the boy
“He’s alive. My people are still alive.” was pushing through it, Liza following behind.
Rachel shook her head. “Nobody’s alive anymore.” “Liza!” she screamed, scrambling to follow.
“They are,” he said, still defiant. “I don’t think She ran through the gate, the weeds in the yard
they . . .” his voice trailed off. twisting under her feet. She could see Liza’s rump
“They what?” The gun was heavy in Rachel’s and then she was alongside her, the boy not too far
hand, and she felt foolish standing there holding it, in front, not too far—he was yanking at the reins
like someone out of a movie. How could she ever and Liza was tossing her head, resisting. Rachel
have thought she could shoot someone? drove forward and, as she came up behind him,
“They . . . I don’t think they . . . we get as sick dove for the boy.
as the Anglos.” It was only as she hit the ground with an ear-
“Everyone got sick with the Death—all over shattering blast that she remembered she had a gun
America—hadn’t you heard?” But that wasn’t true. in her hand.
She hadn’t. She’d waited day after day while every • • •
member of her family bled out and died, had The sound of the shot had exploded in Johnny’s
waited for countless days after that for it to come ears, and for a moment he was too dazed to think
and claim her, had waited for it, had wished for it, or know if he’d been hurt. He heard the horse cry
and the one time it was wanted it didn’t come. out and then the clatter of hooves on pavement as
Even in the moonlight, she could see his nervous- it ran away. Graylady moaned and rolled off him,
ness, could see him clench and unclench his fist. He’s and he stretched his arms and legs tentatively, relieved
the same height as Jared, she thought, and she won- not to feel any pain. Then Graylady startled him
dered how old he was. Nine? Ten? Jared had been ten. with a piercing cry.
“I . . .” He stopped and started to speak several “No!” she cried out into the night air, the vowel
times. Finally he blurted it out: “When I had it I drawing out into a long lament.
didn’t get very sick. I was hardly sick at all.” The She was sitting on the grass, clutching her arms
last part came out like a wail. She heard a sob, heard to her sides, rocking back and forth.
him take a breath, struggle for control. “Because “Are you hurt?” he asked anxiously, but she didn’t
I’m Navajo,” he said in a low voice that still qua- seem to hear him. He hadn’t meant to hurt her.
vered. “So my grandfather’s okay.” “No!” she cried out, not to him, but it unnerved
Rachel opened her mouth, wanting to say, You him because for a moment her voice had sounded
were the one in a few hundred that survived, and you exactly like Mom Tyler’s.
think that means your grandfather is alive? It’s not “No!” she screamed to the darkness. “Don’t take
being Navajo; it’s just luck. Just plain bad luck. But her. Please don’t take her. Please don’t take her, my
something in the way he said it, the way an edge of Liza. Not my Liza, my precious Liza, my Elizabeth,
desperation curled around the words, stopped her not my little Bessie. Not her, not her! Don’t take
mouth. My grandfather’s okay—if she took that my Bessie. She’s the only one left!”
from him, his life would stretch endlessly before She rocked back and forth sobbing softly, shout-
him, just as hers had before Liza. ing out suddenly, “Oh, God,” her voice harsh with
Before Liza. She gasped and remembered what accusation. “What did they ever do to you, these
he was trying to do. She couldn’t give up Liza, give children, these innocents? God, I wish you could

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bleed like they bled and die like they died, your their household, by being the first one to get sick
blood spilling out all over.” with his stupid Navajo blood. His stupid, stupid
And then she whispered, “Not her, not her, not Navajo blood that had killed all the Tylers and
my Bessie” over and over, rocking back and forth, maybe even the whole city because he didn’t
crying softly. remember hearing about anyone being sick before
Johnny stared at her, stunned, as helpless as he’d he was. Maybe even the whole world, maybe he’d
been with Mom Tyler. She had stood over the beds killed the whole world. And he had hardly been
of her children, tears running down her cheeks, sick, he had hardly been sick while every one of her
asking over and over, “Dear Jesus, what are you children had died. If they had stayed away from
doing?” And he had tried to comfort her, but there him, if Mom Tyler hadn’t taken care of him, if only
was no comfort for what she suffered. they’d shut him up away from the others. . . .
“Shh . . . it’s okay,” he said now to Graylady. She “Shh . . . shh, here she is,” he said, and he folded
gave no sign that she’d heard him. “Shh, it’s okay.” the reins into Graylady’s hands, giving her back her
Her crying sounded so much like Mom Tyler’s that heart as he was never able to do for Mom Tyler.
he had to keep looking at her to remind himself And Graylady closed her hands over the reins
who she was, but even so he couldn’t stand it. This and looked up at him, amazement shining through
time he knew how to stop the crying and knew the tears on her face. When she finally spoke, her
suddenly that if he didn’t, he’d have two faces voice was barely audible.
haunting him, following him everywhere he went. “Thank you,” she said.
“I’ll get her back. Shh . . . it’s okay now.” He • • •
stood up, not knowing whether he should leave At first, Rachel couldn’t understand. He had
her alone and try to find the horse or stay with her. taken her Bessie. In spite of endless prayers and
Get the horse he decided and started down the pleadings, he had taken her, taken her last baby
street, turning back after a few steps and coming and cruelly left her behind with her heart eaten
back. Graylady was still crying, oblivious to what away. And now here he was again, standing in front
he was doing. of her. Then her mind cleared, and she saw that it
He had no idea how far Liza had gone—proba- was the boy; it was Liza he’d taken, not Bessie. But
bly miles by now. He probably wouldn’t find her at now she looked at the horse and, even in the moon-
all after that gunshot. But he ran in the moonlight light, thought she saw a familiar look in Liza’s eyes,
after her, and before he’d gone very far he heard the thought maybe she knew where Liza’s name had
jingle of the bridle. There was Liza, calmly crop- come from after all. Then she dismissed it. How
ping grass by the side of the road as if nothing had could it be? What mattered was that Liza was back.
happened. He rushed at her too quickly and she She closed her hands over the reins.
sidestepped away from him, perhaps remembering “Thank you,” she said. She struggled to her feet,
how he’d yanked on the reins as they went through sore from her fall, and buried her face in Liza’s mane.
the gate. But then, amazingly, she came up to him, After a moment, she stepped back and turned again
nudging him with her head, and then following to the boy.
calmly as he led her back to Graylady’s yard. He didn’t really look like Jared, this boy who had
Graylady sat silently, staring off into the night. tried to steal Liza and then miraculously brought
In the moon-gray light she looked much as she had her back. What was he going to do, Rachel won-
on the day Johnny had first seen her. dered, now that he had no way to get to this reser-
“Shh . . . don’t cry,” he had said to Mom Tyler, vation of his, now that he’d put the reins to his
but it hadn’t done any good. She had wept for each dream in her hands? What was he going to do now?
child, and Johnny hadn’t been able to help her. He For that matter, what was she?
hadn’t been able to bring them back, those children “Thank you,” she said again, and she was unpre-
he’d stolen from her by bringing the Death into pared for his reaction. His body stiffened, he shut

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his hands into fists and opened them again, his She nodded and left him to go one last time
shoulders shook. It took her a minute to realize that down to the storeroom.
he was crying, trying his hardest not to show it. • • •
She laid a hand on his arm, and then, impul- The candlelight flickered in the room, throwing
sively, moved toward him and drew him to her, shadows against the wall, throwing memories to
circled her arms around him. She felt him go stiff light. She remembered the day she had come down
and start to push away, but then he let go, he fell for a jar of tomatoes and had found Bessie and a
against her, crying in soft, muted sobs. She gasped friend sitting on the floor, grains of wheat and corn
at the pain she felt to be hugging this boy who was strewn around them, juice from an opened bottle
not her child, to know she would never again hold of peaches puddled on the floor.
her Jared as she was holding this boy. She had started to scold, but Bessie greeted her
After a long time, she dropped her arms, and so cheerfully that Rachel swallowed her anger and
they stood in the moonlight, silent. asked instead, “What are you doing?”
Rachel turned and began stroking Liza’s neck. “We’re playing harden times,” she said. “See?
“I can’t stay here any longer,” she said as if to the When harden times come, this is what we eat.”
horse, for she didn’t know how the boy would react And she had giggled, stuffing a handful of oats into
to the idea that was growing inside her. “The bishop her mouth.
will come. They’re moving everyone to Provo.” Rachel let the image of Bessie, her beautiful red-
The boy didn’t say anything. Into the silence she haired Bessie, fade in the flicker of the candlelight.
said, “Maybe I ought to go to this reservation Harden times, she thought. They had worked and
where nobody gets sick.” She turned and looked at stored, preparing to survive the worst, never imag-
him. “Where is it, anyway?” ing the worst might be that someone would sur-
“Arizona,” he answered in a low voice. “Many vive. Alone.
Farms, Arizona.” She picked up the bulging backpack and the
My God! she thought. Hundreds of miles, most canteens that she would fill upstairs, and then she
of it desert. He’d never make it. But maybe . . . shut the door to the storeroom behind her. Hold-
maybe if she went with him, she could convince ing the candle in front of her, she opened the door
him not to try. They could go south until they were of each bedroom as she passed it and stood for a
safely away from the bishop and find an empty time staring into the darkness. Finally, she went
house with some good grazing nearby. If he’d agree upstairs to meet the boy.
to go with her.
She said, “I have to leave, and I don’t know where Susan J. Kroupa writes mostly science fiction and fan-
to go. And I don’t know how to ride bareback.” tasy, but she has also worked as a music reviewer and
Another long silence. Rachel stroked Liza, wait- feature writer. Her publication credits include Realms
ing, watching the boy’s fists clench and unclench. of Fantasy, Bruce Coville’s Shapeshifters, The Age of
Finally he said, “I have a saddle. In a field down the Reason, Writers of the Future X, Bones of the World,
road.” He paused, then added, “We could take turns and a story in the upcoming sff.net anthology Beyond
riding in front.” the Last Star. “Harden Times” won first place in the
“What about food? And bad weather? And water?” Deep South Writers Competition and second place
“I have food and water for me,” he said. A trace in the Utah Arts Council writing contest and was
of eagerness crept into his voice, and it pierced her. first published in Realms of Fantasy 7 (April 2001):
“And a rifle to shoot rabbits. But there’s room in 48–55.
the saddlebags for more. Could you bring some
dried food and canteens?”
“There’s food in my basement,” Rachel said.
“And bullets. For the pistol.”

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P O E T R Y Relief Society Lesson in a Singles Ward


Thou shalt not shop on the Sabbath day
My Cigarette Vendors Unless a young elder walks your way.
They sit anchored to little stands The market for men has a Golden Rule:
Like lumps of clay or sacks of coal, The best finds are in Sunday School.
With wind-scuffed faces So linger longer, mix and mingle.
And razor-slit eyes, Why waste your days by living single?
Hand-knit caps and scarfs Share some brownies; bake some bread.
Pulled low, A man’s heart grows by being fed.
Layers of clothes stretched tight
Remember Faith, Hope and Chastity
Dare I greet them? And you’ll have a man on bended knee:
I try a timid ni hao, Have Faith that everyone has a match;
Their lips quiver Just limit yourself to what you can catch.
Then crack into a fleeting smile The Hope chest that is full of dishes
Won’t go long with empty wishes.
Be Chaste if you are being chased;
I drop pieces of candy
They’ll trade in a car already raced.
on their stands,
Triggering instant action
Abide with him at eventide,
As they try to return them
And snuggle at every fireside.
Ask him all about his mission
I say my practiced words, Though listening’s a girl’s perdition
Ni shi wa de pung yo And telling may take longer than
(you are my friend) Two years of service in Pakistan.
My words soothe, If all else fails, throw out decorum
I meant no harm. And throw yourself into a priesthood quorum.
Six months in Qing Dao Sisters, be foxes and doves in the lion’s den.
I scarcely recall a day The good Lord would have us be fishers of men.
When they weren’t hunched This straight path’s end is a blissful life
Near the university gateway, And forgives crooked means to become a new wife.
Two weather-sculpted So do what you must and try what you can.
Cigarette vendors The field may be white, but there’s hardly a man
Unaware of black To build a new nest on the family tree—
Cancer-riddled lungs Go forth, precious birds, and find you some bees!
Stalking hooked, uncaring students.
—Kevin Peel
—Bessie Soderborg Clark
After many years and a mission to North Carolina,
Bessie Soderborg Clark—mother of all writing in a Kevin Peel graduated from Utah State University in
family of rambunctious writers, great-grandmother, 2000. He parlayed his English degree into a lucrative
and world traveler—taught English in Qing Dao, security guard position in Bloomington, Illinois, and
China, during the 1989–90 school year. She received was recently married in Nauvoo. He is hoping to earn
a master’s degree in educational psychology from BYU a teaching certificate in Illinois and looks forward to
in 1975. instructing teenagers on the Byronic origins of rap music.

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R E V I E W S color. In volume one of Standing on the Promises,


we were given a foretaste of what Elijah would be
Bound for Importance facing—several brethren visiting him after the
death of Joseph, announcing that his “priesthood”
A review of Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan would, to put it mildly, be coming under review.
Gray’s Standing on the Promises, Book Two: Bound In one extraordinary encounter, Elijah Abel
for Canaan (Bookcraft, 2002) reaches Salt Lake City and requests an audience
By Jeffrey Needle with President Young. Knowing that Brigham
Young would not agree to see him to discuss his
Bound for Canaan is the second volume of the priesthood, Abel asks to see the president to discuss
Standing on the Promises trilogy from Young and how he, Elijah, could contribute to the building of
Gray. It continues the dramatic stories, so ably the Salt Lake Temple. And indeed, he intends to
begun in the first volume of this series, of the black help in this building project, regardless of how
pioneers of the Mormon religion. These are stories President Young responds to his request for further
little known because little told. But they form an blessings.
important part of the Mormon identity. We are Abel had heard that there were more blessings in
fortunate to have this series coming into our hands store for him as a priesthood holder, but they were
at this time. being denied to him because of his race. He wanted
Bound for Canaan continues the inspiring, and to appeal to Brigham to open up the temple bless-
tragic, stories of Elijah Abel and his wife Mary ings to him. What he finds is a recalcitrant leader,
Ann, Isaac and Jane Manning James, and the unwilling to fully discuss the issue—he keeps
Flakes, among others. Following such characters changing the subject—and finally handing Abel a
through Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley, we trace
copy of the Pearl of Great Price, assuring him he
their lives through the days of the Emancipation
would understand why he couldn’t partake of these
Proclamation, the Civil War, and the end of slavery.
ordinances after reading the booklet.
Babies are born and die; crops are planted, and
One cannot help but be appalled at Brigham
some fail; loves are lost and found; religion suc-
Young’s apparent lack of sensitivity. The authors are
ceeds and fails. Young and Gray take us into the
lives of these noble people, sparing us nothing of careful to note that Brigham Young was a product
their tears and shed blood. of his times. His views on race, while considered
But while this book is “their” story in essence, it severe (some can be found in the Journal of Dis-
is, in fact, our story in so many ways. It is the story courses), were not unusual for his time. But Elijah
of a nation, born in its desire for liberty, losing Abel wonders why the heavenly view can’t rise
sight of that most elemental liberty—the right to above the prejudices of an earthly society:
live a life free to pursue happiness in an equal and Brigham sat straighter and spoke loud.
open society. It is the story of a church that claims “I regret that most of your race have known ill
to be the restored church of Jesus Christ, welcom- treatment. Shame on those who have ren-
ing the powers of the priesthood back to the earth dered it. They will be judged by a just God.”
after a long absence but denying these powers and His voice became sadder. “But, Elijah,” he
privileges to some because of their skin color. said, leaning across his desk, “you know the
The most compelling character, to me, was Eli- burden your race carries by divine decree.
jah Abel. I will spare you a long review by focusing That burden is the very sin of Cain. I cannot
on Abel, leaving you to discover the others in your undo the mandates or the curses of the Eter-
own reading of the book. nal I Am. You understand that, don’t you? You
Readers will remember that Joseph Smith Jr. always understood that the Negro has his sep-
ordained Abel to the priesthood despite his skin arate place on this earth?”

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Elijah was not about to give up on this. “I thoughts are elsewhere, just barely hearing the speaker,
know it be separate on this earth, but we and wondering why this white speaker thinks this
talkin’ about heaven things.” is the time and place to let all the “negroes” know
how lucky they are to have white people saving
Let it not be said that the authors are overly crit- their souls on the Dark Continent. But Abel will
ical of Brigham Young. In fact, it is made plain have none of it. His thoughts:
that, in light of his times, he was more kindly dis-
posed toward people of color than many of his con- She is my wife, the beginning of my days
temporaries. But on the matter of priesthood, he and the comfort of my nights. She is all the
was unmovable. anguish this world has known and all the joy
However, there are troubling questions. Can a it might find. Her eyes saw me so clear. She
mortal, even the president of the Church, project could see me despite the clownin’, minstrel
a misguided view of earthly racial relations into a paint on my face, despite my need to buy a
heavenly mandate? And in so doing, how does place in a world that won’t take me as a man.
he reconcile this to Joseph Smith’s contrary actions? Her nose smelled the rankness of our son’s dis-
We may never know the answers to those ques- ease, and she held his pain. She ministered to
tions. him like the angel I kept waitin’ for. Why
Elijah Abel would go to his grave a loyal mem- didn’t I see her then as full as I’m seein’ her
ber of the Church, in fact serving his very last days now. Her breasts that fed our babies and made
on a mission for the Church. But we never get the my slumber soft. Her hands, her legs, her pri-
sense that he ever came to terms with how the vate self. All, all, all of her. Say her name.
Church, after Joseph’s death, dealt with those who Acknowledge my wife: Mary Ann Adams
shared his race. He toys with the idea that his lot in Abel. (317)
life is, in fact, a larger mission. I hope he finally dis- Can anyone read these words and not feel shame,
carded that idea, although we are not told. anger, sadness? I had to put the book down and
When we read of the passing of Elijah’s wife, suppress a deep shudder. Even in death, the right-
Mary Ann, we are gripped with an almost uncon- eous Mary Ann, wife of righteous Elijah Abel, was,
trollable fury. The words of the book tell it best: in the eyes of the returned missionary, a nonperson.
A recently returned missionary spoke at The story of Elijah Abel’s life stands as an
Mary Ann’s funeral. Elijah would hear only a example of righteousness and loyalty in the face of
sentence or two before his mind would mean- struggle and disappointment.
der into melancholy paths. For the rest of his Over the years, I’ve used many words to describe
life, he could never recall the speaker’s name. the books I’ve reviewed. I’ve called books “very good,”
“Sister Mary Ann was of the African descen- “a wonderful read,” and have been, at times, less
dancy,” said the man. flattering. Bound for Canaan merits a word I use
sparingly: important. It matters on so many levels.
Elijah wondered why that should matter To the extent that the story of the contributions,
and if the speaker didn’t think they all knew and trials, of the black pioneers of Mormonism
about Mary Ann’s lineage. remains untold, I believe that the modern Church
“Stanley the traveler has furnished the world will continue to struggle with the vestiges of racism.
with a complete map of the course of that The Church continues to be a reflection of its times.
mighty river, the Congo, down in Africa.” (315) Anecdotal evidence is abundant that pre-1978
thinking has not entirely dissipated. This is not to
And the speaker continues to relate how the imply that institutional racism continues. But
gospel is being brought to the “benighted tribes of while the Church continues to struggle with its
the wilds of Africa.” And all the while Elijah’s past, I am optimistic about the future.

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Church history has been largely sanitized when “Get up, 247 Bears. Get up!” Angelica
it comes to the place of the black man and woman yodeled like an American Indian banshee.
in the building up of the kingdom. But then, the Suddenly the piece of deer meat spewed forth
tellers of American history are no different. Efforts from his mouth. The dark-haired man breathed
are being made in the American historical commu- deeply, then stood on his own two feet.
nity to correct this situation. Young and Gray are
leading the charge in effecting a similar correction Angelica, he signed to her. You have saved
within the Mormon Church. me. Will you be my squaw? (47)
Who should read this book? I say, with no hesi- Hmmm. Perhaps this needs a little explaining.
tation, that every member of The Church of Jesus My Angelica is the story of a teenage girl named
Christ of Latter-day Saints should own this vol- Sage Oliver whose dearest dream is to be a writer of
ume—indeed, the entire series. Here is a story that romance novels. She’s genuinely convinced she’s
will fill you with sorrow and anger, but ultimately
the hottest thing since John Grisham turned in his
with hope.
legal briefcase for a word processor and hasn’t a clue
Because the story of race relations in Mor-
that her stories (of which the above is an excerpt)
monism is not yet ended, is it possible that this
are abysmal. Her best friend, George, keeps trying
generation will write the final chapter?
to tell her the truth, but she thinks he’s just kidding
Jeff Needle lives in San Diego, California. A member her. When the school’s annual writing contest
of another faith, he has been an avid reader of Mor- comes up, Sage decides to enter—and George does
mon literature for more than a decade. He received an his best to stop her, to save her from humiliation.
AML award in 2001 for his reviews. Adding to the complexity are a number of subplots
involving Sage’s dislike of George’s best male
“Oh Bear Man of Mine!” friend, Andrew, Sage’s boy-crazy friend Cheri (who
is Sage’s biggest fan), and the popular but slimy
A review of Carol Lynch Williams’s My Angelica Bob Taylor, who’s also interested in Sage. As the
(Delacorte Press, 1999) novel progresses, Sage and George’s secret romantic
Winner of the 2001 AML award for middle-grade feelings for each other gradually develop and
literature become more public. The outcome of the writing
Reviewed by Melissa Proffitt contest coincides neatly with the resolution of the
hidden romance, and the ending is quite satisfying.
At the 2001 AML writers’ conference, Carol My Angelica is told in four different “voices,”
Lynch Williams read from her novel My Angelica each set off clearly with its own typeface: Sage’s
and had the whole room in tearful laughter. The first-person narrative, George’s first-person narrative,
brief excerpt convinced me that I had to read the the various Angelica manuscripts (“I have 638 begin-
whole book for myself. Here, see what you think. nings about Angelica,” Sage says), and unattributed
The last line’s the one that really kills me: poems that are clearly George’s work. I admire
Angelica performed CPR on her Indian Williams’s writing ability throughout this novel; it
lover. His lips were blue. Both of his eyes were is easy enough to imitate atrocious writing, but it’s
closed. At least, Angelica thought they were. a much more subtle trick to fake mildly awful writ-
One eye was covered by a bearskin eye patch. ing, and Williams does both. The obvious contrast
The other lay limply in its socket. . . . is between Sage’s Angelica stories and George’s far
superior poetry, but the difference between their
Angelica’s perfectly curled hair trembled
internal narratives also indicates which of them is
with fear. Her white-gloved hands looked
the better writer. Sage is a sweet person, but she’s
even whiter on her lover’s bare chest.
got some very large blind spots about herself and

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her writing. George got points from me for being down on paper. It takes courage, clear-sightedness,
brave enough to tell Sage about her crappy writing; and the willingness to accept criticism. Readers who
even though she doesn’t believe him, it takes a lot are also writers will find Sage’s writing both funny
of nerve to say that to someone. Especially if it’s and painful, because I’m certain just about every
a friend. Especially if you want to remain friends writer started out with stories as awful as Angelica’s.
afterward. I also liked that the novel avoided the
popularity trap so many teen novels fall into; nei- Melissa Proffitt has a secret stash of novels, written in
ther Sage nor George is the most popular kid in her high school calculus class, that are every bit as hor-
school, but they don’t spend all their time agoniz- rible as Sage Oliver’s. She divides her time between
ing about it. Both are average kids whose problems raising children, serving as AML secretary, and pur-
are deeply felt without being overly dramatic. suing a plethora of hobbies, of which writing is one.
Though I enjoyed the book overall, the subplot Melissa lives in Salt Lake City.
involving Bob Taylor (a popular jock who is George’s
romantic rival for Sage) seemed out of place. As A Fresh-Faced Sequel
a romantic complication, Bob is unnecessary, because
the romance is sufficiently complicated by Sage and A review of Anne Bradshaw’s Chamomile Winter (Bon-
George’s obliviousness to each other’s romantic neville Books, 2001), sequel to Terracotta Summer
feelings. Though it illustrated a good secondary Reviewed by Katie Parker
theme—the difference between fighting with
words and fighting with fists—Bob’s role still wasn’t The sequel to Anne Bradshaw’s novel Terracotta
developed enough to seem important until almost Summer, Chamomile Winter follows the lives of
the end of the book. At the moment of physical three members of the O’Shea family in the British
conflict between George and Bob, I was annoyed at Isles in 1964. Ken, the oldest brother, serves as a
the distraction from what I saw as the more impor- labor missionary building chapels for the Church.
tant plot twist: the announcement of the writing His story opens with his transfer to Southport,
contest winner. England, and his assignment to an unruly compan-
My only other gripe is something that is, I real- ion. Southport is also the home of his Uncle Ger-
ize, probably out of Williams’s control, and that is ald, and Ken looks forward to reuniting with him.
that the girl on the cover appears to be about ten Patrick, the second brother, has moved with the
years old. Williams’s description of Sage in the rest of the family from England to Northern Ire-
novel is of a petite girl who does look young for her land. In the previous book, Patrick had found him-
age (she’s 16, I think), but the illustration is of a self involved with the IRA, and after a blundered
baby-faced kid. This made it hard for me to think bank robbery he spent time in prison and is now
of Sage as old enough to be seriously thinking on probation. He intends to stay out of trouble
about boys and dating. I mention this as a caveat to now, but local IRA leaders are right back on him
all the adult readers out there who might be put off and threaten the safety of his family if he doesn’t
by the cover (which also includes a modest version cooperate. Feeling trapped, he tries to comply with
of the typical clinch one sees on bodice-ripper their demands while weaving a web of lies to those
romances). around him in order to cover his tracks.
And I definitely think you adult readers should The third storyline belongs to Ruth, an aunt of
read this book. Simplicity of plot is too often con- the O’Shea children who is about Ken’s age. In Ter-
fused with immaturity of style; My Angelica is a racotta Summer she sailed to America, hoping to
straightforward, well-written story about two young escape the painful memories of abuse at the hands
writers figuring out what it means to be writers. of her brother Gerald. In the process, she met a
This novel is a reminder that being a writer isn’t as young LDS man named Frank; Ruth herself had
simple as calling yourself one or even putting a story not joined the Church when the other O’Sheas did

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years before. But now Frank has reintroduced her (“Because of A, B, and C, now she knew . . .”). But
to the gospel, and their relationship is turning seri- Bradshaw’s writing is somewhat subtler than this.
ous. Ruth decides to fly back to Southport, Eng- It’s not that her characters don’t have growing expe-
land, to confront Gerald and her own pain as well, riences, and it’s not that they don’t know they’ve
so that she can to move forward with her life and had them. It’s that these moments are played by
perhaps marry Frank. flutes or a string quartet—they aren’t signaled by a
Anne Bradshaw’s writing is strong, and she keeps brass marching band. And, particularly for Patrick,
her stories moving. I had a few criticisms about little epiphanies don’t necessarily result in big changes.
Terracotta Summer, including lengthy descriptions It’s difficult to find one passage to illustrate the
of changes of outfits and of unimportant charac- entire book. But here’s a typical one from page 124,
ters; although the descriptions themselves were where Ken and his now-somewhat-repentant com-
vivid, they got in the way of the rest of the story. panion Max are going to visit the Guppy family.
Bradshaw seems to have subdued these and similar It’s raining, and Max has been injured and needs
passages in Chamomile Winter, which makes this a crutches that haven’t yet arrived:
much more fluid piece. Another criticism I gave of Helping Max out of the van took several
Terracotta Summer concerned the shallowness and minutes, enough time to get soaked through.
forced feeling of Ruth’s storyline. The abuse she’d Max’s mood slipped another notch. “Don’t
suffered in her youth was mentioned, yet little was expect me to chip in if they ask fancy ques-
done to explore it. Instead, she learned that her tions,” he muttered. “I don’t have any of that
cabin mates were part of a drug ring, and much of scripture stuff in me ’ead. I just know it’s the
her story revolved around that. It left me wonder- right church. That’s all.”
ing why the abuse had been brought up at all. But
in Chamomile Summer, it’s an integral part of the Ken banged on the front door, hoping the
story. And Ruth does finally get to talk to Gerald, Guppys really were home and that he and
although it’s under circumstances that she never Max weren’t standing out here in the driving
would have imagined. rain for nothing. Water was now dripping
Another aspect of the story worth noting is down his neck and seeping into a split in his
Patrick’s budding romance. The girl proves to have Wellington boot.
the strength of character that Patrick needs, and she Edna Guppy threw open the door, yanking
helps him muddle through the trouble that he them both inside. [. . .] “Well for crying out
manages to get into. It’s an interesting twist for the loud, look at the pair of you.” She hustled
girl to rescue the boy, instead of the traditional them toward the kitchen sink—Max protest-
manner of the other way around. However, these ing every hop—and grabbed a grimy yellow
scenes are all told from Patrick’s point of view, so towel from the rail next to the cooker. “Here,
readers still get to sympathize with the weaker take off your boots, never mind the drips.
member who wonders what the stronger one could Give me your coats and get over to the fire.”
possibly see in him.
Reaching up, she toweled off Max’s stub-
Bradshaw’s interesting characterizations and use
bled hair, briskly scrubbing until he let out a
of local dialects put a fresh face on Ken’s story of
yell. “Watch it. I want me fuzz to last. I’m too
dealing with a problem companion and of helping
young to go bald.”
teach a family the gospel. She also refrains from
calling much attention to conversion and repen- For those who have been wishing for main-
tance stories. Often in LDS fiction, we see conver- stream-type LDS fiction, this book is on the right
sion and other growing scenes accompanied by track. It remains faithful to the Church, yet still
trumpet fanfares of emotional display or side com- shows us some of life’s rough edges. Patrick’s story
ments instructing the reader what to gain from it over the two books especially shines in this respect,

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showing quite believably that a few foolish mistakes Sterling Channing is the kind of person she should
can lead a person into deep trouble. Best of all, marry: intelligent, proper, reasonable, faithful. On
Bradshaw does this without preaching much or the other hand, Greg Howland isn’t even a member
becoming too maudlin. And this is something that or a returned missionary, but she feels something
LDS fiction could really use more of. for him she has never felt for Sterling.
Greg meets Andi at the Phoenix Zoo, where she
Katie Parker has a B.A. from the University of Okla- works, and although he isn’t a member of the Church,
homa and lives in Salt Lake City with her husband he is searching for answers and asking the right
and son. Her work has appeared in the New Era and questions as he tries to deal with his only brother’s
Westview. death. Greg sees in Andi an assurance and faith he
longs for himself, and Andi justifies spending time
A Storyteller with Heart and Humor— with Greg by telling herself she’s just trying to be a
Pressed Down and Flowing Over missionary.
A review of Kerry Blair’s The Heart Only Knows Greg is eventually baptized (in book two, The
(Covenant, 2001), sequel to The Heart Has Its Rea- Heart Has Forever), and Andi learns to adjust her
sons and The Heart Has Forever rather stringent list of qualifications for an eternal
Reviewed by Valerie Holladay mate, which include having served a mission
(which Greg hasn’t) and having a strong LDS fam-
I was quick to volunteer for this review because ily (which Greg doesn’t).
the author is a good friend and her books are on What Greg does have is a family history of abuse
my shelf of favorite books to reread every few years and a remarkable left arm that has given him a
or so. Her characters are truly interesting and lively, meteoric escape from a childhood marked by poverty
her language is amazingly clever, and her plots are and abuse. While still in his early twenties, Greg has
well constructed, particularly in this third book in become a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and earns
the series. The books may appeal more to younger more money than he ever dreamed possible. He also
readers since the characters are college age and the has an agent named Zeke Martoni, who uses his
male romantic interest is perhaps too close to per- considerable skills of manipulation to blackmail
fect to satisfy readers looking for more realism (he’s Greg and at the same time parlay Greg’s popularity
easily the most appealing male character I’ve seen into a huge moneymaking machine for himself.
in LDS fiction). The books are marketed as romance, Zeke threatens to ruin his career and reputation
but the romance component is only about a third if Greg doesn’t play along, and it is at this point
of the story, with one-third intrigue/mystery/sus- that Greg meets Andi, although he doesn’t want to
pense and one-third sports lover heaven since Blair involve her in his troubles. Fortunately, Andi’s
is a huge Diamondbacks fan. That dimension may bishop is a detective with the Phoenix police, and
turn off some female readers, but it’s also turned he and Greg come up with a plan to free Greg and
some readers on to sports. Young male readers find put Zeke Martoni where he belongs.
Blair’s books hard to put down, both because of the In this third and last book of this series, Zeke is
sports and the nail-biting, cat-and-mouse intrigue out on bail, and Andi and Greg still have several
of good guy against bad guy. months to go before they can be married in the
The story is based on this premise: Nice LDS temple. Greg has been traded to the Arizona Dia-
girl waits for Mr. Perfect for two years while he mondbacks, so he can be near Andi and still fulfill
serves a mission in South America. Naturally she his contract. Greg is also preparing to testify against
doesn’t count on meeting Mr. Right two days Zeke Martoni, who is determined to destroy Greg.
before her missionary’s arrival home. Sweet, sen- Zeke’s characterization is one of the best in the
sible, born-in-the-faith Andi Reynolds knows that book; he is thoroughly evil but utterly believable.

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In fact, the author’s characters all deserve Oscars. and memorable characterization of the first two
Not only is Greg both likable and human, but books, the third sets up a careful, intricate plot that
Zeke’s replacement, Dawson Geitler, is equally well combines the suspenseful cat-and-mouse footwork
drawn. Dawson is an ambitious young agent who of Greg vs. Zeke with a truly funny Cyrano de
begins working with Greg while secretly planning Bergerac comedy of errors involving an anonymous
to write a tell-all exposé of Greg (a guaranteed best- love letter and two young women, one looking for
seller that would guarantee the kind of advance love and the other most likely to be voted least
writers dream of ). But as he comes to know what a likely for love.
genuinely nice guy Greg is, his conscience is awak- Oops, and there’s another character I need to
ened and he ultimately destroys the nearly completed mention: Andi’s cousin, Zona May (who was born
manuscript, confessing to Greg as he gives his notice. in Arizona in May, and hence her name). Zona has
But Greg, true to his nature, forgives Dawson and just returned from Kiribati, one of the poorest
won’t let him quit (book two, The Heart Has For- countries on earth, where she worked as a Peace
ever) and by book three the two have formed a solid Corps volunteer. She immediately categorizes Greg
friendship as Dawson continues to handle the pub- as a pretty rich boy whose main concern is making
lic side of Greg’s career. (It’s difficult to give Daw- and spending money while his friend Dawson is a
son an adequate showing in so little space; he is very “fascist capitalist” whose Volvo is a “fossil-fuel-con-
proper, tends toward anal-retentive, keeps a handy suming ozone polluter,” while Dawson himself
supply of aspirin and Tums, and yet is so earnest “looks like Bill Gates, dresses like Al Gore, and
and ultimately so kindhearted that by the end of talks like Pat Buchanan.” Zona is also out to save
the book I liked him almost as much as I liked Greg.) the world, and she begins with the homeless kitty
Another remarkable character is Andi’s younger population in Phoenix, deciding to put Greg’s
sister, Clytie (their father is a professor of classics, healthy income to a valuable purpose: providing a
and all the children have unusual names). Clytie is temporary home for about 20 cats. The scene
a typical 16-year-old who dreams of romance and where Zona May first appears on Greg’s doorstep
looks forward to her first date, but her life will be with a box of abandoned kittens and convinces him
forever different from others because she is an and Dawson to care for them is so funny, it’s worth
achondroplastic dwarf. Although barely three feet the price of the book just for those few pages.
tall, she is a spiritual giant and in many ways is It is, in fact, Dawson himself, a most unlikely
more spiritually aware than her older sister, Andi. Cyrano, who is responsible for the mysterious love
Clytie recognizes, for example, that Greg is the letter, although he is an innocent victim himself. It
right man for her sister long before Andi is able to is Darlene, Andi’s younger sister, who decides to
let go of her list for Mr. Perfect. Greg sees Clytie’s play romance diva and set up Dawson with Zona
true beauty, and it is while he is hospitalized for an May. But when she asks Dawson to help her write
injury that he meets and introduces Clytie to the an anonymous love letter for someone who needs
young man who becomes Clytie’s first boyfriend. to feel better, he believes she wants to give it to
In fact, Thaddeus Bisher is another character who Clytie, who lost her friend, Thaddeus Bisher, not
is richly drawn as an angry, dying young man whose many weeks before.
brain tumor should have been diagnosed earlier Although the series is billed as a romance, there’s
than it was. The friendship between Thaddeus and a lot more to it: humor, drama, and even the sub-
Clytie and Greg is as touching as anything I’ve read tle inspirational message that each person can make
(also book two, The Heart Has Forever). a difference in the world. The romance is the
While it helps to read the first two books in the cream-cheese frosting on the cake, but the cake
series to enjoy the third, The Heart Only Knows, itself is more than sugar and flour; it’s a rich, chewy
I believe this book can be read on its own and thor- carrot cake, with carrots, pineapple, raisins, and
oughly enjoyed. In addition to the clever humor just the right amount of spice.

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Valerie Holladay graduated from BYU with an Eng- still wonders about her dad, and she and Jill have a
lish master’s degree, working with such professors and falling-out, and . . .
writers as John Bennion, Eugene England, Susan The whole story is handled with a great deal of
Howe, Leslie Norris, and Louise Plummer. She has humor and less preaching than LDS young-adult
worked in the LDS publishing world for the last ten books generally contain. Even the episode with the
years, and her writing has appeared in Dialogue, halter-top dress is presented matter-of-factly with-
Wasatch Review International, and the Ensign. out lots of extra lecturing:
Sitting down in the limo was my first time
Morality without Clichés ever sitting down in my dress, and it was
A review of Lisa McKendrick’s On a Whim (Cove- definitely a revealing moment, if you know
nant, 2001) what I mean. Standing up, I couldn’t have
Reviewed by Katie Parker been happier with the way the dress made me
look, but as soon as I sat down the neckline
On a Whim is one of the precious few recently plunged and the front slit hiked, and all my
published novels for LDS youth. It’s also one of the yanking and tucking didn’t improve the situa-
best that I’ve read. Perhaps something to note right tion much. (59)
off is that the author, Lisa McKendrick, has a mas- I appreciate how Whimsy isn’t made to feel dirty
ter’s degree in English. This itself doesn’t necessar- or wicked but merely feels how a girl unused to
ily mean she’s a great writer, but neither does it wearing such attire might feel: half-naked. Later in
mean she’s a bored housewife who doesn’t know the evening, she goes as far as making out with
anything about writing. The story is fairly short, Josh. The evening has become more and more
but McKendrick packs in more to the situation than uncomfortable for her, but she continues until Josh
is printed on the page and really pulls it off well. touches an unspecified-but-definitely-off-limits
The premise we start with is that Wilhelmina part of her anatomy. Here she storms off and even-
“Whimsy” Waterman has been uprooted just before tually runs into Matt, of all people:
her senior year of high school because her mother
Assuming I was about to flip the outrage
was inspired to go to law school at BYU. So now
switch in Matt’s head, I said, “I mean, [Josh]
she and her mom are living in a little apartment in
tried stuff on me tonight.”
BYU student housing surrounded by young fami-
lies and screaming babies. Her parents have been Matt pressed his hands down on his black
divorced for years; as the story opens, she doesn’t hair, shifted his weight, and sighed heavily
even know where her dad is. But, for all the raw before saying, “What did you expect?”
deals she’s been handed, Whimsy keeps her sense of Apparently his outrage switch was out of
humor and guesses she can survive the year. Next order. “Excuse me?” I said, completely stunned.
year her best friend Jill will join her at BYU, and
Shaking his head, Matt [. . .] looked me in
her life can begin again. Meanwhile, she keeps Jill
the eye and said, “Don’t you know what kind
updated on her life through e-mail.
of message a dress like that sends a guy?”
It’s not as easy as she thinks it will be, though.
Josh, a gorgeous LDS guy from her hometown, is “. . . Do you think girls jam their feet into
now playing football for BYU and actually starts high heels and wear clothes that cling like
paying attention to Whimsy. Matt also seems inter- Saran Wrap because they’re so comfortable?
ested in her, but he’s kind of geeky even if he is No. We do it because that’s what guys want.
really nice. Then her mom starts dating someone, [. . .] Face it, guys are the ones that want us to
and Jill convinces Whimsy to buy a halter-top dress dress this way, so if you can’t handle it when
for the dance Josh is taking her to, and Whimsy we do, that’s your problem.”

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“True.” LDS books out there in which something similar


“Ha! You see I’m right,” I announced smugly. happens.) Even the thinly disguised lecture Matt
gives her afterward is not beyond dispute. Whimsy
Raising his eyebrows, Matt paused a sec- does eventually have the required talk with her
ond, then said, “[. . .] I agree that if a guy can’t mother in which Mom attempts to clarify these
deal with the way a girl is dressed, he’s at fault. moral issues for her. But this, too, is filled with
[. . .] I’m just trying to make a point. I mean, humor and lightheartedness. It seems to me that if
testosterone’s raging through us as it is, and we want to teach morality to youth through fiction,
then when a girl wears half of what she should we need to look more carefully at believable exam-
be wearing, it’s way distracting. [. . .] But you’re ples such as this one. (See my review of Michelle
wrong about what you think guys want girls and Debra by Jack Weyland, available in the online
to wear. To me, I mean, yeah, you’re beautiful
AML-List review archives, for an example that
in whatever, but you’re far more pretty when
didn’t work so well for me.)
you’re just you. You know, in old jeans and a
My only complaints are minor. One is that their
T-shirt and your hair done up in one of those
source of income is never mentioned. I often won-
clippy things. Oh, and for what it’s worth,
I have an Audubon Society calendar.” dered how they were paying for Whimsy’s mom to
go to school, or for the rent on their apartment, or
“Huh?” for Whimsy’s new halter-top dress. There also
“The pictures are of birds—not chicks,” he wasn’t a lot of description of their surroundings.
said, and then grinned victoriously. But, for a brisk piece like this, maybe “small apart-
ment” is all that’s really needed.
Whatever compliment he paid me was
wiped out by that stupid grin. Who had There was also an instance or two of foreshad-
declared him the winner? (69–70) owing of the “looking back, now I realize…” vari-
ety. I do wish these had been left out, as it suddenly
I’ve devoted a lot of space to this particular shows us a Whimsy who is much older and wiser. I
episode, but there’s much more to the story than prefer to think of her as the young, fun-but-some-
this morality lesson. Morality lessons have become times-clueless girl who usually speaks to us, not as
almost cliché in LDS young-adult novels, but someone older looking back. These instances are
McKendrick has knocked the socks off of how used before a couple of key events and in fact give
they’re done. The writing is good for the young- away too much. But, again, these flaws are minor.
adult genre, getting the message across while keep- On a Whim is short, but it’s quite fun. I’d defi-
ing the mood light through humor. But while the nitely recommend this book to young teenage girls,
writing is good for the genre, perhaps the real but even folks beyond that stage might get a kick
strength of the story lies in what isn’t said. Consider out of it. Incidentally, I checked this book out from
the elements that are usually in this sort of setting the Salt Lake County Library, where I had to get on
in the LDS market that aren’t present in On a a waiting list of literally around a hundred people.
Whim: There are no lectures from the narrator reit- So it’s at least popular in the Salt Lake County
erating what she’s learned. The heroine does not Library system. I know that publishing this book
come home thoroughly chastised and repentant must have been something of an experiment for
and ready to become a nun; instead, she picks her- Covenant, because they historically have not put
self up and her life goes on. Josh is not a cigarette- out a great deal of young-adult fiction. But I hope
smoking alcoholic atheist bum with no morals; that they try this again and that we see more from
instead, he’s a supposedly decent BYU student. McKendrick. Frankly, I think it’s time we get away
Josh is too anxious to make out, but he doesn’t from the notion that young-adult fiction can only
immediately try to get her into bed just because take place in cookie-cutter worlds and that lessons
she’s dressed provocatively. (Don’t laugh; there are must be taught with sledgehammers.

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The Elusive Nature of Good and Evil her grandfather’s warning, and is immersed in a
family life—indeed, an entire worldview—that is
A review of Marilyn Brown’s House on the Sound foreign to her. Relationships are hard to figure in
(Salt Press, 2001) the Barbar home.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle I had a difficult time figuring out what Brown
had in mind in telling this story, until a real mean-
A poet learned that one of his poems was to be ing of the book came to me in a flash, hidden in a
discussed in a public lecture at a local university. seemingly innocent conversation. Grandmother
He attended the talk, sitting in the back so no one Jessie, the maternal grandmother, is visiting the
would recognize him. As he listened to the profes- McKinsey family. Grandfather McKinsey is railing
sor explaining what the poem really meant, the about the Barbar family and how obviously they
poet asked himself, “Is that really what I was trying are involved in something sinister.
to say?” The temptation to read into the motives of
a writer ought to be eschewed. I will exercise no Grandmother Jessie always stood up to him
such restraint in this review. [Grandfather McKinsey]. My mother looked
House on the Sound presents itself as “based on a weary as she watched. “I’ll thank you not to
true story.” The narrator is a young girl who has make any unfair judgments, Mr. McKinsey.
two younger sisters. Their names match the names And the same for the innocent girl, Sarah.”
of Brown’s sisters, to whom the book is dedicated. “What if she ain’t innocent?” my grandfa-
There must be an element of autobiography in this ther glared.
book. But “based on a true story” differs quantita-
tively from “a true story,” allowing the author a My Grandmother Jessie was standing now.
degree of license not otherwise permitted. If this She stood quiet for a moment as though she
were truly autobiographical, I would first be very were absorbing Grandfather’s anger.
frightened and then dismiss it as not believable. “Are you innocent?” (98–99)
Brown’s book is set in the military town of Bre-
merton, Washington, shortly before the Japanese Who, indeed, was innocent? Were Grandfather
attack on Pearl Harbor. Bill McKinsey is employed McKinsey’s hands clean as he ranted about the
by the government in the building of support Barbars being spies, having no evidence to justify
materials for military hardware. His wife stays at his charge other than his own fears and insecurities?
home with their children, Lindy (the eldest) and Were the Barbars guilty because they were differ-
her little sister Elaine. ent? How does one make moral judgments in time
Across the road is the Barbar home. Anyone try- of war?
ing to discover anything of a family structure in the I began to appreciate the book more when I
Barbar household will be disappointed. There is a reframed the story as a parable of a modern-day
mother, children, and other assorted characters whose Eden. Bremerton became the garden; the Barbar
roles will not emerge until much later in the book. house became the tree of the knowledge of good
Needing help in their household, the McKinseys and evil. The Barbars were the forbidden fruit; little
invite Bill’s parents to come live with them. Grand- Lindy is an embryonic Eve, chomping at the bit to
father McKinsey is a grouchy, suspicious old man partake of the fruit, despite many warnings about
who, upon studying the Barbars from afar, decides the consequences.
they are evil and that Lindy should avoid any contact The fall finally comes when Lindy finds herself
with them. Not the right kind of people, to be sure. literally up a tree with one of the Barbar girls, being
But one day Lindy catches sight of Sarah, one of fired upon by a hunter who presumably doesn’t
the children from the Barbar home. She wants know they’re in the tree. The experience shatters
badly to get to know this older, strikingly beautiful young Lindy but doesn’t deter her from further
girl. She finds her way to the Barbar home, despite pursuits at the forbidden tree.

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The Barbars practice strange rituals: odd fires over tempter? Is Grandfather McKinsey a loving grand-
which one of the family members performs what father, interested only in the protection of his
sounds like a strange chant; mysterious Barbars liv- grandchildren? Or is he a bigoted old man who
ing in ravines, collecting animal and human bones wants nothing more than to pass along his bigotry
to be transformed into trinkets. Contrast them with to his grandchildren?
the sterile environment of the McKinsey family. The As the book proceeds, several characters enter
Barbars are much more interesting—you want to and leave, one more eccentric than the next. Each
dive right in and share in their daily lives, but Grand- contributes to the story line by adding a dimension
father tells us they’re evil! How do we dance around to the whole discussion of innocence and guilt. For
the tree of the knowledge of good and evil without example, the McKinseys take in a border, a tall, gaunt
ever reaching out for just a taste of the fruit? vacuum-cleaner salesman plagued by an awkward
It is Sarah, the older child of the Barbar family gait and a lack of social skills. We don’t ever learn
who has captured Lindy’s devotion, who provided what he’s really up to, but his very presence adds a
me with the greatest insights into what I’m calling layer of mystery to the McKinsey family dynamic.
the real meaning of this book. In this brief excerpt, With the bombing of Pearl Harbor comes a new
Sarah is performing her duties cleaning the McKin- layer of suspicion and nearly paranoid caution.
sey home (she was hired by Mrs. McKinsey to help Grandfather McKinsey is particularly pungent in
out). Lindy and her younger sister are keeping her his condemnation of the Barbars, believing they are
company: guilty of smuggling military secrets into the hands
For several hours we helped Sarah. Sometimes of the Japanese. But even he softens as he is forced
she whispered while she worked: “What a to put a face to his hatred. Meeting the Barbar
pretty floor,” or “Everything is so new,” or children transforms him, but only for a moment,
“What nice cupboards.” I watched her scour creating an uncertainty that Lindy finds difficult to
inside the toy chest, her thick arms working understand.
inside the loose sleeves. The movement of her The word Mormon doesn’t appear anywhere in
arms rocked her breasts. I found myself the book. But when Bill McKinsey becomes inter-
watching them. I tried to turn away. But my ested in Mormonism, his family finds the whole
eyes would not stop looking. I watched her matter distasteful. But in what context? Prior to
neck. The tendons in her neck would tighten. Bill’s interest in the Church, little is said about fam-
After we scoured the toy chest, we cleaned out ily faith. Religion is a constant topic of discussion
the linen cupboard. “You have a beautiful at their dinner table, but it often consists of those
home. Your mother wants to keep it clean so fringe beliefs in vogue at the time, such as the mean-
it won’t get run down like ours. You can keep ing of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
this clean. Ours will never be clean.” (100) Were this an ordinary Mormon novel, we would
expect Bill’s conversion to Mormonism to make
Whatever evil is going on in the Barbar house is everything better, to bring clarity and focus in the
deep, dark, and permanent. We learn later just how life of the McKinsey family. Happily, it does no
permanent it is later in the book, leading to an ugly such thing. In fact, unless I missed something, it
and tragic conclusion. doesn’t appear that Bill’s Mormonism has any effect
But where exactly does the evil lie? The moral at all in the lives of the McKinseys, unless you
ambiguity of the characters manifests itself in both count Lindy’s annoyance with the Sunday school.
attitudes and acts. Mrs. Barbar welcomes the I hope you decide to read this book. It is so
McKinsey children with open arms; the McKinsey much more complex than what I’ve been able to
children are forbidden from associating with the suggest here, but I can’t go further without giving
Barbars. But is Mrs. Barbar’s welcome that of a away the entire plot. It is written with a subtle ele-
gentle mother, or is it the enticement of an evil gance that is deceiving. Seen through the eyes of a

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child, the passage of the war years is populated by fiancé, she begins to wonder if marrying Marc is
new discoveries, new fears, and new uncertainties. the right decision.
Good and evil commingle in the people who sur- Plummer, Tom. Waltzing to a Different
round the main character’s life. Of course, retold in Strummer (Deseret Book, $9.95). Filled with rem-
the masterful prose of an accomplished writer like iniscence and reflection, this book takes an intimate,
Brown, we are left to read between the lines and humorous, poignant look at bullies and piano recitals
experience the real nature of horror, of evil. and basic training, at the many bits and pieces that
combine to make us who we are. It is an invitation
Selected Recent Releases to be ourselves, filled with all the energy and cre-
ativity that makes life a joy. “Marching to someone
Green, Betsey Brannon. Never Look Back else’s drummer won’t cut it,” writes Plummer. “Armies
(Covenant, $14.95). Shortly after Sydney Lovell march. Bands march. Marching means uniforms,
graduates from high school, RM Craig Cochran drum majors, anonymity. Marching is a mass thing.
sweeps her off her feet and they marry in the
Achieving rebirth means listening to one’s own
temple. Almost immediately, Sydney gets pregnant
rhythms, waltzing to one’s own strummer, missing
and Craig begins school to become a doctor. The
a few steps, then finding the beat again.”
years fly by in a blur as Sydney raises their three
Poulson, Clair. Relentless (Covenant, $14.95).
children while Craig completes medical school.
Then the bottom falls out when Craig asks Sydney Erika Leighton is on vacation with her family in
for a divorce. While struggling to make ends meet, the mountains of Colorado. When she drives to a
Sydney meets Cole Brackner, an attractive single nearby town to get supplies, she unwittingly steps
man. But Cole’s life is complicated as well. He is into a storm of events that threaten to alter her life
under pressure to sell his ranch to a developer, and forever. The name of the little town is Pineview,
when he resists his tires are slashed, cattle are poi- known for an infamous murder years earlier by
soned, and horrible rumors start to circulate. Butch Snyder, a troubled local boy. Because of an
Norton, Tamra. Molly Mormon (Cedar Fort, anonymous tip, Butch was caught and convicted.
$12.95). Molly Chambers tries to do what is right But as the police took him away, Butch swore he
and be herself, even if that brings ridicule from would return for revenge. Five years later, news of a
guys like Travis and Mitch. She can even handle the daring prison escape makes its way to Pineview.
verbal jabs of Jennavive Taylor, the most popular Robinson, Tim. The Nauvoo Temple Stone
girl in school. But soon Molly faces a new chal- (Deseret Book, $16.95). In 1999, workmen assigned
lenge: her best friend is swept away by the school’s to rebuild the Nauvoo temple dug up several of the
top athlete. Molly finds herself attracted to his best original foundation stones that had been laid by
friend. Reality tells her this relationship could the Saints in 1841. The Nauvoo Temple Stone is a
never work out, but her heart tells her otherwise. fictional narrative of what those workmen might
Nunes, Rachel Ann. Ties That Bind (Cove- have felt and said as they looked at such a stone and
nant, $14.95). Rebekka Massoni and Marc Perrault considered the historic nature of their work. Illus-
have waded through thousands of miles of separa- trations by Robert Barrett combine with text by
tion and years of uncertainty about each other. But Timothy Robinson to paint a picture of the sacri-
now they are happily together, anxiously awaiting fices and faith of the early Saints, brought full circle
the day when they will be married in the temple. with the rebuilding of the temple they left behind.
Yet, when Marc’s health problems become serious, Stansfield, Anita. Reflections (Covenant, $12.95).
he pushes Rebekka away, convinced that she should According to the author, “My greatest purpose for
find a life with someone else. Even worse, when writing this book is to offer women like myself a
Rebekka asks his brother, Andre, to speak with handful of thoughts that might uplift and enrich,
Marc, Andre agrees that she should move on. Yet, open minds and hearts, and give us something to
as Rebekka rejects their pleas and rallies around her think about. While many of the thoughts in this

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book are related to my experiences as a mother, my A M L - L I S T


hope is that each thought I have to offer will con- H I G H L I G H T S
tain a tidbit of value for every woman who might
read it—old or young, married or single, with chil-
Compiled by Marny K. Parkin
dren or without. No matter our differences in per-
sonality, opportunities, or challenges, we’re all
AML-List provides an ongoing forum for broad-
women. We all have tender hearts, strong spirits,
ranging conversation and a stimulating exchange of
and a desire to do the best we can with what we
opinions related to LDS literature. One especially rich
have to work with.”
topic during November, December, and January was
Stansfield, Anita. Someone to Hold (Covenant,
whether we sometimes tell stories that we later feel we
$14.95). Christina Hardy’s life is turned upside
should repent of. Read on for a sampling of the senti-
down when her husband of fifteen years leaves her.
ment on this and other topics. If you find yourself
Thrown into the world of single parenting, she
champing to chime in, send an e-mail message to
finds it difficult to move forward with her life.
majordomo@lists.xmission.com that reads: sub-
While driving on a lonely road in a blizzard, Christy
scribe aml-list. A confirmation request will be sent
picks up a stranger who is stranded. This act forms
to your e-mail address; follow the directions to com-
the foundation of a friendship between Christy and
plete your subscription. AML-List is moderated by
Cameron Chandler, and she quickly becomes part
Jonathan Langford.
of his life. Years beyond his own divorce and the
death of his son, he guides Christy through the process
of grieving and accepting that she cannot return to What’s the Point?
a relationship that is in the past. As Christy begins Andrew Hall (Dec. 3): What’s the point of read-
to heal, her feelings for Cameron move beyond ing all those novels all the time? Don’t you have
friendship and her fear becomes the possibility that anything better to do?
he could never see her as anything but a friend. This is the question for this month’s Andrew’s
Smith, Naomi S. Something to Give (Cedar Poll (well, bimonthly maybe). It is inspired by
Fort, $12.95). Timothy yearns to follow his father Richard H. Cracroft’s article in the recent issue of
and uncles in their fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee BYU Studies (40:2, 2001): “‘Cows to Milk Instead
but is given the task of tending sheep on the hill- of Novels to Read’: Brigham Young, Novel Read-
side. Through Timothy’s eyes we see the Savior feed ing, and Kingdom Building.” Cracroft goes over
five thousand with only five barley loaves and two the development of Brother Brigham’s attitudes
small fishes. From this miracle his heart is touched, towards reading novels, from disinterest to public
and he desires to give a gift that would be worthy denunciation. You theater people like to quote
of his beloved Master. Brigham Young because of his support for and par-
Wilcox, S. Michael. To See His Face (Deseret ticipation in plays. The novelists out there don’t
Book, $14.95). Seth sets out on a quest to under- have that luxury. Although he thought many nov-
stand why his father left his fledgling family and els were immoral, the thrust of Young’s arguments
never returned. His search leads him to other men was that they were a waste of time for a community
who teach him valuable truths—to Grandpa, who with so many important jobs to be done, particu-
teaches him to love the scriptures; to Uncle Mor- larly building up the kingdom of God on earth. He
gan, who teaches him self-reliance; to Uncle Jens, did not condemn reading in general. He lauded the
who teaches him the importance of repentance. benefits of reading doctrinal works, histories, and
As he endures the pains and joys of young adult- other nonfiction of a practical nature. Although he
hood, he learns the depth of God’s love and, at the usually used dime-store romances and westerns as
feet of the Master, finally learns how to forgive his examples of frivolous fiction, his criticism covered
own father. the entire genre of novels. In his last letter to his

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son Brigham Young Jr., he advised him to throw Also, I think that reading improves my writing
away his set of works by Charles Dickens. [. . .] skills. Someday I hope to be really good at writing and
Now, of course Young’s comments did not to publish novels of my own. So it has a temporally
become doctrine or even remain a well-remem- useful purpose for me as well. (And I write because . . .)
bered aspect of his legacy. Many leaders of the But I agree that reading novels for pleasure
Church after Young have publicly lauded works of should be the icing on the cake in one’s life, rather
fiction, if in no way else than by quoting them in than the main course.
their talks. The Relief Society used that Out of the James Picht (Dec. 7): One could ask the same
Best Books series in their cultural enrichment thing of people in church—why spend time in
meetings for a time. AML-List writers sometimes Sunday school unless you have nothing better to
quote Orson Whitney and Spencer Kimball on the do? Then again, you shouldn’t be doing whatever it
uplifting nature of great literature. is you’re doing, no matter what it is, unless you
Still, Brigham is not a man to be ignored. If you have nothing better to do. But doing constant cost-
had the chance to talk to him, what would be your benefit analysis with my time gives me a headache,
justification for time spent reading fiction? so “better” in this case isn’t going to be better
Jacob Proffitt (Dec. 4): Um. I’ve always been according to some eternal measure of opportunity
comforted by the quote by Brigham Young when cost, but of what seems to me better.
he was asked point blank about dime novels. His I read novels because I enjoy it, and happiness is
response was (and I paraphrase), “It’s better to read an end in itself. Everyone understands the human
dime novels than to read nothing at all.” Which rights to life and liberty, but people are awfully
isn’t precisely an endorsement, but certainly quali- intolerant of the pursuit of happiness. That’s prob-
fies as a decent excuse. . . . ably because so many of us confuse happiness with
Todd Petersen (Dec. 4): To be fair, Andrew fun, entertainment, and indolence, and in that we’re
should have mentioned that most of the English- completely mistaken. The pursuit of happiness can
speaking world was antinovel during the mid- to be hard work, and it isn’t always entertaining or
late-1800s. Brother Brigham was simply following fun. The novels I choose to read sometimes enter-
the current fashion.
tain me, sometimes don’t, and reading them is
My answer to the question of why read all these
sometimes fun, sometimes not. I read them for the
novels is this: fiction helps me empathize. Also, as
same reason I practice the piano—it changes me in
art critic Dave Hickey once argued, difficult art
ways that I like; it makes me happy.
makes people better able to deal with difficult per-
sonal, political, and social problems. It’s a kind of Christine Atkinson (Dec. 8): I read because I
exercise for the brain. can’t not read. I’ve always been a reader. In third
I do think it’s a waste of time to be sucking up grade I got in trouble for writing corrections in the
entertainment all the time. It’s good some of the margins of my library books. (It wasn’t disrespect
time, very good. For me it’s a balancing act: writ- for the books; it was an attempt to help other read-
ing, reading, charity. I can only do each of them for ers have a better reading experience. Honest.) If
so long, and then I must clean the kitchen. there is something in my line of sight, I will read it.
Cathy Wilson (Dec. 5): I read because my mind I have memorized my shampoo bottle. (I still, after
seems hungry all the time—for stories, new things all these years of trying, have not figured out a way
to think about, fresh ideas, images. . . . A good read to read books in the shower.) In lines at grocery
fills in all those empty spaces :). Then, after a while, stores I read the covers of all the magazines. At
I get hungry again and have to find another book. banks I read the announcements of changes in their
Katie Parker (Dec. 5): My own conclusion has policies—even if I don’t bank there. I read every
been that art, in whatever form, touches the soul in word of the sacrament meeting program. I buy a
a way that straight lectures or numbers or other purse with only one requirement—a paperback
left-brain activities don’t. I need my soul touched. must fit. I don’t know how to get to sleep if I can’t

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read, even if it’s just for thirty seconds. I read while Repenting of Stories
I brush my teeth. I read while I cook. I read while
Todd Petersen (Nov. 5): The fluff discussion has
I work out. I even read while I watch television.
shifted slightly to a discussion of intention and
Is it a waste of my time? No, I don’t think so.
responsibility, which is a good shift, I think—one
Partly because reading has had a significant effect
that has particular value for LDS writers, since I
on who I am—how could I call that a waste of
think that we’ll be responsible to account for our
time? And partly because it doesn’t take all my
fruits at the judgment bar, and that is going to
time. I still go to work. I still have about a zillion
include our literary fruits, I imagine.
things I like to do that don’t allow me to read. I still
People can accidentally cause some kinds of car
baby-sit my nieces and nephews, go out on dates,
accidents, yet they are still “responsible” for them.
clean my house, visit my family, go shopping, play
I think the same is true of literature. An author may
on my computer, have conversations, make pottery, not mean for her work to be taken in a particular way,
watch movies, listen to music, spend time with my but if people do, and there is a problem as a result,
friends. . . . I have a full life. And it includes read- then the author could be seen as negligent, though
ing. I suppose a full life for another person might it’s hard to say just when that might happen.
not include reading, and for that person reading Dutcher mentioned repentance as a response for
would be a waste of time. But a full life for me must crossing “the line” during his address at the [Octo-
include reading—watching more TV would be a ber AML writers’] conference, and that is impor-
waste of time. Or ironing. (Sorry, Mom.) tant—something I can’t even believe I’ve
Kathy Tyner (Dec. 10): I have to read some- overlooked. Can any of us imagine a situation in
thing every day even if it’s the back of a cereal box. which we would find ourselves trying to repent of
I think I’d go insane otherwise. As lazy as I am a story we’ve told, a book we’ve published?
about getting physical exercise, I must get mental Gae Lyn Henderson (Nov. 6): I agree that repent-
exercise and I’m losing too many brain cells to leave ing of a book or a story is an interesting notion. But
any to chance. [. . .] it makes so much sense. How are we going to learn
I have pondered on why it seems Brother Brigham if we don’t give ourselves permission to make some
disdained novels. IMO, perhaps it was that life was mistakes? In our culture, where there is so much
short in the nineteenth century, work was hard and emphasis on preventing mistakes and avoiding the
physically demanding, and to him there was no pain of repentance, we sometimes forget that learn-
time to dilly-dally on such things, stick to the scrip- ing is about going through consequences.
tures, etc. Perhaps also novel reading was seen as a God sent us here to earth with the freedom to
luxury of the idle rich, for who else would have the make mistakes. We tell our children over and over,
time? Although I wonder if I would have the chutz- don’t abuse your free agency by choosing wrong.
pah to argue with him, I might point out certain Of course we don’t want to see our children suffer.
scriptures to defend my position: D&C 93:24, 53; But God allows us to suffer, doesn’t he? I’m not say-
D&C 130:19; and D&C 88:77– 80 out of modern ing we should advise our children to make mis-
scripture and out of the Bible, Proverbs 4:7—“Wis- takes, but we can say, “Mistakes are okay. You can
dom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: repent.”
and with all thy getting get understanding.” He’d Thom Duncan (Nov. 7): I can’t conceive of ever
probably have some sharp comebacks with other having to repent of anything I write. I can conceive
scriptures, but hey, I’d have tried. of perhaps writing something that may get me called
Finally, I think reading both fiction and nonfic- before a high council (akin to the September 6 of
tion makes for a more well-rounded person, open several years ago), but would I “repent” of what I
to the spirit and compassionate, able to defend wrote? As long as I considered that my motives
their own faith while respecting others. I read to were pure, not based in any attempt to embarrass
live—I know no other way. the Church, then there would be no reason to repent,

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no matter how offended some person in a high going ahead with our flawed efforts. No growth
position may have been over what I had written. without risk—and in the case of writing, “risk”
Robert Lauer (Nov. 8): I thought repentance means (almost by definition) “publication.”
was reserved for sins knowingly committed? If one’s To put it briefly: I can see no possibility of
motives are pure, if one is being honest in one’s growth as a writer without involving some level of
writing, if one is writing according to the greatest “repentance” for previous works. But that doesn’t
Light one has received, if one is not writing to dis- mean that we should necessarily hold back from
credit the Church or destroy testimonies, then why producing those works.
in the world would repentance play any part in the
process whatsoever? AML Youth Program
Jonathan Langford (Nov. 9): Not having been
at Dutcher’s session, I had a different take on this Sharlee Glenn (Jan. 11): Chris Bigelow wrote:
topic. “Repenting of stories” . . . that, I guess, “I just wish Sunstone and the AML had youth
would mean repenting of having written some- programs . . .”
thing I wrote. Which a number of authors, includ- What a great idea! I’m serious. How about a
ing noted ones, have done, throughout time, for youth chapter of the AML? We really ought to be
part of the their work. Wasn’t it Donne who doing more to encourage our young people to con-
destroyed, or at least regretted, his earlier, nonreli- sume and produce quality literature.
gious poetry? And Chaucer wrote a literary retrac- Margaret Young (Jan. 16): Seriously, this is a
tion, as I recall. (Though I believe it’s unclear great idea! My 15-year-old would really thrive in
whether that was sincere, or itself another literary just that sort of group. Please, someone, get excited
genre with which Chaucer was experimenting.) about it and organize something. You notice I’m
For that matter, what about those who tinker not volunteering. I will, however, gladly contribute
with a previously published work? Wordsworth’s my son to the program. He gave Bruce and me
rewriting of previous published poems? Card’s poems for Christmas—and they were good poems!
rewriting of previously published books? Whit- Plus, sometimes the only way I’ve been able to
man’s periodic rewriting and republication of reach him is by showing him poetry I wrote when
Leaves of Grass? Aren’t these “repenting,” in a sense I was his age, so he can see that indeed, I did feel as
of regretting something done in the past and alone and freakish as he feels now, and I can actu-
attempting at least to do it differently? “Repen- ally relate to it. He has written two novels, and if he
tance,” viewed in this light, can be for literary and could choose how I spent my time with him, he
esthetic as well as moral and ethical reasons. [. . .] would choose to have me critique (mostly praise)
No one, of course, can object to the notion of an his novel. He would also choose to have me never
author revising his/her work, if he/she thinks there ask him to get off the computer or clean his room.
is occasion to do so and that improvements can be Eric R. Samuelsen (Jan. 15): This is a great idea.
made. But I think this take on the matter simply Right now, I’m teaching playwriting and screen-
reinforces the point that there’s some value to doing writing at BYU, and sometimes we get talking
the best effort of which we are capable at a partic- about LDS culture, and I’ll suggest to them that
ular time, with the understanding that (hopefully) they read some good LDS literature. And they
we will gain further insight later on—probably don’t know what I’m talking about. So this semes-
including ways that what we were attempting could ter, I’m assigning them to read and report on an
have been done better, and perhaps even things we LDS novel. If they won’t do it voluntarily . . .
think were not merely not as good as they could
have been, but perhaps morally and/or esthetically Acceptance of Mormon Lit
bad. But like others who have commented on this Harlow S. Clark (Dec. 13): On Dec. 11, Todd
thread, I doubt we could reach that point without Petersen said, “LDS writers are going to have to be

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twice as good as everyone else in order to make it class member wrote in the margin, “That’s a pretty
in a national market with LDS-themed work. ballsy thing to say,” and David Bosworth, the
Twice as good. This is not something that we’ve teacher, said, “It’s good to be reminded sometimes
talked about much here. I think that sometimes we that when we say that we are taking the Lord’s
think that we need to be equal with other writers, name in vain.”
but that’s not true at all. Writing from a Christian The reaction from a liberal (votever dot meinz)
perspective is an albatross around a writer’s neck Mormon publication that awarded the story third
that few writers can cut loose.” place in the D.K. Brown fiction contest that year?
Yes. We do need to talk about this. I’ve heard “We feel that publishing the story in its present
this statement several times, and I’m always struck form would be a good way to lose a third of our
at how it repeats verbatim a theme I come across subscribers.” He was referring to the rape scene
repeatedly in African-American culture. If you look itself, involving the man’s mouth and the boy’s—I
at “twice as good” in that context, it’s clear that the can’t say the word, the Scungebone editors thought
unstated assumption is, “The world is so bigoted the anatomical name of that particular body part
that it’s not going to appreciate us for who we are. was too offensive to print.
They’re so bigoted we have to be twice as good as There are multiple ironies here. One class mem-
they are just to get noticed.” Do we really want to ber said the offending scene was too trivial to build
think of our potential audience as a bunch of bigots? a story around because Brendan only “almost gets . . .”
Mind you, I could have used a different adjective (sorry for the tasteful ellipses, but I do want this to
there, as James Wilson did on Dec. 13: “So many get posted). I described it clinically because one of
are so convinced that piety is a sham that they don’t the issues in the story is that Brendan is too embar-
believe it even when it’s obvious and right out in rassed for 15 years to speak the words that describe
the open. I think people today have a great longing in detail what happened to him. This past spring I
for goodness, exceeding that which has been in was part of a jury in a mock rape trial the U of U
most times before, but they’re terrified to believe. law school does each spring to give their law stu-
When you’ve had the Big Lie practiced upon you a dents a peek into how a jury deliberates. When the
bazillion times, it’s a miracle if you’re only skeptical prosecutor described one part of the rape, it
instead of cynical.” sounded like a direct quote from my story.
But do we really want to think of our potential I have more to say on the outside world’s will-
audience as having been deceived by Satan? ingness to read Mormon lit, but for now I’ll just say
I have often found non-Mormon audiences that in his “Toward the Dawning of a Brighter
more receptive to my stories, and the spirituality in Day” speech (1983, I think, because my oldest son,
them, than Mormon audiences. In grad school I Mason, took his first step at that speech—toward
wrote a story called “The Covenant Breaker” about an electrical outlet he wanted to play with (or did
a 30-year-old man who, while naming and blessing Gene say it in a different speech?), Eugene England
his baby daughter, starts thinking about a time he noted that there are a lot of LDS professors teach-
was molested 15 years earlier on the banks of the ing at a lot of non-BYU universities and invited
Susquehanna River by a returned missionary who them, next time they taught a short story, to teach
then asked him the Golden Questions and turned a Mormon story. So here’s a question for you teach-
up in the boy’s ward in Elmira, NY, seventy miles ers on the list: When was the last time you taught
away the next Sunday. There’s a scene where the a piece of Mo lit in your class? And when was the
molester stands up after sacrament meeting, turns last time you wrote about Mo lit in (or for) an aca-
around and sees Brendan, and says, “Oh, God.” demic journal? These are not rhetorical questions.
“No, it’s just me, Brendan.” I had two fascinating I want to know. How shall they read a literature
reactions to that passage there at the exceedingly they’ve heard not of?
secular U of (there is no R in) Warshington. One Scott Parkin (Dec. 17): A couple of thoughts—

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First, I think the argument is less that the audi- automatically rejecting anything that even smacks
ence is a bunch of bigots so much as the publishing of overt Mormonism (as they do with most overtly
establishment itself is biased against Mormons. I was defensive religious literature) whether it’s good and
going to argue that I didn’t believe this was true, publishable or not?
that I thought the reason for our limited success Maybe Todd is right. Maybe we really do have to
was too strong a self-consciousness about our own be twice as good to break in. Then again, that’s true
Mormonness in our fiction that tends to take over of every new author in the industry—to occupy a
a story and turn it into a defense (or critique) of the slot normally filled by a known, publishing pro,
institution instead of a story about people, and that a new writer has to be clearly better in pretty much
such an institutional approach inherently limits the every way, else why should an editor take a chance
potential audience for a story. on an unknown name rather than going with the
Then I saw the news story last night about the safe, established brand name? Establishing a new
Cottonwood (Utah) High School choir being author is always hard; establishing a new category
uninvited to perform at Carnegie Hall because they of fiction is even harder.
were from Utah and must therefore be Mormon— I’m not going to argue that bias against Mor-
a thing not to be tolerated by the concert organizers. mons doesn’t happen, because we know it does. So
I understand that the organizers were a funda- does bias against women, men, blacks, Asians, His-
mentalist Christian group and that there is an panics, Jews, Muslims, Christians, the obese, the
ongoing rejection by that group of Mormons as loud, the smelly, the boorish, etc., etc., etc. And yet
qualifying to be called Christians. I understand all of these people publish regularly, at least par-
that Carnegie Hall itself had little or nothing to do tially because there are clearly established markets
with the decision, that they just rented the hall to for the works that they produce. Even the Mormon
this group of concert organizers to do with as they prophet was published by a New York house
pleased, and that the anti-Mormon bias is coming because they knew that with only a five-percent
from a Midwestern Christian organization rather sell-through to American Mormons they’d have a
than the New York arts community itself. clear bestseller, and if they actually sold to anyone
Then again, the issue seems to run afoul of well- else they’d have a big seller. Easy decision.
established law against discrimination on the basis Then we look at the Mormon publishing indus-
of race or creed (a.k.a. religion), and I might expect try and we don’t see massive sales numbers. Appar-
that revered concert hall’s management committee ently Mormons don’t buy overtly Mormon stuff
to question its client on their apparently illegal themselves; if we can’t peddle our own stuff to our
stance and its poor reflection on Carnegie Hall own community, how can we expect others to buy
itself. Which they haven’t done. Which begs the it who don’t feel that same community? Most
issue of how far up the line the bias actually goes. people don’t care enough about Mormons to read
Which seems to suggest that there might in fact be anything just because it’s about Mormons, be the
an institutional bias against things Mormon in the story fer ’em or agin’ ’em. People need to be willing
New York arts community. to read the stories for some other reason than the
Of course, that argues a chicken-or-egg ques- Mormon apologetics (or criticisms).
tion. Is New York biased because they despise the So the first question seems to me to be how do
religion itself, or does the bias come from the fact we get Mormons to buy—and read—Mormon fic-
that the vast majority of overtly Mormon works tion? We know that the teen morality play sells
have been poorly written, overly self-conscious, too well, but that it has limited appeal outside a fairly
limited in audience or scope, or just not artistically narrow age demographic. The Mormon historical
interesting enough? After seeing thousands of has been limited by ordinary writing and either too
unpublishable stories, has New York learned to much correlation or not enough, with a subtext
cringe whenever they see another Mormon piece, that either defends or condemns the institution—

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usually with a great deal of vigor in either case. and place, because they built on an existing literary
Much of our literary/academic fiction is similarly tradition that provided a foundation for their new
limited in that it focuses on critiques of the broad and powerful voices.
institution rather than stories of humans interact- Maybe we need to rethink our good and worthy
ing in and around it. ambition a bit and eat that literary elephant one
Even Mormon readers are cringing at our stories bite at a time instead of constantly trying to stuff
of self-conscious institutional critique; even we the whole thing down at once. Not that we should
aren’t interested in our own fiction. So how can we be trying to do less with our fiction, but maybe that
expect anyone else to be? some of us should reattenuate our expectations of
I think this is the question Mormon writers the marketplace and be willing to meet readers closer
should be focusing on, not the specter of institu- to where they live right now rather than trying to
tional bias by New York publishers. As writers, how force a vision of high art down the throats of the
do we evolve our literature to reach a wider audi- unwilling (of course the flip side is also true—that
ence? How do we appeal to a broader range of we not worship our tiny, populist niche markets to
Mormons? How do we change our focus to reach the exclusion of new, difficult, or challenging works;
more Mormons, to get them to read more of our that’s just the opposite end of the elephant—decide
own stories in addition to the other stories that for yourselves which end).
they read? How do we create an economically self- We need to reach more and different readers
sufficient marketing category that New York pub- with either more and different stories, or with sto-
lishers can buy into as a sound business decision? ries that better reach across our differences to a core
I was talking to my father over the weekend. voice that resonates powerfully with many readers.
He’s a senior executive for a large multi-national I don’t think it’s been done yet. Yes, we’ve
corporation based in Chicago, and he is a voracious reached some pretty large niches, but I don’t think
reader. There’s always a book in his briefcase, and anyone has told a story that reaches even a notable
he covers the gamut from fiction to essay to history. minority of Mormons yet, no less a simple major-
But he has no interest at all in Mormon fiction. He ity. Until we can tell stories about ourselves to our-
read a couple of books almost twenty years ago and selves, I don’t think we have much of a chance of a
decided that Mormon fiction just didn’t engage his massive breakout novel that will reach beyond the
interest. He thought about reading Lund’s The bounds of Mormonism to a general audience.
Work and the Glory series but ended up reading Robert Lauer (Dec. 15): Sadly enough, I think
the Harry Potter series instead. that many Church members (artists among them)
It’s not that he doesn’t read; it’s that there’s noth- do this [think of our potential audience as having
ing about Mormon fiction to draw him in. His one been deceived by Satan]. But I wonder if the truth
experience with it was unsatisfying, and he has no of the matter is that many LDS artists either are
reason to believe that anything has changed in the indeed not as good as the artists “of the world,” or
last fifteen years. if perhaps they are as good but they’re simply igno-
I think the same can be said for the general Mor- rant about such things as agents, networking, distri-
mon readership. As a people we actually read as bution—the business of producing, publishing, etc.
much as anyone else, and more than many. So how Perhaps we (like all artists) feel very passionately about
do we engage the interest of our own community? what we’re doing. But whereas the “worldly” artist,
One of our problems, I think, is that our best when her/his work is rejected, feels that she/he per-
writers are so focused on becoming Shakespeares and sonally is being rejected personally, the Mormon
Miltons that they’ve intimidated themselves right artist, when rejected, deals with those same feelings
out of the game. That’s a heavy expectation, and one but imagines that the gospel is being rejected. The
that I’m not sure is fair. Those writers happened “worldly” artist pegs cultural Philistines as the cul-
because they were the right voice for a particular time prits; the LDS artist pegs Satan and his cohorts.

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This has always been my experience [non-Mormon that Joseph Smith founded the LDS Church, you’d
audiences being more receptive to my stories than never know you were seeing a play dealing with the
Mormon audiences]. My first LDS play Digger was social roots of Mormonism.)
handled with kid gloves by the LDS/BYU artistic In 1987, I finished my second LDS play, The
community. It was praised on one hand and given Beehive State. The reaction by all of my LDS
the 1982 Mayhew Award. As the Mayhew Award friends at the time who read the script was nega-
winner, it was to be produced on BYU’s main stage tive. In 1988, it was produced by the Olde Theatre
the following year. (Up until that time, this had Company (Portsmouth, Virginia). The audience
been the case.) But at the last moment, the play was reactions were overwhelmingly positive. So were
dropped from the season because it was felt it the reactions of the area critics. The play was a
might offend some Church members. This didn’t comedy/drama centered around post-Manifesto
surprise me. In fact, what did surprise me was that polygamy in a Provo, Utah, family—the central
BYU gave it an award and that individual faculty character being the husband’s first wife, a woman
members praised my work—privately. One good in late middle age. One critic said that this charac-
professor even called me to his office and suggested ter’s evolution in dealing with her faith was “one of
that I transfer to another university because I had the most moving and important issues to be dealt
talent and (this makes my point) non-Mormons would with in any area theatrical production this year.”
probably be more supportive of my writing . . . on Sunstone published the play in 1989, and to this
Mormon topics! Digger was produced that year as a day I have not had a single member of the Church
graduate student production. And while this was mention the play to me. I’m not saying that either
going on, a secular theatre—the Generic Theatre in of my plays are “great theater.” They were early
Norfolk, Virginia—was reading the play and con- efforts, and I think they are lacking in many
sidering it for production the following season as respects. But when I see my—for lack of a better
their annual new play selection. (They ended up word—competition in the area of LDS playwriting
not producing it, but not because it dealt with Mor- during the 1980s, I’m more than a little confused.
monism.) Back in the early 1990s, a Utah-based My two LDS plays are in my writer’s portfolio; I’ve
publisher of LDS plays and musicals contacted me submitted them to theaters and production com-
while I was living in New York City, requesting a panies whenever I’ve applied for jobs or gone out
copy of Digger; he had heard about it and had an for writing commissions. And most of the time,
eye towards handling the property. After reading it, I’ve gotten the jobs. In the case of every one of these
he wrote me back saying that the play could never writing jobs, the artistic director or producer doing
be produced by a ward or stake. “Who could pos- the hiring has commented first and foremost on
sibly produce it?” he asked me. I wrote the play either Digger or Beehive State—commented posi-
(which deals with Joseph Smith’s courtship with tively, that is.
Emma and his evolution from a frontier village And so it is that I, a self-described Mormon
seer/peep-stone gazer into a prophet) as a piece of writer, have written two Mormon plays that non-
Americana. (Some people are Anglophiles; I’m an Mormons have tended to appreciate and find inter-
early Americana-phile.) It never occurred to this esting and entertaining, but which Mormons have
particular LDS play publisher that since Mor- completely rejected—or even worse, ignored.
monism is America’s most successful “homegrown” One more thing:
religion (if not its only homegrown religion), Amer- Remember that awful (or so I thought) TV
icans in general might find the play somewhat movie from 1995, Avenging Angel, about Brigham
interesting. (The Church is never mentioned in the Young’s fictional Danite bodyguard? The New York
script—since it hadn’t been founded yet. The word Times began their negative review of the film by
Mormon doesn’t appear in it, since Joseph had yet stating how much dramatic potential the “little
to be given the plates. In short, if one didn’t know known story of the Mormons” has. The review

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ended lamenting—and I paraphrase—“some day rather than cultural Mormons, then the difficulty is
someone is going to discover the story of the Mor- much, much greater. In Ocean’s Eleven there are two
mons and make a great film. Unfortunately Aveng- characters called the Mormon twins, and they’re
ing Angel is not that film.” con men and thieves. The fact is, Utah is well
I’ll end beating the same dead horse that I always known for confidence schemes. It is one of the test-
ended up smacking around: the “world” is a lot ing grounds con men use for new schemes. Obvi-
more open-minded and ready for Mormon art than ously the characters in the movie aren’t really LDS,
many of us even imagine. And I’m not talking of but it’s a sign that things are changing. Instead of
art that tries to pass itself off as “Christian” or literature that is intelligible only to cultural Mor-
“Evangelical” in nature—that is propaganda in mons or preaching disguised as literature (which is
which the artist is trying to convince the world to perfectly legitimate in my opinion), the best way to
bestow upon the Church the coveted (why?!) label gain acceptance is to simply have a “mainstream”
of “Christian.” Perhaps too often we LDS artists style of story with a Mormon character as a con-
are tempted to walk out into the ring waving our trast. Pick a genre, avoid the nasty stuff, and add a
hands over our heads and shouting, “Please like me! Mormon character that can fit the story. That way
Please! You see, Mormons are people just like you! it might get published if it’s merely good instead of
Mormons are Christians, too!” great. If you look back, there aren’t very many
Apologia can never be the foundation of high “preachy” books that have been wildly successful;
art. Apologia comes from a place of self-perceived there aren’t even very many classics of that kind.
weakness and inferiority. Art comes from a place of Most of the time great writers have to disguise their
values being celebrated—not values being merely preachings to get the message out at all. Look at Sir
explained or defended. Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Everything is stereotyped
How much better off we might be if we just except Rebecca. She’s the modern-eye view of the
threw out the Church vs. the world paradigm and medieval world. It’s the first anti-anti-Semitic liter-
immersed ourselves in creating works that embrace ature that was popular. Without being aware, one
our unique beliefs, customs, and cultures; works can’t help but sympathize with Rebecca more than
built on the foundational concept that we are a any other character because she’s more like the
peculiar people—different from others—and that modern reader than any of the other characters.
we’re perfectly okay—even happy—about it. She’s the liberal (old sense) ideal—compassionate,
D. Michael Martindale (Dec. 17): Personally, gentle, kind, generous, virtuous, and noble. She’s
I think fretting over how this or that audience will even tolerant, unlike every other character in the
accept our work is dumb. If you have something to book. If Sir Walter had just written, “It is wrong to
say, just write it. Like with Robert’s plays, the audi- despise or hate the Jews” in his time and climate,
ence it reaches may surprise you. But not if you he would not be remembered as he is; instead he
don’t write it, or worse yet, lobotomize it to fit planted a seed that eventually bore fruit. How
some preconceived notion of an audience. (To par- much fruit is difficult to know, but literature does
aphrase Robert Heinlein, lobotomize only at the have an effect on people. Whether or not millions
request of an editor.) of people stopped hating the Jews because of him,
James Wilson (Dec. 15): There is a big differ- he made the attempt, and it was a noble one.
ence between the Church of Jesus Christ and eth- I think that is a good enough ideal and that it is
nicity or race or culture. There is a Mormon more important to influence for good than to try
culture, which only vaguely resembles the actual and explain all the cultural vagaries of Mormons. It
teachings of the Church, and in that context it is just as likely to lose the moral of the story while
would be easier to overcome cultural boundaries. trying to figure out why so many teenagers in Utah
If one actually wishes to include Church teachings think drinking beer is more sinful than adultery—
specifically and have characters that are converted unless that is the moral of the story.

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Responding to Critics better) way to solve the problem myself. I should


have seen the problem she pointed out without
Darlene Young (Jan. 24): I appreciated Scott using her solution to fix it.
[Bronson]’s response to my review. I’m beginning
One big help has been my critique group, since
to realize that reviewing is often a thankless job.
I can get up to five opinions at the same time. If
You pour your heart into writing the thing, and you
one person thinks there’s a problem but the other
never know if anyone bothered to read it. (I sup-
four think it’s fine, then I probably won’t change it.
pose I can at least count on the author of the work
If two or three agree that something needs fixing,
I review to read the review!) I deeply believe that
then I’ll plan to take a look at it and see if I can
good and appropriate criticism has a huge potential
make any tweaks for clarification or whatever. If
for changing Mormon letters for the better. (And,
four or five are in agreement, then, by golly, the
likewise, poor criticism can do immeasurable
thing stinks and needs an overhaul.
harm.) Anyway, I was glad to know he read it and
thought about it enough to respond. But again, the changes I’ve ended up making
I have a question for those of you writers who are (especially in the overhaul category), while they
a lot further along in your writing quest than I—in have been spurred by suggestions, have quite often
other words, those of you who have written things not been carried out as they were suggested.
that were published and reviewed: The harshest criticism I ever received was from a
When a reviewer (or critiquer or audience mem- contest judge (in a contest that I had taken second
ber) points out what they see as a weakness in your place in two years running, no less). The judge’s
work, how do you know whether the fault is in the sheet had nothing positive on it at all, and instead
work or in the audience? I’ve asked something sim- was riddled with every cliché about bad writing
ilar before, but I’d really like to get more response. known to man. The judge might as well have just
In drama, for example, when you find that your said, “Do you speak English?” I knew that with my
audience did not “get” something the way you had track record (which I won’t go into here), I had
planned for them to get it, how do you know some ability and wasn’t a complete amateur, as the
whether the individual was just dense/naive/suffer- judge seemed to indicate. But something was obvi-
ing from heartburn or whether you really ought to ously wrong with the book.
adjust something about the play? After licking my wounds, I began looking for
Annette Lyon (Jan. 29): Since my publications honest readers. I also did a lot of thinking and even
to date have only been articles, I haven’t been the used my sister as a sounding board over the phone.
object of a review yet. But since I have written sev- Over the course of the next year I managed to fig-
eral novels and many people have read them, I have ure out what was wrong and, I think, fix it. I
received a lot of feedback over the years. Sorting entered the manuscript into the same contest the
through the feedback is, like Darlene implied, a bit following year, and while I didn’t win, this time the
tricky at times. Sometimes opinions conflict, some- judge’s sheet said almost nothing but positives and
times the person didn’t “get” what you meant, and recommended I try to find a publisher for it. I’m
on and on. glad I didn’t take the first judge’s comments liter-
Here’s what has, in part, worked for me: if I find ally, or I would have trashed the entire manuscript
that more than one reader has a problem with part instead of finding ways to improve it.
of the work (be it a plot point, a character, a con- Eric R. Samuelsen (Jan. 28): With all due
fusing passage, whatever), I take a hard look at it, apologies to Eric Snider, but as for me and my
since there is likely something wrong with it. But house, we assume the critic is wrong. By the same
ironically, quite often the reader’s diagnosis of the token, when an audience member writes to us
actual problem has been off. I learned that the hard complaining, we assume that they’re wrong and we
way, taking a published novelist’s advice directly dismiss it as the work of a crank. That’s the con-
without seeing another (and, I might add, much sensus of drama folks everywhere; we generally

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think critics aren’t competent, and we seldom trust If I were running a theater, I would be interested
their opinions. We mostly think the purpose of a in the opinions of people who are regular theater-
review is to sell tickets, and we judge any given goers. Being a critic doesn’t necessarily mean you
review on how well it’s likely to do that. I can count know anything, but it definitely means you see a lot
on the fingers of one hand the times when I’ve read of plays. If nothing else, it means you become
a review of my work and found myself agreeing harder to impress.
with the critic. Of course, the average theatergoer doesn’t see
I think it’s a matter of trust. Newspaper critics that many plays and may still be delighted, for
are working against a deadline. They see every- example, to see someone receive a pie in the face,
thing—the good, the bad, and the ugly. They cer- while the more jaded critic has seen it too many
tainly have their own prejudices and likes and times to still be amused by it. And since your aver-
dislikes. Our relationship with them is certainly age audience member is, well, average, then maybe
adversarial. So we’re inclined to not trust their that’s as high as the bar needs to be set. Entertain
opinion. Besides, we know why we made the deci- the average audience, and you’re fine.
sions we made, and why we rejected other deci- But I assume most people serious about theater
sions. And we generally think that “most audience want to go beyond merely pleasing the masses.
members” liked what we did, even if critics didn’t. (Not that there’s anything wrong with pleasing the
The times when I do listen are when people I masses. And not that pleasing the masses and pleas-
really do trust tell me honestly what went wrong. ing the critics have to be two separate things. We
Usually I know. (When I adapted The Christmas critics often like things that are “popular.”) The
Box into the world’s worst musical, I knew, open- average audience won’t be nearly as concerned with
ing night, exactly why it was so bad, far too late to matters of artistic integrity, nuanced acting, and
fix anything.) But sometimes, someone I trust will script interpretation as a critic—or, for that matter,
say “this didn’t work,” and I’ll listen. (I feel like anyone with critic-like tastes—will be. Those
most of the reviews I’ve seen here, in this forum, things may not sell more tickets, but they might be
are trustworthy.) issues worth pondering when it comes to an artist’s
Remember, it’s hard to get an audience out to personal feelings about the show he’s put together.
the theater. To the degree that critics don’t help us I think Eric may be looking at this from a more
do that, they’re a very visible and prominent enemy. pessimistic view than is necessary.
Are we arrogant? Probably. Could we learn from For one thing, I know he doesn’t read The
our critics? Maybe. Are attitudes likely to change? [Provo] Daily Herald (and why would you, really?)
Possibly, but unlikely. But I maintain that change is and therefore hasn’t seen that I stopped giving
multilateral. When critics do things like assign grades to shows some time ago. This was partly due
shows grades (one star, two star, A B C), the only to his thoughtful comments on the matter and
thing that does, from our perspective, is give audi- partly due to a production of Fiddler on the Roof
ences a reason to not come. And so the adversarial that defied all classification. (I know he said “crit-
nature of the relationship is enhanced. ics,” not “Eric Snider,” but I was the only critic in
Eric D. Snider (Jan. 29): I assume this does not Utah who gave grades of any kind to live theater, so
extend to times when the critic lavishly praises a I’ve boldly assumed he meant me.)
show, but maybe it does. [. . .] Furthermore, Eric makes several comments in
But how many times have you read a review of his post about how critics’ negative reviews keep
someone else’s work and agreed with it? Probably audiences out of the theater, etc., etc. But if that’s
a bit more often. I believe what you’re saying (or true, then surely positive reviews get people into the
implying) is that being personally attached to a theater. If assigning a grade only gives audiences a
thing makes you less open to criticism, and that’s reason not to come, then surely assigning a grade of
perfectly normal. A+ only gives them reasons why they should come.

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Eric talks like critics are always, well, critical (in the in artistic invention.” Everyone knows that Jane
negative sense), which simply isn’t true. Austen is a great writer, right? Whoever wrote that
At the very least, if they’re the bad guys when must have had no literary sensibility whatsoever,
they say bad stuff, then aren’t they the good guys right? It was Ralph Waldo Emerson.
when they say good stuff? I think they’re always My point here is that what Eric Samuelsen
good guys, for reasons mentioned in the next para- rightly perceives as the inevitably adversarial rela-
graphs, but I would think we’d at least reach the tionship between critic and author seems due more
fair-weather-friend agreement. to an unwillingness by both parties to concede (and
I can’t speak for all critics, but as for me and my remind each other) that evaluative statements nec-
house, I love theater. I have many friends in the essarily presuppose notions of “good” and “bad”
theater (Eric Samuelsen among them). I love all art, notions that are dictated by a complex relation
the ins and outs of theater, as well as the finished between the work and the audience. I think I’ll
product that appears on stage. write that again: evaluative statements necessarily
There are theater people who, despite Eric’s use presuppose notions of “good” and “bad” art,
of the first-person plural, do not view critics only as notions that are dictated by a complex relation
adversaries. They see them as allies and supporters between the work and the audience.
of the arts who are reasonably knowledgeable about Terry L Jeffress (Jan. 30): From the viewer’s per-
theater and who desire nothing more than for the- spective, I need to get an idea about what works I
ater to be good. want to see. I know from experience that I won’t
Again, I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I have like every play or movie. I want to know that I
never said negative things about a show for reasons won’t spend my money on something that I will
other than my honest opinion of the show’s short- regret. I especially want to make sure that before I
comings. Honest feedback from a sincere critic— invest $30 or more per seat for a live drama, that
who, again, didn’t just see his first play yesterday— I will have a good experience. Event pay-per-view
would be welcome, I would think. Not necessarily movies offer a movie preview channel and a free
to do everything they say, but at least to hear another five-minute preview of the movie before I have to
point of view that may or may not be worth commit my $3.99.
considering. So I want to read a review about the work, and
John Williams (Jan. 29): Recently, a friend of I want to read other reviews by the same reviewer
mine gave me a copy of Pushcart’s Complete Rotten about works that I have also read or watched. By
Reviews & Rejections, a fascinating, at times hilari- looking at the reviewer’s opinions about other
ous, collection of some of the meanest literary works I have seen, I can get an idea of how that
mudslinging in the Western canon. The editors reviewer’s opinion corresponds with my own.
seem especially eager to include rotten reviews of While I lived in Connecticut, I often watched the
books that later turned out to be “classics.” Moby reviewer on the local nightly news. He and I never
Dick, for example, was reviewed as “tragic-comic agreed, but that worked well. If he hated a movie,
bubble and squeak”; a reviewer of Nabakov’s Lolita I knew that I would love it. I can usually negate my
recommended that the book “be buried under a 22-year-old son’s opinions and get a good approxi-
stone for a thousand years”; an editor rejecting mation of my own opinion.
Samuel Becket wrote: “I wouldn’t touch this with a Although a review does provide a promotion
barge pole.” (I agree with that last one, by the way). opportunity, I don’t think that the reviewer has any
We laugh, of course, because we have the over- obligation to write the review with that goal in
whelming weight and history of a literary commu- mind. If you want to put butts in seats, the theater
nity to back up what we all “know” to be “good” needs to run its own promotion department. The
literature. How silly, we say, that someone could theater’s press releases and advertising should gen-
judge Jane Austen’s work as “vulgar in tone, sterile erate public interest in the production. The

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reviewer exists to give an opinion of the work so P O E T R Y


that others may judge whether or not they want to
view the production. Metaphors
(I also think that we need to keep the terms critic
and reviewer separate. To me, a critic writes in an Hollywood touts
academic vein, with an interest in analyzing the lit- the young boy
erary merits and functions of a work. For me, you destined
would never count on the work of a critic to sell to be given
tickets. How many people on the street actually an ancient object of
read the Rocky Mountain Review of Contemporary great magical power
Drama?1) and value.
When you say “we” here, I think you mean “the
playwrights.” And I say, who cares what the play- The young man
wright thinks about the play? I want the opinion of becomes a hero fighting
a supposedly unbiased observer. What playwrights evil with courage and
or directors would say that people should not come supernatural powers.
see the production? I want to hear what regular
people think of the production. Some plays, just Such is
like some books and movies, really do stink, and I Harry Potter,
don’t want to waste my time. The reviewer needs Lord of the Rings,
the reader’s trust, not the playwright’s trust. and other legends.
Although I believe that reviewers should make their
criticism in a gentle way, I don’t think that they It might also describe
should in any way pander to the playwrights at the the boy, Joseph,
expense of the public. who really did reach
1
A fictitious journal created out of laziness of not back through time,
wanting to find a real academic journal that cri- learn divine secrets, and
tiques new dramas produced in the West. know the
Thom Duncan (Jan. 30): When my play A cosmic reach of
Sceptre, A Sword, A Scented Rose was produced at God.
BYU in 1973, Michael Flynn had a line: “There is
that black part in all of us.” The Deseret News With transcendent power,
reviewer at the time heard this as “black pot” and, Joseph deciphered hidden hieroglyphs
in his review, went on a multisentence riff about that became
how that theme of the black pot seemed to exem- a soul-wrenching force
plify the play. It was a good review, but what if he opening a new era and hope
had been unimpressed and his “black pot” riff den- for all mankind.
igrated the play? We would have been the victim of
—Leah Bowen
a misheard line.
I remember another critic taking BYU to task for
modernizing the lines in a Shakespeare play. She
was bothered by the use of the word cuz, in her
mind clearly a modernization of what Shakespeare
had surely written: “cousin.”

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R A M E U M P T O M ruined our temple night by stopping Scott from


finding socks that matched his suit.”
All the Mormon news that’s fit to print appears in The Jensen said he would replace the leather temple
Sugar Beet, an online newspaper located at www.the bag with a polyester version, which can be folded
sugarbeet.com. Following is a sampling of Sugar and stored inside the locker. “But I’m definitely
Beet news coverage, selected by Rameumptom editor going to keep my eye out for my stolen bag,” he said.
Ed Snow. “My fear is that someone is using it as a briefcase.”
He added, “You know how shocked you are when
Empty Temple Bag Stolen from Atop you first go to the temple and the lockers have
Temple Locker actual locks on them? You can’t believe they would
have to take precautions like that in the Lord’s
West Jordan, UT—When area resident Scott house. Well, now I have that feeling in reverse.”
Jensen returned to his locker after what he called a
“drowsy” endowment session in the Jordan River
Temple Wednesday night, he found his temple bag
missing from where he’d left it on top of the lock-
ers.
“It was a deluxe version my wife gave me this
past Christmas,” Jensen said. “I was so excited
about it, I even agreed to a New Year’s resolution
to attend the temple once a month. That’s pretty
hard for me, because I hate seeing movies more
than once.”
Made of leather, the stolen temple bag is equipped
with an external hook so it can be hung on a
cubicle wall. “It had these hinges holding it open so
I could have easy access to all the compartments,”
Jensen said. “It had a zippered place for my packet
and straps to keep the other clothes in place. Man,
it even had two perfect little slots for my temple
slippers.”
Jensen’s wife, Alicia, admitted that her husband
sometimes needs gimmicks to help him fulfill reli-
gious duties. “The elders quorum president can’t
get him to attend early-morning presidency meet-
ings without donuts,” she said. “The only way I
got him to start doing personal scripture study
was to buy him a Palm Pilot. The minute I spotted
that temple bag in the BYU Bookstore, I knew he’d
like it.”
Alicia, who attends the temple once a week by
herself, said she never says the word temple out loud
when asking Scott to attend. “I’ve learned to use
code words like ‘dinner and a movie,’” she says.
“We don’t need Satan overhearing our plans and
hedging up the way to the temple. Last month he

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