June 10, 2008

Early reviews (Angel Falling Softly)


"[Angel Falling Softly] isn't a vampire story," says Moriah Jovan, who calls the novel "haunting" and "poignant."

It's a character study of the things we might do when pushed into a corner with no apparent way out. It asks if we have faith in what we say we believe . . . . Moral ambiguity amongst faithful Mormons: More, please.

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Comments:

# posted by Blogger C. L. Hanson
Yeah, that's a good review. I had to wait a couple of days before reading it because I didn't want to unintentionally copy her focus or main points when writing my own review. ;^)
6/11/2008 4:30 AM
 

# posted by Anonymous MoJo
Well, after reading your review, I have just realized I don't know how to write one!
6/11/2008 8:48 AM
 

# posted by Blogger C. L. Hanson
Re: Well, after reading your review, I have just realized I don't know how to write one!

lol, you can't be serious! Your review provided more insightful analysis of the book -- mine was more like a book-jacket summary.

I was a little confused by the theology of this book, though (and not just because I'm an atheist ;^) ). The thing is that the theology is a big part of the story, but -- unlike "The Path of Dreams" -- the theological/supernatural component didn't strike me as very Mormon. It almost seemed like there was some dissonance between the Mormon culture/religion the story was set in vs. the way the spiritual other-worldly questions were being explored. The fact that Rachel didn't bother with the usual LDS hierarchy when making her decisions is an important point which I hadn't thought about, but which fits in with my general confusion about how LDS cosmology fits in this story.

Morally ambiguous? Absolutely! I called In Our Lovely Deseret "Jack-Mormon literature", and I think this one is leaning towards the fourth corner of the square: "New Order Mormon literature".
6/12/2008 6:16 AM
 

# posted by Anonymous MoJo
Re: fits in with my general confusion about how LDS cosmology fits in this story.

I don't know if it makes much difference that I grew up and live east of the Rockies (and BYU was existential-angst-worthy culture shock for me), but...

I don't think Rachel reacted any differently from how regular ol' Mormons out here in the hinterlands (read: The Mission Field) would have reacted. For one thing, do I go to my (very busy and distracted and probably extremely skeptical because he's a bishop) husband and say, "Yo, Hub, I think this chick's a vampire"? 'Cause that's where you'd have to start with asking permission/advice/counsel whatever.

I think the fact that she was a VAMPIRE disqualified counseling. At least, I took that as part of the mythos as easily as I breathed. You can't just pop out with something like that without getting a 5150 called on you.

But at the end, I was seriously wanting to see the fallout, 'cause I'm sure that's not something a man would just...get over. Ya know?
6/12/2008 6:59 AM
 

# posted by Anonymous MoJo
Third, the church is essentially run by amateurs at the local level, and this provides an unspoken rationalization for discounting any opinion that disagrees with the one we want to hear.

I'd have to disagree with that somewhat or perhaps this is a regional thing (or perhaps it's just my Luciferian stake/ward), but if you're not toeing the line how the leaders see fit, you're suspect at best and can get your recommend taken away from you.

Around here, The Miracle of Forgiveness is still handed out like candy (the bishops stock their bookcases with brand spanking new copies so you see it as soon as you walk in his office) and there is much improvising on the temple recommend interview. I've gone head-to-head with more than one bishop and stake president over certain liberties they took on judging my worthiness to enter the temple.

So that in mind, I wrote a character who spent his entire childhood/adolescence being trained out of and expected to live by the standards in The Miracle of Forgiveness and he ends up with a great deal of fallout from that. It breaks him.

Regularly in Gospel Doctrine, I heard the phrase "This is not a cafeteria gospel; you can't just pick and choose what you want." Of course, that begs the question, "The gospel according to whom?" (Which my character's wife answers rather handily, I thought.)

I've been conditioned that it's all or nothing (though my previous ward was 100x more educated and thus, terribly liberal for the surrounding area) and whatever "original" ideas I come up with as to what constitutes "supporting your local leaders" have made me suspect in my ward.

If anyone else is suspect or has opposing opinions, I don't know who they are because they don't speak up. I do.

/bitter rant ;)
6/12/2008 9:29 AM
 

# posted by Blogger Eugene
Okay, I had to look up 5150: "an involuntary psychiatric hold." Or as Rachel puts it, branded another "Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy nutcase."

I see three factors at work here. First is the ability to draw distinctions between "belief" and "action." A kind of operational hypocrisy--an Establishment Clause in our heads--that separates claims of "truth" from actually doing something about them.

We identify (often rightly) people who blur that line too often as scary fundamentalists and fanatics. And Mormon missionaries.

The second is that, in an odd way, the Mormon church takes the 11th Article of Faith seriously. That is, as long as you adhere to a simple catechism and defer to the authority of the church in ecclesiastical affairs, you can pretty much believe whatever you want to.

When I was a kid, our ward in New York was stocked with RLDS sympathizers, fervent John Birchers, Erich von Daniken believers, as well as the guy (there's one in every ward) who'd memorized Mormon Doctrine word for word.

In Utah these days, it'd be crypto-polygamists instead of RLDS fence straddlers.

Third, the church is essentially run by amateurs at the local level, and this provides an unspoken rationalization for discounting any opinion that disagrees with the one we want to hear.
6/12/2008 9:32 AM
 

# posted by Blogger C. L. Hanson
Re: I don't think Rachel reacted any differently from how regular ol' Mormons out here in the hinterlands (read: The Mission Field) would have reacted.

I don't mean that the characters' behavior struck me as not Mormon. I mean that the supernatural/fantastic components (and the behavoir of God if God is meant to have played a role) had nothing particularly Mormon about it. You could replace the cultural trappings with an isolated community of neo-Pagans or of Christians without changing the main plotline and theological thrust. Not true of "The Path of Dreams."
6/12/2008 9:54 AM
 

# posted by Anonymous MoJo
I see what you mean and I agree, but IMO, the cultural trappings was what made it unique.

Neo-pagans + vampires = meh; they're all about supernatural.

Christians + vampires = meh; they believe in faith healers and snakes'n'strychnine.

As far as I know, we don't necessarily believe in the supernatural as commonly held in our society's collective consciousness. For all our questionable couplets and priesthood blessings and underground goddess beliefs, we're frighteningly pragmatic.

I haven't read The Path of Dreams, so I can't compare.
6/12/2008 10:17 AM
 

# posted by Blogger Eugene
I call The Path of Dreams "home literature" because it can't be separated from the culture, and yet doesn't attempt to seriously undermine it. But I actually have imagined that if Angel Falling Softly were made into a movie, the setting could be moved to Atlanta and Rachel made a minister's wife without much trouble.

There is one very Mormon theme in the book, and that is the treatment of grace. Mormonism has never settled on a clear theology of grace, and Mormons in general have a hard time understanding how totally steamed the Evangelical community gets over this subject. But I do attempt to cover the bases here.

Ironically, bring up the subject and informed Evangelicals will immediately cite The Miracle of Forgiveness as proof that Mormons have got grace all wrong. I think they have a point there.

(Sorry for the out-of-sequence posts.) When I was growing up, the ward boundaries included the General Electric R&D Center, where my father and several other prominent members of the ward and stake worked. Also in the neighborhood were the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory and a wing of the Air National Guard (the 109th that flies missions to Antarctica).

In other words, many extremely well-educated and level-headed people. The time a good member of the ward talked us into seeing Chariots of the Gods, I think my dad's head almost exploded.

So while I wasn't completely shielded from goofiness (as documented in chapter four of The Path of Dreams), I was raised in an environment where real stupidly was more often than not called for what it was. Of course, that kind of upbringing does tend to produce quite independently-minded children when it comes to other aspects of religion as well.
6/12/2008 10:23 AM
 

# posted by Blogger C. L. Hanson
IMO, the cultural trappings was what made it unique.

I think so too, but I like portraits of Mormon culture. ;^)

There is one very Mormon theme in the book, and that is the treatment of grace. Mormonism has never settled on a clear theology of grace, and Mormons in general have a hard time understanding how totally steamed the Evangelical community gets over this subject.

That's true, and I don't mean that discussion of specifically Mormon theology is absent. (BTW, I did some exploration of the Mormon concept of grace myself in this chapter.)

It's just that this novel appears to be set in a universe where God and the supernatural are real, and the main characters and setting are Mormon, yet it's not totally clear that in this universe Mormon doctrine is necessarily true or that the LDS church is the only true church. That's what I found unusual, and why I label this work "NOM".
6/12/2008 10:34 AM
 

# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
My own little rant:

I've been thinking about this lately, and this seems a good place to put my thoughts (hope you don't mind, Eugene!).

I think there is a difference between living on the East Coast and living in Utah in terms of one's ward experience although I think there is also a difference between one ward and another. (The relationships at the top of the tree do have a trickle down effect.) Still, I feel sometimes that a lot of discussions about the Mormon church on the Internet are rooted in some kind of classic (I didn't write "cliche" first, but I was tempted) image that seems to be a mix of Mormonism and the Catholic church. I don't even recognize it.

In grad school, whenever I complained that I've never met the mindless American public that just does what it is told and buys what it is told and believes everything it was taught in High School (my grad school fervently believes that these people exist), I was told that I was an anamoly. I feel the same way with (many, not all) Mormon discussions on the web. I'm some kind of anamoly because I don't have a beef with the church patriarchy; I don't have a beef with the supposed pressure to get married; I don't feel coerced by my leaders; and, on top of all that, I'm not politically edgy. Well, I'm a conservative libertarian (I do live in a pulsing blue state). I'm not a McKonki-ite, but I'm not a gungo-ho anti-McKonki-ite. I'm sort of . . . what . . . Neo-Orthodox? That is, I believe in all the basic doctrines. I'm the kind of person who turns down callings, but I was a seminary teacher for five years (early morning: great job, by the way; nobody pays any attention to what you do, so nobody has an opinion about what you do).

It could just be age; the older I get, the less worried I am about what other people think. Not entirely; I still get totally obsessed about whether my workplaces will fire me. It's just, you get older, survival kind of gains a premium in the "what do I obsess about today" department--you know, bills, etc. (I think this is one reason I switched from writing about power to writing about evolution; when you're young, life is all about "How do I fit into the world!" When you're older, it's all about, "So, how do I get through this?")

But also, the older I get, the older the church gets. I see more complications; I feel more pity; I'm more liable to doubt stridency although, yes, I have plenty of my own soapboxes, but hey, so does everybody.

I guess what I've discovered more and more isn't that people are complicated (I always knew that), but that people can be complicated in several directions at once. For example, a ridiculously literal belief or claim in one thing (the wine in the New Testament was really grape juice!) does not automatically entail a belief in something equally silly or equally literal. People don't believe in things along a column; it's very much mix and match. They looked streamlined on the outside, but I knew plenty of liberals at BYU, and I didn't go looking for them--they were just there. I knew plenty of die-hard Republicans too. And the more I'm in the church, the less even and streamlined everything appears, including the leadership. So sometimes I read stuff on the Web and go, "Huh? Who are these people?"

Does this ever come up in discussions about Mormon literature? Are Mormon novel themes weighted towards orthodoxy or, its mirror, the evil orthodoxy? (I haven't read Angel yet, but I thought the people in Path were very normal--okay, okay, so those people are coming out of a mentality I grew up around.)
6/19/2008 7:53 AM
 

# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
Addendum:

"Who are these people?" meaning, "Who are these leaders or members being described? I've never met anybody like this."
6/19/2008 8:03 AM