Criticism: Another stock Mormon character?

It’s entirely unfair of me to criticize Josh Emmons’s debut novel The Loss of Leon Meed — I haven’t read it. So I’m sort of not going to. At this time I’ll only say that it will be interesting to see how his Mormon character operates. According to the New York Times review*, the novel includes “a belligerent Mormon cemetery-plot salesman.”

Here is how Emmons (or his pr people) describe the novel on his author’s Web site:

“In this inventive and utterly engaging debut, ten residents of Eureka, California, are brought together by a mysterious man, Leon Meed, who repeatedly and inexplicably appears — in the ocean, at a local rock music club, clinging to the roof of a barreling truck, standing in the middle of Main Street’s oncoming traffic ““ and then, as if by magic, disappears.

“Young and old, married and single, punk and evangelical, black, white, and Korean, each witness to these bewildering events interprets them differently, yet all of their lives are changed ““ by the phenomenon itself, and by what it provokes in them. And whether they in turn stagger toward love, or heartbreakingly dissolve it, this portrayal of their stories is strikingly real and emotionally affecting.”

Sounds interesting enough. But here is what concerns me (from the NYT review):

“Is this a book about religious faith? Maybe it is, but Mr. Emmons doesn’t appear to be sure. Though he makes Leon a kind of miracle worker, and though the other characters’ lives wind up altered by encounters with Leon, the novel begins to falter when it’s time to fathom what has transpired. Had it not begun with such impressive acuity, the book might comfortably drift off into a vague sense of mystery; as it is, Mr. Emmons’s initial assurance contrasts starkly with his later waffling. Only with lungs full of that mind-altering Humboldt County air could the reader be content with the book’s ultimate uncertainty.

“Although it sets up expectations that it cannot fulfill, ‘The Loss of Leon Meed” still has considerable appeal. Its early developments are jauntily clever, even if Mr. Emmons has a way of smirking at his characters’ tackiness. (A reverence for Longaberger baskets – which serve the plot as a Redwood Country equivalent of Tupperware – is one such bit of condescension.) In fact, the early part of the novel has a well-developed screwball quality that keeps it buoyant.”

I’ll only say that — generally speaking — American novelist, playwrights and screenwriters would do well to stop using Mormons as clean-living, hard-selling, middle-America-embracing, conservative stock characters. Smirking? Waffling vis a vis faith? Sounds exactly like what Emmons need is a strong Mormon character to strengthen the fabric of the work. This is not to say that he would need to endorse the LDS faith. Only that adding the LDS worldview (or the version that a particular Mormon character might hold) to the mix in a sophiscated, substantive way couldn’t have hurt.

I’ll see if I can get my hands on the novel for an actual review. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to pontificate (based on the slimmest of pretenses, of course). That’s what I do.

ALSO: The pr copy from the Web site uses the word “evangelical.” I couldn’t find a reference to another character in the novel that the word could be applied to, but I still would hope that it’s not referring to the Mormon salesman. If so, that’s not an appropriate usage — not that I mind so much, but I imagine the evangelical christians wouldn’t be happy about it. I would appreciate clarification on this from anyone who is acquainted with the novel.

* Free registration required. Put off by that? Use

One thought on “Criticism: Another stock Mormon character?”

  1. Thanks for bringing attention to this novel. I haven’t heard about it at all. It sounds, like you said, using a stock-type of Mormon character. What recent novel do you think break the mold when it comes to this typecasting? Thumbsucker by Walter Kirn, The Miralce Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall? Any others?

    BTW, great to see a new post. 

    Posted by Dallas Robbins

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