Silver linings, hurricanes, and umbrellas–a question

In writing a recent book review on my other blog a question occurred to me that I wanted to bring up here. Why is it that so many LDS books seem to focus on the silver lining and gloss over the storm cloud?

I often feel that LDS books–especially memoirs and biographies–would benefit from a little more time in the rumblings of the rain cloud. It makes me wonder, what is it about us that makes us so intent on playing Pollyanna? It seems like we lose some of the truth of our experiences when we refuse to talk about problems in the present tense. When we only admit our foibles after we’ve overcome them and they are instructive to us, we lose the benefits of the process. Without the process what felt like Truth to the writer degrades into mere truisms for the reader.

Of course, there are a few LDS books that spend too much time in the muck of things–The Backslider, even though I appreciated it as an artistic piece, felt that way to me. It is as if as Latter-day Saints we can only write in binary oppositions. I don’t think “there must be opposition in all things” necessarily means only black and white.

So, my question to you all, what books have you found that live in that magical spot between lost in the hurricane and refusing to admit it’s raining even while holding the umbrella? I could use some recommendations!

10 thoughts on “Silver linings, hurricanes, and umbrellas–a question”

  1. FWIW, my wife does freelance editing for Covenant, and my impression is that their policy is that the themes must be uplifting, so it would seem that the authors would tend to do as you say – gloss over the storm cloud. I think they’re given a little more leeway with non-fiction, though.

  2. I don’t have an answer to your question, but this phrase — “my other blog” — gave me an idea for a bumper sticker: “My other blog is A Motley Vision.”

    Whadya think, Wm?

  3. I’m pretty sure that we’re not the other blog. All other blogs are. ;-P


    Thanks for raising this question, Laura. I wonder if this is part of the reason why very good novels that are Orthodox in faith and don’t really push the envelope in content, don’t do well.

    I’m thinking here of Vernal Promises and Leaving Moscow and Angel of the Danube and The Conversion of Jeff Williams and even Patricia’s the Pictograph Murders.

  4. I really enjoyed the Pictograph Murders and Angel of the Danube, but I haven’t read the others ones–yet 🙂

    Oh, and I don’t think uplifting necessarily means we have to jump to the happy ending. Like I said before, I think it’s about the process–and maybe the process is what is missing in so many LDS/Mormon books.

  5. Well, there’s my book. I see two factors here: the unresolved tension over grace vs. works, and the assumption that success is proof of righteousness. Simply consider our eagerness to come up with cause-effect evidence for the Word of Wisdom (and every other dictate), even if this means ignoring all empirical data to the contrary. We confuse religion with self-help.

  6. Doug Thayer, John Bennion, Neal Chandler, and Margaret Blair Young come immediately to mind. Yes, I started reading Mormon fiction in the 80’s, and I don’t know that any of these authors would publish with Deseret Book (Margaret did do a series on black Mormon history for them). But if you’re looking through the output of Covenant Books, Bookcraft, or other Deseret Book style publishers, I doubt you’ll find much in the way of dark clouds. I think of their screening of fiction as the mother-in-law test–if it would offend my mother-in-law (who lives in Orem and is a truly conservative, sweet-spirit Utah Mormon), it wouldn’t work for Deseret Book.

  7. Laura, we have some great stuff in the upcoming Irreantum that I think would fit your description. Also Segullah’s _The Mother in Me_ has some excellent creative nonfiction that doesn’t shy away from rainstorms . . . and this book is even published by DB.

    One of the problems I think writers run up against is the idea of resolution. A standard plot (as well all know) offers up obstacles–a conflict–and eventually that conflict must be resolved. It is difficult to write about daily trial, and especially unremitting trial, or trial that waxes and wanes (like most real-life trials do) and then try to fit it inside the “conflict/resolution” paradigm of plot.

    One of the biggest problems readers have had with my own book is the fact that it feels less resolved than they’d like. I’ll have readers ask me about Kyle, a character of mine w/ bipolar disorder, and wonder if I’m going to write a sequel so I can provide more information about what happens to him. But the only answer I have for them is that throughout his life, he’ll have good months and bad ones, good years and bad ones. Because I wanted the book to be as true to life as possible, there is no miraculous cure, no startling realization that changes everything. Although some readers liked this, other readers felt unsettled by it.

    It’s tricky to write in the “magical spot.” Both despair, on one hand, and miraculous happy endings on the other are easier to write about than the ups and downs, the one-step-forward, two-steps-back that epitomize real life.

  8. Not LDS, but- one of the wonders of Lord of the Rings was that it ended in a way that was not entirely ‘happy’- Frodo and Sam didn’t get to live next door to each other like Fred and Barney and be all bright and smiling forever after. But what happened satisfied and moved me because it felt like the thing that had to happen, what we had been prepared for and what the characters most needed. And after all they had been through, they had changed and couldn’t go back, but instead they moved on. Like in real life.
    Capturing these kinds of emotional mixes in a linear format like writing can be elusive, too. I can feel several things at one time, but I can only describe one or two in a sentence. And then I have to read the words in order rather than experience everything on the page all at the same time. But sometimes I sure try…! 🙂

  9. Angela and Lora– I think you guys are right about it being difficult to translate those kind of experiences into a linear, standard writing format. I do think, though, that modern literature (“creative nonfiction” and all that–Angela’s book _Bound on Earth_ is a good example, even though it is fiction) allows for less linear storytelling.

    And, for the record, I’m not against happy endings. I just appreciate it when writers take the time to let me experience the process or the journey. _Lord of the Rings_ is a good example. 🙂 I’m pretty sure most of the male readers especially agree!

  10. I often think that the happy ending is too easy and that writers generally run out of steam or haven’t fully thought the thing through to a realistic and inevitable conclusion. A happy ending generally gives one a nice warm and fuzzy feeling, but it rarely feels genuine (cinema is the biggest purveyor of happy ending tripe).

    I am certainly not against the happy ending, but my feelings are that most give the audience an unrealistic sense of what happiness really is.

    Too often in Mormon lit and culture, the happy ending comes with the conversion or some moment of revelation. The troubling thing about it is that conversion and revelation always signal the beginning of the journey and not the end (as God reveals a path that we must then make sacrifices to follow).

    So, great, let’s have “happy” endings in our literature and movies, but they need to be grounded in reality, inevitable, and certainly genuine in their sentiment and pathos. Anything else is laziness on the part of the author, and probably one of the reasons why so much of our Mormon lit winds up being sentimental goop and false in inclination.

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