Finding the Funny in Mormon Literature: Benediction by Neal Chandler

In Eugene Woodbury’s essay, , and in William’s last post they both talk about the importance of comedy.  I agree with what they are saying but I am also sometimes disheartened at the selection of comedy available.  There isn’t much out there, and what is isn’t actually comedy, it’s just silliness.  However, one book, Benediction by Neal Chandler is Mormon comedy at its best.

Benediction is a collection of loosely related short stories that poke fun at the idiosyncrasies of Mormon culture. Set in a ward that could be your own, the comedy is built on the incongruities of pyramid-scheme-selling Relief Society sisters, Rocky preaching Sunday school teachers, parents with so many small children they have to head out to the garage to get some intimate time, and hapless single adults who  find themselves feeling like the teenagers they so obviously aren’t.

Originally published in 1989, with many of the stories having previously appeared in Dialogue,  Benediction is still funny–and relevant–twenty years later. That this book is apparently out of print is a shame. (Don’t worry. You can ILL it or buy it used on Amazon.)  More than just slapstick and oneliners, which seem to be the purview of  so many Mormon comedic films,  Benediction is full of tightly knit witticisms that draw the reader closer and closer to the eccentric–and endearing–essence of Mormonism (which, of course, has nothing to do with the actual Church).  Even the cover art makes you want to giggle. While there were a few moments where I wondered if  the author was laughing at Mormons instead of with Mormons, I found myself wishing I was reading it aloud with others so we could all laugh together.

23 thoughts on “Finding the Funny in Mormon Literature: Benediction by Neal Chandler”

  1. Benediction is one of the top short story collections in Mormon literature. And I agree — it’s very funny, and it should still be in print.

    I need to re-read it because as the my initial reading of it has faded over the years (and it’s probably been 7 or 8), I have noticed a certain unpleasant aftertaste. There’s a certain double-standard where those with the more liberal worldview don’t get treated with the same withering glance as others.

    I could be mis-remembering.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head William. Those were the parts where I worried that I was being laughed at. The characters that were most like me were the ones that were being made fun of. I mean, I don’t sell Amway or even Stampin’ Up but I am a run of the mill SAHM and all the SAHM in the book were laughable. Of course, the character who got the most respect, Damon Boulder, the renegade Sunday school teacher, is the one who ends up ambushed by at a stake single’s dance by a too-buxom “sister” and finds himself accidentally groping her in his car. THAT was funny.

  3. .

    I’ve have been so regularly disappointed by Mormon comedy that I should give up, but I refuse. Refuse! I will add this to my list with Sam Taylor’s Heaven Knows Why as still-willing-to-try.

    (Incidentally, Laura, I would love it if you would read my Byuck. It’s supposed to be somewhat funny.)

  4. .

    From me, at the moment. This is the book Deseret considered for three years then abruptly dropped, that Covenant’s editors loved but their marketers hated, and that was supposed to be Zarahemla’s release immediately preceding Eugene’s.

    The whole Byuck situation raises a lot of questions about what are publishers for exactly. I think I’ve mentioned in comments here before how Deseret had be do market research for them (regarding the appeal of Byuck to their female base) and the stats came back heavily in my favor. This took me a year, give or take a couple weeks, and they responded with a boilerplate rejection letter. I repeat: we had been discussing this book for three years. And I spent over a year working on rewrites with a Zarahemla editor before Chris decided to kill the project. (And this was when we had reached the point of discussing the cover.) At least Covenant had the decency to accept then reject me in under ten days.

    Currently the book has been given a maybe from one of the larger non-DB/Cvt publishers and a yes from a small publisher with no in at the bookstores and frankly I don’t know what the best thing to do is.

    The future is upon us, yes, and traditional publishing is currently undergoing huge upheavals (collapse?). But I don’t know which set of flying shrapnel to run towards.


    Anyway, sorry: these comments probably should have been filled with good Mormon jokes or something more funny than my travails. I try to talk about this as little as possible to avoid burning any bridges, but apparently today was a day to schpill.

    So, to reanswer your question: Byuck is available from me. And any Motley-frequenters who want a look-see need only contact me. Let me know if you want regular or postZarahemla.

  5. Theric–I am interested in reading your book. I’m not sure which version, though. Is there one you prefer?

    Oh, and the run-around you got: blech. How do you keep doing it!

    Larry–deep, man, deep.

  6. .

    I’m honestly not certain which version is better. I doubt my objectivity anymore. Both are highly polished. That said, I usually share my original version with people.

    I’ll email you.

  7. .

    Oh, and Laura: I thought it was a one-time deal, but I’m noticing that your name-link doesn’t quite make it to you. I mean, *I* know how to get to your blog, but I can’t speak for everyone else.

  8. I finally got a chance to read this, thanks to inter-library loan. While I found the stories well written, I didn’t really think they were very funny, just cynical.

  9. However, I happened to read Levi Peterson’s The Third Nephite right after I finished Benediction, which ends with a story called The Last Nephite.

    I was struck by the similarities in the stories: Both portrayed the third Nephite (if that’s who he really was) as a scruffy, roguish character who kept you guessing throughout the story. I wondered if Chandler was inspired or influenced by Peterson’s story, which was published first.

  10. Katya–That’s too bad it wasn’t funny to you. I agree a lot of it was cynical, but I think I’ve come to take that as a for-sure element in most literary Mormon works. So maybe I didn’t give it much heed. I still think there were some genuinely farcical moments, though. I still think the part where Boulder ends up accidentally groping that woman was funny. I found the married couple who keep trying to find time for sex but never quite make it funny. The whole Rocky lesson had me laughing. So did the story about the chicks selling their amway and homemade bread. Maybe I find those things funnier because I see them as cultural elements that have fallen out of the Church–they don’t happen as much now so we can all look back and laugh.

    As for the similarities between Peterson’s and Chandler’s stories, I did a quick check at the ML&CA database and didn’t find any info. From what I remember (anyone can correct me here) Peterson was writing before Chandler. . .I think Peterson served as editor at Dialogue well before Chandler did.

  11. .

    Although Peterson’s been associated with Dialogue for a long time, he only edited it during this decade.

  12. Maybe I find those things funnier because I see them as cultural elements that have fallen out of the Church”“they don’t happen as much now so we can all look back and laugh.

    Yesterday, a friend reminded me that I have a habit of picking the most depressing interpretation of something, so maybe that’s why the stories in this book hit me the wrong way.

  13. Clearly you need therapy.

    Ha! Most likely.

    No, I think you are picking up on some things, Katya.

    Well, there’s definitely a cynical edge to the satire, regardless of any personal baggage I may bring to the reading. But I think I just found all of the awkward situations sad, rather than funny, in a way I don’t find, say, Robert Kirby’s columns sad, even though he’s poking fun at Mormon culture, as well.

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