Laura’s excellent post on Benediction got me thinking about Mormon-themed short story collections. Specifically, the relative paucity thereof, but also the fact that even with the few that have been published there are several that I consider the essential starting points (rather than novels) for anyone seeking to understand (or produce work in) the field of Mormon literature.
By essential I don’t mean the most literary or the most Mormon or the most well-known or even the most influential. Rather I mean that if they were to disappear, they would leave the most gaping holes in the field.
Here, then, are my nominations for the essential Mormon-themed short story collections*.
Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories by Douglas H. Thayer for outlining the basics of Mormon literary realism and exploring the after-effects of the pioneer era on mid-20th century Mormons.
Nothing very important, and other stories by Bela Petsco for dealing frankly and poetically with the male Mormon mission experience.
Benediction, a Book of Stories by Neal Chandler for mixing biting humor and (actually laugh out loud funny) satire with a keen portrait of post-assimilation, post-Reagan, late 20th century Utah Mormonism.
Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen for broadening the palette of Mormon literary realism (and specifically by making it more international) and for writing a novella that keenly explores the dangers, realities and weirdness of Mormons relationship to story.
Readers well-versed in the field will notice several omissions. Feel free to point out the error of my ways in the comments (Breeding Leah and Other Stories is certainly one major omission). And to be sure there are some works missing in my own reading that could change my opinion above. For example, I haven’t yet read Mary Clyde’s Survival Rates. And collections by Darrell Spencer and Levi Petersen are missing (I did seriously consider Canyons of Grace but ranked it below the above four even though I think that as a literary achievement it equals or even surpasses those I selected). And I definitely see a major need for a place for a collection of stories that better represent the experience of Mormon women.
And, of course, the major elephants in the room are the short story anthologies — each with a slightly different ideological slant — that were published in the ’90s: Turning Hearts: Short Stories on Family Life, In Our Lovely Deseret: Mormon Fictions, Bright Angels and Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories and Washed By a Wave of Wind: Science Fiction From the Corridor (speculative fiction). They are very much worth reading, but they are not essential. In fact, before you read those, it’d probably be more interesting and enjoyable to read the short stories published in Dialogue, Irreantum and Sunstone. You’ll get a better range of voices, styles, themes, settings and approaches that way.
Which leads me to the following thought:
There are quite a few excellent yet somewhat forgotten short stories available for free online in the archives of Dialogue and Sunstone (although sadly not Irreantum) and in various and sundry other corners of the Internet. What do you, dear readers and co-bloggers, think of doing a Short Story Friday series where I post a link to a short story that one of you had dug out of the archives or the near or far recesses of the Web, and we read it, and those who are so inclined can comment on it? And we’ll run it until we get sick of it.
I have some thoughts about how we could handle this with the minimum of work and fuss for all of us. And if we do it, I’ll have a list of all the places to check. If you are up for it, speak out in the comments section below (and if you already have a story in mind, call dibs on it) or e-mail me at (my first name)@motleyvision.org.
One of the things that sometimes frustrates me about the discussion of Mormon art is that it too often bats about the same quotes, themes, tropes, canards, problems and speculations without any real engagements with texts and works. There is real work being done and a substantial body of work that has already been accomplished (and can be found for free). What say we dig in to it?
* Disclosure: please note that the links to specific works in this post do go to Amazon.com and if you end up purchasing the title, a portion of the sale (four percent, to be exact) will go to support AMV’s hosting costs. Which considering that most of these titles are used and don’t cost much, won’t be a whole lot so if you want to round out your shopping cart with other purchases during the same session, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all.