Here’s the thing I’ve discovered about Zarahemla Books: always, always read the back cover–especially any comments made by editor Chris Bigelow. His comments are like codes and if you can break the code then you will know what is really waiting for you when you crack the cover.
Take his comment on the back of D. Michael Martindale’s book Brother Brigham. The book summary is vague and innocuous–a man’s childhood imaginary friend revisits him and causes some uproar in his life–but Bigelow adds some spice when he says, “This is one of the wildest rides I’ve ever enjoyed in a novel, Mormon or otherwise. Like Stephen King, Martindale captures the earthy rhythms of daily life as the characters get caught up in bizarre, harrowing events. Outrageous and yet chillingly plausible within the LDS belief system, this gutsy, expertly rendered story breaks new ground in Mormon entertainment.”
Did you catch the code words? The first clue is “like Stephen King.” Then there’s “bizarre”, “harrowing”, “outrageous”, and “chillingly plausible” that provide reason for pause. Bigelow, while he is trying to get you to read this book, is also warning you: this book is like nothing you would ever casually associate with Mormon literature and you are probably going to be offended at some point. It’s a warning worth heeding.
The plot centers around C.H. and the instructions he recieves from a spirit he assumes to be his relative, the prophet Brigham Young. What C.H. doesn’t realize (SPOILER ALERT!) is that this spirit is actually the evil spirit that tricked Korihor and others in scripture. C.H., due to his pride, follows the spirit’s instructions and proceeds to get involved with drug money, take on a satan-worshipping second wife, defile a temple, commit adultery, and barely avoid raping a young girl. But that’s not all the damage. C.H.’s wife, Dani, suffers emotional damage from her husband’s visions and tries to leave him only to be stopped by the FBI at the airport and have her children taken from her and be subjected to a full body search (including her orifices). She ends up seeing an LDS marriage counselor who tells her, right after she says she feels like she has been raped because of the way the security guards violated her, that she can’t leave the room until she agrees to kiss her deadbeat husband–who recieves little church discipline because he supposedly thought he was doing the right things. Add to that the details about devil worship and the sex scene that takes place in a neighbor’s front yard while the copulators (I think I made that word up, sorry) are high and you’ve got a book that seems more like something produced by the DAMU than a supposedly faithful LDS writer.
Brother Brigham is supposed to be about a man and how his pride, pride he gets from misinterpreting a line in his patriarchal blessing, leads him astray. It’s about how, if we are too prideful, the devil can turn our good intentions into flax cord and eventually stronger cord and lead us down to hell. Which sounds like a great Mormon book. Except that’s not what Brother Brigham is really about. The book is really about evil and polygamy and drugs and how just living your normal everyday faith will only bring you to dead ends. For me, this was too much and left me with a bitter, icky feeling. (Maybe that’s because I’m a girl and this book cornered EVERY female character in it. Without exception. It was infuriating.)
Maybe that’s because, like Stephen Carter mentions in his comment on the original AMV review, this book basically skips the part about repentance and growth.
[The] ending does not satisfy the values D. Michael built up throughout the book. We have a real mess on our hands at the second to last chapter. There’s all kinds of police involvement, nothing but bitterness exists between CH and his wife. Sheila [the second wife] hasn’t actually been removed from the picture. All kinds of spiritual damage has taken place. The too-young-to-marry Cyndy admits to the police that she married CH. The list goes on. A perfect set up for the third act.
The way D. Michael led us up to this point promised that the main character would find a way through the problems (the definition of the third act) and that we’d get to watch him do it. I was really looking forward to that. But it didn’t happen. Instead we were sidetracked by a demon possession, which rendered CH unable to complete his character arc.
Demonic possession is not what D. Michael led us to be concerned about. He led us to be concerned about the people. And they never got a chance to show their real stuff.
The whole book is about the sin with nothing about the redemption. That’s why it feels inherently un-Mormon to me. Not that the ending had to be a simple happy ever after. (That was another reason the kiss in the therapist’s office was so offensive. Talk about pandering.) It could have been sad–sad is the complicated and interesting place where repentance often starts.
That said, the writing is skillful and the plot really sucks you in. The characters are deeply drawn and realistic. Martindale writes a great tale and a couple reviewers even said they thought this was the direction LDS/Mormon literature should be heading in.
I really take issue with that idea. I don’t think Mormon literature needs to be edgy or offensive to examine our culture and help us see ourselves more clearly. It certainly doesn’t need to be those things to help “build up the kingdom.” I don’t think literature needs to be those things to be interesting either. On the Road to Heaven and Bound on Earth prove that.
I think as readers and writers we sometimes neglect to weigh the spiritual cost against the literary cost. Goodness can be compelling and repentance doesn’t have to be didactic. (Les Mis and Anna Karenina come to mind as examples.) Without an exploration of redemption the spiritual cost of Brother Brigham was too high.
Pretty much everybody else who reviewed this book liked it, even Mahonri (and William if you read the comments). But I think that many middle readers in the LDS market will not. This book is included on the AMV Book Club list and I, for one, don’t think it should be.
But who am I to tell you what to read and what not to read? I just want to give you all a little more info in case you are considering it. So maybe you should read it with your book club. A book like this is bound to stir up strong emotions and passionate conversation.
But at what cost? That’s the question.
79 thoughts on “Beware Brother Brigham (a review of the book by D. Michael Martindale)”
Thank you, Laura. I tend to take very seriously warnings like the one you give here, and I appreciate your going against earlier reviews to write this one.
Thanks for the support Ardis. I was worried most people would disagree with me.
Middle readers? Heavens, no! Certainly right there. This is a very adult book and should only be read by those who have a very mature and informed outlook on life (and even for those, they who should be selective about it and understand what they’re getting into). I don’t recommend this for most readers.
Laura, you’re certainly right to have reservations about the book. Although I thought it’s dark morality tale setup was intriguing and the tale enlightening on the process of spiritual deception, it was too explicit for my tastes (which I tried to make clear in my review).
I don’t remember the Chuch going soft on C.H., but it’s been a while since I read it. I thought he had been excommunicated (and, if he was, rightly so. Misled or not, that kind of conduct deserves IMMEDIATE excommunication, no matter what the scenario).
I don’t see the last scene as even an attempt at being redemptive. C.H. was misled, sure, but it was his sins that allowed him to be. And I don’t think that the book has to follow that model. There are plenty of stories within the scriptures that do not end with redemption. Korihor, Nehor, Cain, King David (to a certain degree), and some of the apostates in early Church history do not leave you with a sense of redemption (at least the earthly kind). Heck, the whole Book of Mormon ends on that kind of tragic note for the Nephites. This is the Shakespearean kind of tragedy, where hubris and sin leads you to ultimate destruction.
That said, I think this review is very valuable. People need to know what kind of book this is before they read it, and that it is not for the faint of heart or the sensitive. Juxtaposed against my and other people’s earlier reviews, it helps people to understand what they’re about to get into, and whether the book if for them or not. I don’t recommend it to a lot of people, although I found it personally enlightening. But even I had to stomach certain things I disagreed with to get to the parts which I thought were wise.
Zarahemla has other titles (such as “On The Road To Heaven,” that you mentioned, and Douglas Thayer’s books) that I think is much more in step with a wider segment of Mormons’ tastes. I suggest people start with those for a good read and to suppost a publishing company that is doing great things.
You said “But who am I to tell you what to read?” You are a book reviewer, a very intelligent and insightful one. You have every right to suggest a book to anyone. And you have done a commendable job in doing so here.
Thanks for the review, Laura. I appreciate your approach and your warning. I had some initial interest in this book, but everything I have read about it has convinced me to avoid it, and your review only helps to reaffirm that decision.
Keep up the good work.
Not to write tons of comments, I think your comments about the books treatment were interesting and enlightening. But, again, that’s part of the point of the book. Sin not only hurts you, but everyone around you. And severe sin, like in this book, is devastating. “Behold ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds” (Jacob 2:35).
One of the things about this story that I found interesting that it paralleled so closely to some stories I’ve heard about modern fundamentalist polygamy… even down to supposed angelic visits. And, if you’ve read any of that kind of literature, there’s little, if any, redemption found in the lifestyle that people like Warren Jeffs advocate. The degradation of the daughters of God, the violation of the temple, and the evil of Satanic influence is going to bring a person to a place that is not easy to get out of… I think that is realistic reflection in “Brother Brigham.”
Good review, Laura. I’ve always felt I pulled too many punches in reviewing this book (but not so many that DMM didn’t then quote me and refer to me as “stupid” on the AML List). I can’t agree with you entirely, but there are few if any people I could recommend this book to as anything other than a curiosity.
Mahonri–thanks for the encouragement. I always like that!
I agree with you that BB is about how sin is bad, but I think the book doesn’t deliver on that front. The book itself is supposed to be so much fun/exciting to read, according to other reviews and Martindale’s own words, that we kind of like it. As readers we enjoy the sin a bit (which is why I think Martindale called his book a guilty pleasure). Then comes the tacked on ridiculously hopeful ending that minimizes the consequences of sin. That was a big problem for me. Not only is CH not excommunicated (he is disfellowshipped, but to this reader that didn’t seem like enough. Although, I’ve never been through a church discipline process so maybe disfelloship-ment is painful enough. Sure didn’t feel like it though.)but his wife is basically commanded to stay with him and forgive him on the spot. He doesn’t lose anything of real value. Or maybe he does but Martindale skipped all of that and so it feels like CH doesn’t pay any price.
Theric–Your review was pretty kind. I thought you LIKED the book. That’s funny that Martindale called you stupid :). I wish you had gone in to the fact that this book is NOT doctrinally sound. The fact that it is marketed as “chillingly plausible” bothers me a lot and I wish somebody would take that on. Hmmm . . . maybe *I* should have?
Well, I’m just glad Zarahemla seems to have published enough of a variety of books that most serious readers can find something to enjoy. I loved Brother Brigham because it was so weird and different and yet plausible, and it broke the mold of the usual church-y type of book. I think any more dwelling on “redemption” would have been boring for me, personally. Sometimes I like a book that mostly just creates a good mess.
For the record, D. Michael is disaffected from the LDS Church — a process which many of us on the AML-List were not at all surprised about.
I suppose my comments on Mahonri’s review were a little less strong than they might have been just because I’ve interacted with D. Michael for so long through the AML-List, but I tend towards cool distance anyway.
So since we’re revisting Brother Brigham (and I am glad you posted this review because another opinion on the record is a good thing):
I found the whole nudity thing more risible than offensive. That D. Michael would later come out as a naturist was not at all a shocker. Not that naturism is or isn’t inherently risible, but in the context of this particular novel, it struck me as such.
I still think it’s an interesting attempt at what I like to call Mormon Folk Realism (which in that context it has a certain veneer of plausibility — I think “doctrinally sound” is a difficult claim to make without pages of analysis), but D. Michael and I have tangled a bit about the nature of the achievement.
And I still think the ending is lame so I agree with your comments on that, but that was also the main thrust of my comments.
I also completely agree with your comment about how the novel cornered every female character. That’s an important insight and something I should have brought up in the previous review.
In addition, I find it interesting how you use the word “like” as if it was a thumbs up or thumbs down thing. For J. Max and Ardis may appreciate that. And I certainly have come around to the idea of using content warnings — which I did with Angel Falling Softly. And I wish more reviewers would use them when it comes to Mormon works.
However, I like most books that I read. I suppose that’s an expression of intellectual decadence. I completely understand and support anyone, esp. any Mormon, who will dismiss a book because of its content. I do the same with films. But my default stance when it comes to novels is one of curiosity and sympathy. And I do think that Brother Brigham is an interesting experiment. You’ll notice, though, the superlatives that I’ve awarded other novels were missing in my reaction to it.
I also don’t know that the writing is all that skillful. It didn’t do much for me. It’s major virtue being that it didn’t get in the way too much (unlike some of the Mormon genre novels I have read). But we already talked about OSC-influenced transparent style in the other review.
And to be honest, I don’t think that the novel is all that edgy — not in comparison to most 20th century literary fiction and even much speculative fiction. Although I would note that Mahonri states right in his review:
“t certainly has what I would deem very mature material, espcially for an LDS novel. A good deal of sexual material, a scene of Satan worship, drug use, spiritual possession, polygamy”“ yeah, it’s not going to be on the top of Deseret Book or Covenant’s acquisition list….
“Martindale certainly pushed my own sensibilities beyond a few limits. I didn’t mind that there was mature material, but I did think it could have been toned down a bit”“ sometimes a little too much detail for my taste.”
Wow. Rereading Theric’s review, it doesn’t look to me like he really pulled any punches. It doesn’t read to me as a favorable review.
Laura, by “chillingly plausible” I meant that Martindale identified earlier cases of demonic deception and then set out to create his own modern-day version that I think was WELL within the realm of possibility. Speculative and supernatural, yes, but it definitely ties in very well with both Mormon doctrine and folklore. In the end, I would label Brother Brigham a cautionary tale and a very successful one, at that. I don’t know what you mean when you say the book itself is not “doctrinally sound.”
As far as the plausibility of the ending, my own experience of church discipline and repentance leads me to believe that, once someone hits bottom and pulls out of a sinful situation, repentance can get underway in just the way Martindale describes. Countless Mormon women have been counseled to suck it up and stick with their husband as long as he’s trying to repent of porn, adultery, whatever. Surely it will be a long journey with setbacks, but the road could very plausibly have started just as Martindale describes, and I found the little smidgeon of resolution that he gave us quite satisfactory and believable, with good closure on the story. I absolutely don’t agree with reviewers who say that he needed to have expanded his book or to have written a different book to explore the repentance/redemption process; that’s simply not what he set out to do, and it’s extremely easy to fill in those blanks for myself, after a lifetime of hearing the preaching of the church. I love Stephen Carter and very much respect his insights, but when I read his critiques of books, I often end up thinking, “Huh, he’s just asking for an almost completely different book than what was written.”
Basically, Laura, I wonder if you want your fiction to have the same integrity and purpose as scripture. I personally don’t, per se. Not that I mind learning some spiritual lessons from fiction one way or another, but what I really want most from fiction is a very realistic, frank, human portrayal that entertains while also provoking some thought. I love fiction that is totally transparent about the human experience, not that pursues a religious agenda like you seem to want. And I won’t deny enjoying some level of titillation, too. Personally, I view fiction as a rather carnal, human thing, not a tool of God–he has scripture for that. At the same time, I think fiction can be a good human tool to help us in the process of working out our own salvation, and the next time a spirit appears to me while I’m mowing the lawn, I’m now better prepared to deal with it.
@William RE: Like vs Thumbs Up
I can understand where you are coming from. I “liked” “States of Grace” while at the same time feeling that it was a beautifully executed but largely contrived film meant to manipulate its audience into doctrinally questionable ground. I “liked” some of it but cannot support and recommend it.
I felt very similar about the film “Jakob the Liar,” staring Robin Williams, which was a masterfully executed anti-Christ film. I “like” the storytelling but I disliked the story.
“Like” to me communicates at least a degree of recommendation.
Unlike you, I dislike a great deal of what I read. 🙂
Anyhow, somehow your use of the word “risible” makes me laugh.
Thanks, J. Max. I think this points to the need for good criticism (like the two Brother Brigham reviews that have been posted to AMV). If after we have applied whatever filters we use to a work and then decided to consume it then I think it’s good to write about it, which is why I’m very glad Laura posted this. Some works deserve to be ignored, some to be given a thumbs up/thumbs down, and some to be interrogated and analyzed. And the more we can say about what worked and what didn’t for us and why, the better idea others can get about whether they should bother with the work or not. I think the Baron’s film reviews at Waters of Mormon are valuable in this regard.
But even, more importantly (for me at least), criticism influences my own (meager) artistic production. Yes, I know for some artists it can be deadening, but I find that good criticism gets the juices flowing and helps me make decisions about which ideas to pursue and where to push myself.
Edited to correct some incomplete sentences.
That’s a good point, William. I’ve had the same experience—sometimes even writing a work to fit into a critical hole. It’s an artistic challenge to meet and can result in some pretty good stuff sometimes.
This is turning out to be a fascinating discussion not only of Martindale’s book (which I haven’t read), but of previous reviews.
On the subject of Theric’s reviews: I have to come down on Laura’s side here. Regardless of criticisms that may have preceded it, it’s hard for me not to see a review as fundamentally positive that ends like this:
“Which brings me to something really important I had better say now: Unless you’re kind of squeemish when things that aren’t supposed to happen happen (and this book will let you know if you are), then this is a book worth reading. Yes, it’s hugely Mormoncentric; yes, it’s got some style issues; yes, there is SEX! VIOLENCE! EVIL! POLYGAMY!; yes, yes, yes. But the book offers a hugely different place to stand and examine your faith and that’s never bad.
“So here I’ll say something about (spoiler alert) the hopeful denouement. It is good and right and proper and nothing like a copout. It’s even–I’ll say it–faithful.”
Yeah, well, Theric is wrong about the denouement. ;-P
But again, the problem is with boiling down to a thumbs up/thumbs down approach. Fundamentally positive? No, what he says is that if you match the criteria he lays out should read it. Just like Laura’s review suggests that if you match certain criteria and have certain tastes then you shouldn’t.
In fact, from now on I’m not going to say in a review whether people should read it or not, but rather explore what worked and what didn’t and why and what aspects to the book might turn off certain populations.
I think that’s a pretty good policy. Granted, I like X-number-of-stars reviews, but the better reviews are the ones that leave that out. Just by virtue of leaving it out, I have to actually consider what has been said and then weigh it against my own personal criteria.
In other words, I have to be engaged.
Hey, Jonathon (and others to whom this applies):
I wonder if you would mind commenting on why you haven’t read it. I imagine most of the reasons will be don’t-want-to-spend-the-12-bucks-type answers, but those will be colored with things like “William’s take” etc. Let us know what’s kept you from reading it. I’ld be interested to know.
I actually own a copy, so cost isn’t an issue. (It was a gift.)
My problem is that I find reading fiction frankly exhausting these days, even when it’s also rewarding. So I find that I have to ration my reading. (One of the reasons why I try to review books is to give back to the community in some way, since I feel like I’m not reading as much as I should.)
I’m not a fan of supernatural Mormonism (unlike, say, Chris). So Brother Brigham probably wouldn’t appeal to me that much. I’d like to read it, but it just hasn’t gotten high enough on my priority list yet. The fact that I know Michael and have heard about his book makes me more likely to read it, but I just haven’t managed the time and emotional energy yet.
Good question. I suppose I subscribe to a spiritual theory of art. Ideas can possess people like spirits.
I really do believe that words have the power to invite spirits into our lives. Not metaphorical spirits, moods, or gestures, but actual spiritual beings who seek to have an influence on our lives.
In addition to authorial intent (the author’s own spirit), I believe that works of art are also made under the inspiration or influence of any additional spirits to which the author has submitted.
I suppose my view is a literalistic expansion of of John Milton’s notion when in Areopagitica he says that books are not “absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”
I try to approach books as spirits, and rely heavily on the doctrine of section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants concerning the Holy Spirit and edification, but especially on verse 31 where we are told “Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God.”
That doesn’t mean that tale of moral tragedy should be avoided, it just means that I should seek out books, tragic or otherwise, that do not subject me to deceiving spirits.
I suspect that some people are more susceptible to certain deceiving spirits than others. So while it may or may not be okay to read a book with a wicked spirit, the spirit itself should be discerned and warned against.
Because words have real spiritual power.
That is also my reason for avoiding a a good portion of the bloggernacle.
In the case of Brother Brigham, the plot of false revelation falls to closely to actual events in my family and having dealt with the effects of the real thing, I have no need to immerse myself in a mediocre fictional mimic by a man under the influence of a spirit of apostasy.
So I guess that is a little more elaborate than the don’t-want-to-spend-the-12-bucks answer you expected.
To be fair I have studied textual criticism and various critical theories, and been exposed to all kinds of literature, so my ideas, while medieval, are not ignorant.
Hope that gives you something to talk about. I have other things that need attention and will probably not be able to respond much.
I think there’s some truth to Max’s ideas. By reading a work of fiction, we invite it to take possession of us at least “for a spell” (interesting turn of phrase, that).
I tend to believe that there’s a lot to reader-response criticism as well, which makes me think that one person’s reaction to a work of fiction may not be the same as another person’s response. That only makes it all the more incumbent on readers to know what their own tendencies and vulnerabilities are. I think this is fine so long as we don’t turn our own personal reactions into judgments of a work or an author that “must” be true for everyone else as well.
Wow! This has really taken off. I stepped away from the computer for awhile so I could do mom stuff (you know, laundry, feed the kids, carpool, naps, etc. I’m actually babysitting right now-5 kids five and under!-so if this comes out confused please correct me/ask questions.) and look what happened!
Chris– You are right that the idea of an evil spirit deceiving someone is doctrinally correct. There is scriptural precedent for that. What I felt was doctrinally incorrect was the evil spirit’s logic and CH’s logic. You know, all the rationalizations they gave for each obviously sinful step to be right. One example I can think of is the whole prophet leading the Church astray idea. The evil spirit tells CH that the current prophet was refusing God’s commands and that CH was going to replace him. That was obviously false, but CH skews the doctrine to make himself believe it. The skewing of doctrine takes up so much of the book, and so little of the book was spent correcting CH–and addressing the very real problem of doctrine manipulation for selfish means–that I was frustrated. But I guess since the false doctrine was coming from the evil spirit’s mouth, I stand corrected.
Maybe you’re also right about the ending. Maybe it was plausible. But that doesn’t mean I agree with it. I thought Martindale really shortchanged his female characters in the end. Dani was a fascinating woman and he artistically slaughtered her at the end. And Sheila! Poor Sheila! She just disappears in some police car so stoned she can’t even figure out whether or not she’s been raped? In my (somewhat limited) experience, even when women are counseled to stay with their husband through the repentance process it isn’t heartless. Maybe you and I will just have to agree to disagree on that point 😉
As for if I want my fiction to be scripture. Um, I don’t. Maybe you’re right that fiction is inherently carnal (and I’m not sure that you are) but that doesn’t mean WE have to revel in it. You’ll probably disagree with me on this next part but I do think that LDS/Mormon fiction does reflect the doctrines of the Church–whether the author/publisher intends it or not. Especially for this book, which you yourself said is supposed to be grappling with real doctrinal issues, failing to adequately explore the core LDS/Mormon doctrines of redemption and repentance is conspicuous and reflects poorly on the novel. You know, if it turned out the CH stayed faithful to the Church and repented and Dani left him that would be fine. Or maybe CH decided not to repent and started his own church. It doesn’t need to read like a scripture story or morality tale. What I thought this book did need was a more in-depth look at how redemption/repentance works when it comes to huge evil like this. Especially with the content of that last chapter where CH says he wants to repent and he and Dani are in counseling. It was so abbreviated. It just didn’t do the doctrinal implications, or the story, justice.
William (and all)–Just for the record: I had no idea of the history of this book (like Th. details in his review) or Martindale’s personal spirituality or any discussion that happened on the AML List about this book. Get ready to collectively scorn me, but I don’t actually keep up with the AML List. I keep meaning to check it out, but I haven’t had time! So when I mentioned DAMUs and all that I didn’t mean to imply anything about Martindale personally. The comments on this post have really surprised me!
J. Max and Jonathon–LOVE those ideas. Especially the spiritual value of words. I strongly believe that language is a gift from God and has spiritual capacities. I also believe that I, at least, will be held accountable for how I employ that gift.
Wow! Lots of fun stuff to comment on!
You know, I’m not really either, but I’m growing an opinion that this is a mistake. Disliking angels: why? Because they let God out of his box? Maybe my experience is without obvious angelism, but Mormon doctrine is clear that, not only are there angels, but we should be seeking them. We should be seeking God himself–the D&C is full of this.
Now, legitimate concerns re: fiction about this include impropriety and inaccuracy. But an important role of fiction is to explore ideas vicariously, right? What could be more important than meeting God?
I think being uncomfortable with these topics is good because it makes us careful. Not because it stops us from proceeding.
Not that I have any such stories in the pipeline myself….. Maybe I should though (cf: Wm&Th’s exchange above).
First, I agree, at least generally. And this is why I also am on a bloggernacle-lite diet. And why I need to be careful of my film watching. I have a sense of where the chinks in my armor are.
I had forgotten all about “Areopagitica”—-I should be sharing parts with my AP kids. And I too think that a book is a living thing. And I also think that the author has a huge influence on the work’s spirit. But not an ultimate influence. It reminds me of what Jorgensen says about the three elements necessary for a pornographic experience: a porn author, a porn text, and a porn reader (cf). I think the same is true here.
Amen. I can’t add much to this other than to say we must always be careful about how we use our talents or they’ll be taken away and given to someone who already has more than us anyway (cf).
I worry about this a lot. I’ve wondered how long till my parents become ashamed of me because I’ve seen them judge writers rather harshly. Passing judgment is exceedingly risky. So let’s be careful.
I agree. It’s not something I’d mentioned before so I’m glad you’re addressing this.
Laura, from everyone’s comments, I’m realizing I may have read the ending wrong. I didn’t see much hope for C.H. and Dani at the end… I didn’t assume they got back together. The wounds would be very deep in that relationship and I don’t see how it would be healthy for Dani to step back into it. C.H.’s path back to redemption could be very plausible, but I would have a hard time swallowing that Dani would be part of that path. Not that the Atonement couldn’t cover even that much sin and pain… but it would be one of those cases where, “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off.” But maybe I’m just being cynical there.
So I read the ending that way, which I guess is okay since it was a bit open ended. But I totally agree that the ending was weak. For it to fully step into the kind of story I was reading it as (a tragedy or a dark morality tale), C.H. would have been excommunicated, and he and Dani’s relationship would have been destroyed by the series of events. That would be the true wages of such severe sin.
I’m interested in how unforgiving we all are of being duped by an evil spirit. Why is that? Why is that so untenable?
Mahonri–since Dani agreed to kiss CH (when the LCSW basically forced her to) instead of telling them all where to go and how to get there, and since that kiss was described as (I’m paraphrasing here)”better than their first” or “the best yet”, I took that as hopeful. Your reading would have been more pleasing to me.
Th.–I’m not necessarily unforgiving of people who are duped by evil spirits (not that I have a lot or conscious experience to know whether or not I am), but I AM unforgiving of book that for no purpose other than fun or to serve as a weak warning drags readers to such dark places. If this were a true story I would feel very, very differently. BB, such as it is, just didn’t work for me.
Ah. The memoir-fiction divide.
Maybe juxtapose this with my last comment.
Okay so something finally made sense to me. After I read the book I had a real sense that I should warn people/make them aware of what was in it. I wasn’t sure why, but I went with the feeling. I think I understand that feeling. Because Martindale chose to use a real evil spirit as a character, and he used that evil spirit’s name, it brought a REAL evil feeling to the book (for me–I sometimes wonder if I am more susceptible to power of darkness because of my depression). Call me superstitious but I do believe that naming evil spirits gives them more power. If I had known that there was a real evil being characterized in this book I never would have read it.
Couple of quickies:
1) To my knowledge, D. Mike was not apostate when he wrote the book and when Z. published it. I am not certain how that would have affected our decision. I would like to think I would have judged the book on its own merits. And I will admit that part of the reason I started Z. is because I specifically wanted to publish BB and hoped it would attract other works out there in a fresh, new mold.
2) Regarding the push back on the wife’s role at the end, people seem to forget that she was complicit with the main character in seeing and obeying evil spirits, at least for a time. This was not a case where the husband did evil completely on his own and it came as a big shock to the wife when she discovered it. She was part of the journey with him, and at times she tolerated and even encouraged what was going on. So I think you’ve definitely oversimplified her role vis-a-vis the ending, and maybe the author shouldn’t have let her off the hook either, as far as taking at least a portion of responsibility for what happened.
Good point about Dani’s complicitness, Chris. Sheila also wasn’t forced into the situation. The young babysitter, however, is a complete innocent.
As to Th.’s point about being harsh on those who are deceived, I agree to a point. As someone who feels he has been spiritually deceived in the past, I can relate on that point. However, when it comes to the behavior of its membership, I don’t think that the Church can or ought to distinguish between what actions were spurred by deception and which were self aware. So, although C.H. was legitimately deceived (although there was a root of pride that allowed him to be), the Church can’t just turn a blind eye to a man sneaking a woman into the temple, luring women into polygamy (including an underaged girl), and claiming that the Brethren were apostate and that he would take their place. In my mind, that’s immediate excommunication, no matter what his intentions. That doesn’t mean that he can’t return to the Church, but there has to be a real repentance process. And wasn’t it Korihor in the Book of Mormon who was similarly deceived? There was no coddling him, that’s certain. Sin has consequences. I think D. Mike tried to show that, but his ending does certainly work against that purpose. Along with it’s flaws, I still think there are many commendable things in “Brother Brigham”… I just agre with Laura and don’t think the last chapter is one of those things.
Chris–these comments have gotten a little heated at times and I hope that it hasn’t been offensive. I imagine a project like BB has a lot of blood, sweat, and tears poured in to it. I don’t meant to disrespect that. This book just wasn’t for me (and probably isn’t for a lot of other readers either). Zarahemla Books is breaking new ground and taking a lot of risks and that is commendable. Thanks for sharing your insights here and taking the time to comment.
Thanks, Laura. Judging solely by this review, I do see you as a cultural adversary, I admit, and I have felt somewhat offended. I certainly don’t fault you for expressing why the book made you personally uncomfortable, but I admit I’m quite alarmed when you say things like the book shouldn’t be allowed on the AMV book club list. BB had a big effect on me that I consider positive–it really rattled me in most delicious way, and many people of faith have similarly found it quite thought-provoking in a productive way (in fact, a Catholic college in Massachusetts recently used it as a class text in a course on Mormonism). I felt and still feel that publishing the book was a responsible thing to do and a cultural breath of fresh air, especially for people like me who find Mormonism so culturally stultifying because of attitudes like I interpreted from your post.
Personally, I take evil spirits very seriously as being real. My family comes from Heber C. Kimball, who publicized one of the most harrowing accounts of demonic encounter in all Mormondom. Among some of his descendents, including several of my immediate family, there continues to be present the gift of discerning the doings and presence of demons, including their names. This is also done in the Bible, including when the Bible is in storytelling mode rather than strictly historical (such as the allegory of Job). I think it weakens demons rather than strengthens them to expose their methods, their deceptions, their identities, etc. I think the book actually demonstrated great faith by showing that demons are as active today as in scriptural times. I think attempting to imagine this through fiction is a valid endeavor, and Martindale pulled it off extremely well in a way that I’m completely comfortable with. I think many modern-day Mormons are too skittish when it comes to supernatural things of any kind, tell you the truth, as well as anything else too graphic.
You didn’t outright call the author and me to repentance or pronounce shame on our heads, but the implication is clear that you think we piddled on the rug. I don’t accept that, and I don’t accept or appreciate your recommendation of censoring the book. That’s a Deseret Book mentality and one of the main reasons why our culture is so insipid. Martindale may have now traded nude hiking for Mormonism (that is a matter of public record; reading between the lines of his public expressions, I think Dutcher leaving the church emboldened him to do the same), but I’m still devoted to Mormonism myself, and I loved BB and know many other Mormon-faithful readers who did too, and I stand by it 100%. Oh, and don’t read my own novel Kindred Spirits, which is, on many levels, my own solemn testimony of the gospel and also contains demon characters who are made known by name, though not as centrally as BB.
Ah, now I’ve got that off my chest…. Great conversation, all around! And thanks again for your nice note above, Laura.
I couldn’t have written Max’s 21, but if I could have, I would have.
I don’t have much cool, intellectual distance when I read, whether it’s fiction or otherwise. I seem to be constantly “trying on” the characters or holding up the author’s ideas against my own understanding, and constantly judging how well something fits. I simply cannot “try on” demonic characters, even for exercise, even for experience. I can read crime, and fantasy, and male, and other things that I am not, but nothing can be written well enough or be framed as important enough for me to slip into horror. I just can’t. Don’t want to. Won’t.
So thanks again, Laura.
I don’t like horror either — films or novels — (although I can take a little of it in my fantasy/science fiction) so this comment is rather uninformed, but Brother Brigham didn’t come across to me as much of a horror novel. Suspense? Maybe. But at no time does the reader “try on” demonic characters. These are genuine people who are deceived.
I won’t say that that means you’d enjoy reading the book, Ardis. I think you wouldn’t. But I just want to be clear that although there is some ickiness involved, it’s nothing like the few experiences I have had reading a genuine horror novel. In fact, some of Orson Scott Card’s works are much more disturbing than _Brother Brigham_.
Oh my goodness. Let’s not even start on OSC and horror. Don’t get me wrong–I think that Scott is a wonderful writer, quite possibly the best writer overall that Mormonism has birthed so far. One of his gifts, though, is definitely to do “chilling.”
You know what I found most horrifying in his novel Lost Boys? (Okay, I admit it–I said “Let’s not start,” and now I’m starting.) It wasn’t the ghosts. It wasn’t the crazy psycho–ahem. It was the Nazi schoolteacher. (“Nazi” meant here figuratively, not literally.) Probably because that was the part that struck closest to home.
It’s interesting, the things I have a lower tolerance for now that I’m a parent.
It sounds to me like a lot of Mormons don’t want to read stories about good and evil. They want to read stories about good and “naughty.” Or good and “I had a bad day.” Or good and “you need a time out.”
In any case, my problem with most of the material that gets shoved into the “horror” genre is that it involves no existential spiritual threat–specifically the risk of damnation. Gore may be gross, but it’s not “horror.”
That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis remains the best horror novel ever written because souls are in jeopardy, and both heaven and hell have skin in the game. I’m also a big fan of the CW series Reaper. The devil in that show is exactly as Lewis describes him in The Screwtape Letters.
Frankly, Stephen King may write entertaining books, but they’re mere carnival thrill rides in comparison.
1. I think by “trying on” Ardis was referring to any character in a book, not necessarily the protagonist.
2. The devil in Reaper is one of the great inventions of television in recent years. The show’s pretty good too.
3. I can’t agree with that dismissal of Stephen King. When I listened to Cell during my commute, I was impressed by how he stripped layer by layer away from the human psyche, then asked some tough questions about what being human really means. No damnation, granted, but good questions for literature to deal with. The gore was merely incidental.
4. That said, I really don’t read much horror either. Which is kind of funny considering the proportion of my published works that could be considered that genre. How the heck did that happen?
Chris–I hope we are not cultural adversaries! I think you are definitely coming from a different artistic places, but hopefully not adversarial places.
The reason I feel that BB shouldn’t be on the AMV book club list was because William (I think) said the list was aimed at the average, LDS middle reader. In my mind, BB does not fit that description. I didn’t mean to imply that no one should ever read it–that’s why I linked to Mahonri’s review. I simply wanted people to have more information going into it. Reading this book is risky (in my mind), perhaps riskier than other books (which is probably why it has such appeal for seasoned/jaded? readers as yourself, and I think people who pick it up should have a better idea of what’s in it.
And, Chris, you know what’s funny? Every Zarahemla title that I ILL comes from some Catholic college in Massachusetts and they are always quite marked up. I have been wondering who was reading them and why. Now I know! I admit that knowing they are using BB in a class on Mormonism does give me pause, though. I like reading other people’s note as I go along. Very interesting.
I also like your thoughts on bringing evil to light. BB felt too enjoyable to me–it felt a little bit like the evil was being celebrated–but maybe that says more about my psyche/subconscious than it does about the book. I suffered a lot of cognitive dissonance while reading because my literary brain appreciate a fair amount of it but my spiritual brain was sending out a lot of alarms. Maybe you’re more comfortable with evil spirits and stories about them because you’ve been more exposed?
I still think the average LDS middle reader will be offended by the book and will probably wish they hadn’t read it. But I don’t think that book was ever written for the average reader. I think it was written for people who are familiar with the ins and outs of LDS/Mormon literature
Zarahemla has published other titles that middle readers would enjoy. _On the Road to Heaven_ was one of my favorite books that I read last year. I’m also currently waiting for _Long After Dark_ to come to me through ILL.
Oh, and as for your book, _Kindred Spirits_, I already read it and,you’re right, it wasn’t for me. If you remember my review I really just wanted to know more of the why behind the characters. It didn’t get my dander up as much as BB did, though. 🙂
Eugene–very insightful about the nature of evil and its sanitized depictions. Lots of food for thought there.
I have no stomach for horror so I’m not going there, except to say that _Lost Boys_ was difficult for me, too. And I have found OSC offensive too. All that stuff about the atari and the commodore 64 was pretty funny to me. That helped lighten the book. I just couldn’t take it seriously because of all the dated technology.
I was contacted once by a former-Mormon horror writer about providing historical background for a novel. To decide whether I wanted to participate, I called for a collection of his short stories. I was sickened — by the stories, certainly, but also by my reaction. I knew within a few paragraphs of starting a story that I didn’t want to read it, that it was so appalling and disturbing that I didn’t didn’t didn’t want it. And yet I couldn’t stop. I had to know how each story ended. I was disgusted with myself as well as with the author, yet I felt helpless to do anything about it. I seemed to be caught and couldn’t tear myself away until I had read it.
I described that experience for a doctor/cousin and called it “pornography.” That was a very apt description, according to him; he says the same part of the brain, the part that controls the most basic survival functions (limbic brain? a word something like that) responds to sex and violence and terror, and that my reaction to the horror was not that much different from the reaction of many to porn.
That’s in part what I meant by “trying on” characters. Laura’s review cautions me that there are elements I won’t be able to handle. Maybe some of you can be dispassionate and evaluate tales simply from an artistic or craft point of view.
If a novel or short story is going to affect me that way, it’s going to affect others that way too — I’m not all that special, to anybody but my mother. A publisher is doing potential readers a disservice by not recognizing and warning about those elements that go beyond a work of art to grab hold the way those disgusting, horrific stories grabbed hold of me. Others can read BB and books like them, fine — but please don’t rope me in by presenting it as a good read for the average member of your book club. Again, thank you, Laura.
I’m sorry you had that reading experience, Ardis. It sounds horrible. It’s why so far I’ve stayed away from the work of Brian Evenson (among others).
I’m don’t like your use of the word roped in, Ardis. Let me ask: have you even looked at the LDS book club recommendations list? Were you planning on reading works from that list? Have you read the posts relating to it? Are you interested in reading more Mormon fiction? Would you like some personalized recommendations?
I’m not being flippant here, at all. My goal has always been to meet people where they are comfortable.
Now, I have definitely been remiss in not presenting that list in the way that I intended to — the spreadsheet is still in it’s raw format. At some point I was planning on standardizing the entries, making adjustments to then, adding my own commentary and presenting it as a WordPress page. I fully agree that the content ratings/alerts for the _Brother Brigham_ entry are lacking. Perhaps I may still do so. It sounds like, although this conversation has been very good — exactly the kind of thing I want to support at AMV where those in the middle can meet (and yes, everyone that has commented so far is in the middle), for me to do so at this point may just make folks on either side of this issue upset or uncomfortable. Plus I have a million other projects. I’m not going to make any decisions right now, but I will consider adding a warning to the list that the entries have not been vetted and to make sure to look at the content ratings/alerts field.
One final thing:
I’ve been around various internet communities for awhile, and I work in PR/marketing so I’m not at all surprised. But I have to say that it distresses me a little that AMV gets a ton of comments and hits for things like Stephenie Meyer, Angel Falling Softly, and Brother Brigham. To be honest, they’re way down on the list of what I care about and want to talk about.
This is not a rebuke of anyone. I think it’s been a great, productive conversation (and it can continue if people have more things to say) and I’m very happy with how civil every one has been. Very happy. But I hope that all of us don’t generalize and stereotype from this particular post and comments about each other, about AMV, about Mormon fiction, etc. etc.
The conversation seems to have dropped off just a bit in the Bloggernacle of late and (in my opinion) it seems like there’s some growing personality fatique (or perhaps imagining things) with everyone thinking we know what others who’ve been around are going to say and how they’ll react. And, frankly, some of us old-timers are using the same tricks we started with.
I personally am going to try and resist all that. Don’t know how well I’ll be able to succeed. But online communities tend to reach a certain level of maturity, of stagnation (I think we’re seeing that at T&S and BCC to a certain extent), which often leads to splintering and personality fatigue and a dip in quality. I’m very proud of the flesh blood we’ve been able to bring to AMV — and that esp. includes Laura, whose voice, as this post demonstrates, is both welcome and needed.
Thanks, and I promise not to get mushy and meta again for at least a week. 😉
I have to amen on some of William’s meta-comment. I’ve been disappointed, for example, to see how little comment there’s been on the Short Story Friday feature. It seems like such a good (and relatively painless) way of educating ourselves about some of the range of Mormon fiction. I don’t think any of the stories have required longer than about 20 minutes for me to read and comment on.
Anyway. Keep up the good work. (And I too have enjoyed this conversation, including ALL the viewpoints expressed, even without having read BB…)
William–I’m going through systematically and reading every title on the AMV book club list. I think I’ve read close to half. If you want any help on that front I can give you a short version of my take on the titles I’ve read.
I think ya’ll are right about comments and blogs. I think a lot of people are tired right now. I also know a handful of people who said they’ve stopped reading AMV because it has too much jargon . . . so maybe we are perceived as inaccessible? I don’t know.
I’ll try to do better about short story Friday 🙂
I just counted how many book club titles I’ve read. 17. That’s more than half! Guess I’ve been reading faster than I thought.
That’s impressive, Laura. And yes, help on that front would be great. Let’s e-mail about what the best approach might be.
In terms of jargon — I’m truly sorry to hear that. I’m not trying to impenetrable. In fact, you all should be happy at how well I’ve thrown off most of my postmodern theory-heavy literary training. ;-P
I have to say that I come from a place thar somehow agrees with both Chris and Laura (how’s that for non-confrontational?). I’m all about people catering to their own individual tastes. I pesonally really enjoyed BB, and having had some supernatural experiences myself, could connect with its portrayal of evil spirits. That element was very real to me, and instead of it frightening me, I found it enlightening, much like I did OSC’s “Lost Boys,” and “Treasure Box.” And I don’t think people have to be “jaded” to find the light, by comparing it to its opposite. “Proving contraries,” as Joseph Smith says.
And Church History’s accounts of such experiences… not only HCK’s and Wilford Woodruff’s experience in England, which Chris referred to, but also very basic Mormon stories like the First Vision do not shy away from the darkly supernatural. The Church once put out a missionary pamphlet of the First Vision excising the part about the dark influence… I was shocked. I think I understand the reason, since it was geared towards initial investigators, but I thought it weakened the power of the story… there are many people who have had such experiences, and to ignore that for a more fuzzy version of the story, well, I thought it was unfortunate. Ignoring the devil does not make him go away. Recognizing his influence, however, gives you preparation. That doesn’t mean we have to morbidly dwell on evil spirits (that will only attract them), but I think it’s healthy to deal with them, even in our fiction.
Eugene mentioned C.S. Lewis’s _That Hideous Strength_… the previous book in that series, _Perelandra_ is even more hard hitting in that area, in my opinion. It is one of Lewis’ best books, and the devil character in that book is very vivid. But there are some of those “horror” elements involved…
Not that I would categorize BB or _Perelandra_ as horror. When I think of horror, I think of Freddy Krueger or some rot like that. I can’t stomach that, either, and don’t like graphic violence (I wouldn’t ever be able to handle Evanson, from what I hear). I think books like _Lost Boys_, _Brother Brigham_ and _Perlanda/That Hideous Strength_ belong in a whole different category altogether. Spiritual thrillers, maybe. Horror, no. I haven’t read Stephen King, so can’t comment on him.
When “middle readers” were mentioned, I thought Laura meant that in the traditional sense… as in pre-teens/teens. Wowsers, I read that out of context. I do think that people need to know what they’re getting into with BB, but there are readers for it out there, perhaps even in that “middle reader” category, if they’re prepared… I believe I may fit into that category.
I prefer the word middlebrow although this whole thing started with a Segullah post by Chris Bigelow in which he refers the middle niche. Not all LDS readers or LDS book clubs are middlebrow.
As I note in the original post:
“This list isn’t technically for all LDS book groups. Rather it is for those LDS book groups that focus more on national works than Deseret Book titles; that read more fiction than self-help/devotional works. These book groups tend to read middlebrow literature (and some nonfiction) — Life of Pi, the novels of Anne Tyler, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Gilead, 1984 or A Brave New World, Secret Life of Bees, Anna Karenina, Freakonomics, etc. I use the word middlebrow with pride, here. It’s what I like too.”
But even so, I do think Laura is right that _Brother Brigham_ would be pushing it for many more Mormon readers than other books on that list.
Until this review, I didn’t even know we had a book club list (where have I been?). I think BB should stay on it, especially since it has a content warning already. But the warning should be beefed up… I don’t consider the sexuality of the novel, nor the Satan worhsip scene, to be mild. Again, people need to be warned what they’re getting into with this book and then be allowed to govern themselves.
I would recommend that a content warning be a link to this post, and similarly handled for other content warnings.
William–thanks for clarifying the term. Sorry if I misused it!
No problem. I don’t think you misused it. I think it points out the difficulty of defining the middle.
See, and I like Out of the Silent Planet far better than either Perelandra or That Hideous Strength. Which I guess says that I really am, at heart, a science fiction reader. I don’t *like* the supernatural in stories–whether for good or for ill. But that’s just me.
I’ll add that I love fantasy as well. But fantasy and the supernatural really aren’t the same genres at all. I know people who like both, but I’m not one of them.
I’m the exact opposite. I’m a science junkie, but could never get into “hard” science fiction (and I feel kinda guilty about that; it’s the hardest genre to do well, far more challenging than “literary” fiction). I prefer fantasy in general, and “real-world” fantasy to medieval-type fantasy. Campy, scene-chewing “theological fantasy” like Constantine and End of Days is one of my favorite genres.
William said, “But even so, I do think Laura is right that _Brother Brigham_ would be pushing it for many more Mormon readers than other books on that list.” I agree also. I believe I am exactly typical of the kind of reader you’re talking about, the prime intended audience for your booklist, and I did not like “Brother Brigham.” I am also extremely disturbed that a classroom somewhere is using it as representative of either the LDS culture (which, taken on the whole, it is definitely NOT a sample of), the beliefs of “middlebrow,” active LDS members (again, not representative), or the best of what new LDS writers can do. I don’t feel it is representative in any way of my church or its literature, nor of what I think its literature should or could be.
I have long wondered what that syllabus looks like….
Huh. I read the back cover blurb and went, “Boring.” I may have to put this on my TBR, albeit way down low on the list (working my way back through the Little House books, natch).
I had a big long post here, but it was negative and I try not to present what I see as a problem without offering a solution.
I agreed with Max and his quoted from the D&C section 50 verse 31. I read “Brother Brigham” once, not twice. I wouldn’t recommanded for anyone to read it or purchase it, even for the Latter-Day Saints. May confusing for everyone and will lead them spiritual lost and wavering in thier faith, we shall know fullest truth Gospel of Jesus Christ and even the church standard.I love to read a good spiritaul books that related from the scriptures, testimony and spritual stories with a clean thoughts and a good books, like Brother Brigham is not very spiritaul. Eveything related with Satan plans is horrific because it is poor example for others to read it and may decieve them. Again I wouldn’t recmmanded for anyone( Non-Members and LDS members )to read it.
Wm writes: I have deleted a portion of this comment because it contained a personal judgment of the author. Personal responses to works of Mormon arts and culture are fine. Judgments of the righteousness or unrighteousness of individuals who produce or consume or even criticize a work are not.
For my book to have initiated such discussion is in and of itself a tribute to the book in my eyes, whether the reader has a positive or negative reaction to it. I do feel a need to correct some errors in the discussion, and perhaps even scold some people for making assumptions they don’t have enough information to make.
I was a full-fledged, converted believer when I wrote “Brother Brigham.” It was a fun story idea I thought up and enjoyed writing, and never once throughout the process did I ever think of my story as evil or testimony-destroying. I did realize that some aspects of the story would be offensive to some Mormons, but I made a conscious choice to include them based on principles I believed in–even as a faithful Mormon: to tell the truth as I understand it.
For those who think the sexual elements were too graphic, I have to scratch my head. Go back and look at them–they are as un-graphic as I could possibly make them without simply glossing over them as the typical squeamish Mormon author would have. The Law of Chastity states we should not HAVE sex with someone we’re not married to. It does not say we should never TALK about sex.
For those of you who think naturism replaced my Mormonism–not true. I was an LDS naturist for almost a decade and found no contradiction in that. I never would have found a contradiction in that. I left for other reasons.
That the book bothered you–fine. That you wanted to express those negative feelings in a review–fine. That you think the book is evil and should be banned, either through actual attempts at censorship or by smearing its reputation with comments like warning everybody not to read it–not fine. Especially considering I was a full-fledged believer at the time and wrote a book faithful to the gospel.
BB is not a product of any “apostasy” I’ve “suffered” from. In fact, as an “apostate,” I could not write the book now. It’s too faithful.
Reactions to the ending are interesting, because the last chapter was tacked on after I thought I was finished. I originally ended with the barely-hopeful comment by the bishop that they would all sort this mess out somehow.
When I workshopped the story with a number of readers, almost nobody liked the ambiguous ending. So the current final chapter was born. If it feels tacked on, that’s because it is.
But as a tacked-on ending, I stand by it. I’ve been through LDS Social Services counseling. There ARE counselors there that are kind of jerks. Others who have been throough the counseling told me I got the experience just right. As the author who wrote the scene, *I* think the counselor was a jerk. But it was truthful.
That last final kiss was indeed intended to suggest there was hope, but that there was a long haul ahead of them. Chris Bigelow is right–there was no reason to drag out the recovery process blatantly, when every Mormon knows what was ahead.
As for C.H. getting off lightly after all he’d done, welcome to the world of Mormon discipline! I know of many stories where church leaders let people–especially men–especially men who had committed devastating sexual crimes–off with a mere handslap. My girlfriend of the past two years had that very experience repeated over and over with three abusive husbands she was naive enough to marry–abusive to her and her kids, yet the bishop sucked up the feigned repentance and even hinted she was as fault. She definitely got the typical counseling to stay with the abusive husband and work things out–every time. At least C.H. was sincere about his repentance.
If the way women were treated in BB bothers you, don’t shoot the messenger! In many cases, that’s exactly how your church treats them!
“Brother Brigham” was never intended to be iconic: representative of model Mormons, whether they be husbands and wives like C.H. and Dani, or bishops deciding disciplinary action on wayward members, or LDS Social Service counselors trying to patch together a marriage. These were individuals acting in their own individual, realistic ways under extraordinary circumstances. That’s what speculative fiction is all about.
The teenage “wife,” Cyndy, was never in danger of being raped. C.H. resisted marrying her even though he was commanded to by the being he thought was Brigham Young to do so. C.H. out-and-out defied Brother Brigham when he refused to have sex with her until she was an adult. This pressure from the spirit to have sex with the young girl on the spot is the very thing that finally brought C.H. to his senses. Cyndy was never on the verge of being raped.
I don’t know what to make of the claim that by naming a fictional evil spirit in a fictional book somehow imbues the book with evil power. Are we Wiccans now all of a sudden? I think I’ll just let that criticism speak for itself.
For those who believe BB has an evil influence on readers, have any of you who read it succumbed to evil spirits? Have you lost your testimony? Have you been deceived somehow? Are you going out and marrying multiple wives and having sex with them?
Mormons do have low opinions of the spiritual strength of their fellow Saints. The critic him or herself has not fallen for the alleged deception and evil influence of the book, but oh boy, are all his or her fellow members of the church in danger! And he or she appoints him or herself as the gatekeeper who will protect everyone from the horrors of a little piece of fun, speculative fiction that to my knowledge has not killed a single testimomy or the faithfulness or spirituality of a single reader.
Give your fellow Saints a little credit, for heaven’s sake!
Everyone is coming from a place unique to them. There is no monolithic “Mormon” type out there. It seems to me to be arrogance to assume that a certain book is “not for Mormons” because it was not for you. There are lots of Mormons out there who crave just the sort of “edgy but faithful” literature BB was intended to be and Chris wants to publish.
Not everyone is inspired and uplifted by Deseret Book style fiction. That’s precisely why I wrote BB. I wrote something that I wanted to read, but didn’t exist. I’m quite content to have Deseret Book style fiction exist for those who prefer that type of literature. It’s sad that those types of readers don’t seem to be able to bear the existence of types of literature that I and others prefer.
It’s sad AND arrogant that they want to label it evil.
I want to express especial thanks to Mahonri for being a good example of what I consider to be a good Mormon. He’s much more orthodox than I ever was, yet he has the character to respect those who don’t think the same as he does.
I’ve never received any arrogant judgment from him–which judgment is one of the things that made it impossible for me to continue associating with the church. He has found a balance between being true to his convictions while treating those who disagree with those convictions with lvoe and respect and an absolute lack of condescension.
I can only think of two other faithful Mormons I know that are like that: a former elders quorum president of mine, and an ex-girlfriend of mine who was my first true love. To me, these people epitomize what a true Christian is.
If all Mormons were more like Mahonri, it’s entirely possible I might have never left the church. I’d still have my unorthodox beliefs, but I’d be able to coexist with Mormons.
And I’d like to thank Chris Bigelow for believing in “Brother Brigham.” That meant a great deal to me. I understand where he’s coming from, with his faithfulness to the gospel but dislike of the culture. That’s exactly how I felt for many years.
What that culture doesn’t seem to understand is how many people leave the church–not because they want to, since it’s such a harrowing experience to do that–but because the intolerance of that culture toward those who think a little differently makes it an even more harrowing ordeal to stick around.
Frankly, the negative reactions to my book expressed here, based not on the literary qualities of the book, but on its “evilness”–is exactly the kind of un-Christian treatment that finally drove me away. For those of you who like to deride LDS artists for leaving, perhaps you might want to look in the mirror for some explanations of why that happens.
Chris, keep up the good work. The Mormon culture needs what you’re doing, even if that culture doesn’t recognise the need itself.
One more comment:
Th., whoever you are, I’m at a loss to discuss when I allegedly called you “stupid” because I have no idea who you are. Perhaps you can identify yourself fully, and perhaps you can produce this quote (in context) so I know what happened, then I can respond to the incident.
D. Michael Martindale–
I appreciate you stopping by and taking the time to comment.
It sounds like you were offended by my review . . . it was not my intent to be offensive. Rather, I wanted to share my experience with your book. You are right in that I didn’t dislike the book for its “literary” qualities. It was more of an emotional/spiritual thing for me. It was a personal reaction and I can understand why it’s not the one you would hope for for your book.
Also, to be clear, I NEVER meant this review as a personal attack. I was not commenting on you or your spirituality at any point. I know nothing about you and, at least consciously, made no personal judgments about you. Your book just didn’t agree with me. For me, that’s where this starts and stops.
I wish you good luck in your next endeavors–whatever they may be! Again, thank you for taking the time to comment.
Thanks for coming by and setting a stellar example in proper nonarrogant discourse. It will be easy to to move this discussion forward from this platform of calm rationality.
My identity is hardly a secret. If you had tried to fifteen seconds you could have figured out who I was. If you want to contact me, I would be happy to forward you the original email from the AML_list mentioned, but I hardly think that it would be appropriate for me to copy-and-paste it here.
To move past the rancor and the personal issues, it might be worth discussing this issue you propose that Church rhetoric forces people out of the Church. I have to admit I’m skeptical that this is a foundational reason for genuine apostasy. It’s my assertion that we see in other people what we want to see in them. People calling you ‘evil’ would be one example and you calling all-but-three Mormons intolerably arrogant is another. We see what we want to see.
Which might be a useful metric for judging reader reaction to others’ writing. What percentage of people reject a work a evil? What percentage of people reject a work for appearing to reject themselves? Hard (expensive) to measure, but could be interesting.
Yeah, I’d prefer not to do the rhetoric discussion here. I think everybody has said what needs to be said about the novel itself and its reception.
Right. I think it’s so tangentially connected to what this thread was actually about to make it silly to tack it on here.
I do have one question for DMM if he does stop by again which I hope he will address:
You were rather infamous in Mormon literary circles for never reading any Mormon literature — for talking a lot about it but claiming poverty as an excuse for never actually reading any. I wonder if that has changed?
You claim to know enough about Deseret Book to know that what they publish is not for you and you seem to know enough about what’s being put out at the moment to know that no one is publishing anything akin to BB — but you’re never very specific.
I wonder if you would mind giving us examples of books you’ve read that have formed your aesthetic sense of Mormon literature. At least, I know I would be interested in what specifically led you to form such potent opinions about the field in general and the average Mormon’s taste in particular.
I’m not sure a public calling out is in the best interest of civil discourse, either, Th. I know D. Michael tossed some stuff your way, but I don’t see this comment as eliciting a productive response.
[Not that I’m completely adverse to mixing it up at times]
True enough. It’s kinda difficult to be sarcastic and not sarcastic at the same time. (And that’s what usually gets me in trouble online….)
Ah, see that’s why we aim for satire and irony rather than sarcasm. 😉
See, and I’d just sat down with my popcorn and Sprite to watch the show and y’all get civil again.
I’m not that great at staying uncivil. And my main means of ill civility is faux civility. It’s like real civility except, curiously, you get blood poured over you.
Ooo. Can I watch? Sounds violent.
Well, it took me a while, but I did come back.
My experience with LDS literature has been limited but not absent. I have read a number of LDS books that helped form my opinion of LDS literature. I’m not going to remember them all–I’m staving off Altzheimers by the minute.
Pretty much anything by Jack Weyland has turned me off. Not only is he a mediocre writer at best, but his stories are sickening to me in their saccharine approach. I once did some editing for someone who was going to release a collection of Weyland’s short stories. OH my heck that was an ordeal!
I also read Gerald Lund’s attempt at science fiction–not quite remembering the name, starts with an A–the Alliance or something like that. A pedestrian work, tolerably entertaining I guess, but full of defects.
More importantly I’ve spoken at length with an acquisitions editor from Covenant Communication and got a thorough explanation of what type of fiction they were looking for. It was not a hopeful experience.
I’ve read a few of Covenant’s publications. Universally they’ve been mediocre or worse. I’ve read a couple books from the brief career of Cornerstone. One was actually engrossing–Linda Paul Adams’ book of the future, even though I was critical of some small elements within it. Another was gawdawful, and I won’t get any more specific than that.
I’ve also read lots and lots of reactions of LDS readers on AML List and elsewhere that I think gives me a pretty good idea of what kind of literature is out there and what kind the orthodox Mormon wants to read.
So even though my personal exposure to LDS literature is limited, I do think I have a fair handle on what its like generally. I will also confess that I think LDS literature has made great strides in recent years. I think it’s on the path to finally growing up. I’m thrilled with Deseret Book’s publication of the “Standing on the Promises” trilogy. To me that marks a watershed moment in LDS publishing.
Maybe there was something out there I missed due to my limited exposure, but it was absolutely true that I had not discovered any LDS literature at the time that interested me, so I wrote what would interest me, and Brother Brigham is the result. I cannot abide the alleged “faith-promoting” story that requires unrealistic squeaky-cleanness (no life is squeaky clean, even Mormon lives) and requires everything to turn out wonderful and requires the whole salvation and repentance and sanctification process to be spelled out in its entirety just so Mormon readers can feel confident that the Message is getting out to everyone.
My moral standards require me to tell the truth as I understand it. Literature that whitewashes the truth so the church and its members can look good is morally repugnant to me. Truthful literature is the kind that appeals to me, and the kind that I must write.
To address some comments about my “apostasy,” it’s quite true that the intolerance and judgmentalism of church members is what drove me away. I left kicking and screaming–I did not enjoy it. I could still coexist with the church if its members would be willing to coexist with me. They are not. Some of the comments in this discussion have demonstrated how they are not.
This is what drove me away the end, but its true that my beliefs are not exactly orthodox, even though I do still hold to a number of LDS teachings. This was caused by one thing and one thing only: through my experiences and studies I came to the conclusion that the church is not what it claims to be. It just isn’t. That had nothing to do with the intolerance of any members, or any sin I may or may not have been committing. Nor is it the result of any “dangerous” literature I’ve read or written that might or might not include evil spirits anonymously or by name. It simply has to do with being intellectually honest with what I’ve learned.
Richard Dutcher had nothing to do with it. I was already on my way out before I knew he was leaving.
He and I do share one thing in common however. Both of us have works of art we created while faithful being criticized from the perspective of where we are now spiritually. Seems a lot of Richard’s critics are suddenly very insightful about how his faithful films show his future apostasy. And I see some using my current spiritual state to snidely criticize Brother Brigham.
I consider it cheating to try and criticize Brother Brigham based on what I am now, not what I was when I wrote it.
So let me emphasize this once more: I was completely converted when I wrote Brother Brigham. I was as faithful as they get. I loved the church and defended it wholeheartedly. There is nothing in that book that is anti-gospel. There is nothing evil about the book. It follows every legitimate precept of the gospel.
True, it may violate the sensibilities of some members–maybe a not of members. But what does that matter? I’m not beholden to the sensibilities of members who are overly squeamish about the natural realities of life. Sex does happen, and by gosh I’ll write about it when the story warrants it! Evil spirits do exist, and by gosh I’ll write about them if the story warrants it! Members do make mistakes, get puffed up in pride, rationalize to justify things they want to do but know are wrong, and by gosh… well, you get the idea.
Those who criticize my book for moral reasons, in my opinion, are surreptitiously scolding me for telling the truth. Which I find a curious thing for someone who claims to be a disciple of Christ to do.
One thing I’m disappointed about with this discussion is how few fans of Brother Brigham participated. I know lots of readers who loved it, even people who are very conservative, orthodox members–just the sort of people that some of you think need to be warned away from the book.
My own sister thinks it’s great, and believe me, she about as orthodox and opinionated as they get. The fact that I’m her brother would not dissuade her one iota from telling me if she was outraged by the book.
So I think the call to warn people away or even ban the book does a disservice to a lot of people who would love it. There isn’t even consensus on whether the “edgy” parts are even all that edgy. Some are shocked and disturbed by them, some are amused that others think the book is all that edgy. It’s only edgy in comparison to Covenant or Deseret Books. That’s not saying much.
I defy anyone to quote an excerpt from the book that is sexually graphic in nature. There is none. The descriptions are surprisingly mild, short, and restrained. I’ll tell you what’s graphic about the sex scenes: your mind. If you visualized graphic images, you created them–they’re not in the words of the book.
It’s my opinion that people who say Brother Brigham is sexually graphic define “sexually graphic” as any mention of sex. That’s a definition I reject.
You are a fired up man!
I think most of your recent comments are directed at Th. but since I think some of them are also directed at my original review I wanted to respond.
To be clear: I am sure you are a wonderful human being and I have no personal quibbles with you or your spirituality as it now stands or ever did stand.
As for a lot of LDS lit. being saccharine. Um, yeah, it is. But a lot, a lot, a lot of people like that. *I* don’t. (I also don’t like the super-edgy, out-there stuff). But a lot of people do. And they have every right to their personal aesthetic just as you have every right to your personal aesthetic. I’m glad that writing _Brother Brigham_ was fulfilling to you.
I never wanted your book to be banned. I never said it shouldn’t have been published. I never said anything personal about you or Chris Bigelow or Zarahemla Books. I just said that it was too much for me. I just didn’t feel comfortable recommending it to people. And I felt (and still feel) that other readers coming into this book would appreciate a little more information going into it because it will be too much for some people.
If you stop by again (even if it’s many, many moons from now) I hope you’ll take the time to share with us what LDS/Mormon works you feel show progress in the field. I know I’ve read a few in the last couple years that wowed me. _Bound on Earth_, _Rift_, _The Conversion of Jeff Williams_, _Long After Dark_ all come to mind.
I wish I’d read your review before I read the book. My wife thought I’d like it, but I thought it was so horrible, I burned it so nobody else would make the mistake I did, especially my wife. I know she’d still be ranting if she ever read it.
[Wm says: sorry Alex, I had to remove part of your comment because it crossed the line of our comment policy. Criticism of the work is fine, but not speculations about the author or personal attacks. I’m also closing comments on this post because I’m not convinced that there will be further productive discussion here. A lot has already been said.]
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