Short Story Friday: Otherwise Afflicted by Steve Evans

When Steve first sent this to me for review for Popcorn Popping (because in the beginning if either Steve, Brian G. or I were going to post our own work the other two had to agree that it was worth posting), I experienced one of those authorial twinges of pain because it was exactly like a project I had planned out about a year or so previous but hadn’t completed. That is, a series of shortish short stories or vignettes that all centered around one common experience (with Steve it was writing someone’s name on the temple prayer roll; mine was about priesthood duos visiting homes*).  But I quickly got over it and instead reveled in the fact that this sort of thing was clearly in the air.  What I like about this story is how fantastically Mormon it feels.

Title: Otherwise Afflicted

Author: Steve Evans

Publication Info: Popcorn Popping, 2006

Submitted by: Katya

Why?: Katya says: “I’ve been going through the Popcorn Popping archives and found this story very interesting, but was disappointed that there wasn’t much discussion about it there. Reposting it will hopefully amend that.”

Wm adds: “Agreed. Thanks, Katya!”

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* Note: that would be Gentle Persuasions

24 thoughts on “Short Story Friday: Otherwise Afflicted by Steve Evans”

  1. .

    The Mormon mean girls.

    I see a lot of teenagers these days and thus I think a lot about what evils the young commit and then I look around at the adults I associate with and I have a devil of a time deciding what they must have been like when, say, fifteen.

    Zion is still a few steps away.

  2. Wow. Some of my fondest memories ever were at Girl’s Camp, so I’m tempted to get a little defensive about it as I saw Proud Daughter of Eve do in the old comments. That Liahona play is, well, really something.

    And yet, I could give you the names of at least half a dozen Annas. Not all of them were Hispanic and not all of their mean-girl misfortune happened at Girl’s Camp, but some were and some did.

    I like casting Anna as a Rorschach mid-story, before we know how it ends.

    William, to answer your old question, I thought the voice was excellent. The dithering, the projection and defensiveness, the minimal self-awareness, it all worked. This was my favorite quote along those lines, “Sometimes you just don’t want to have people forced on you, you know? But that’s what Anna did ““ she forced herself on us, on the whole camp….”

  3. Thanks, sb2 — to be honest I had forgotten all about asking that question. I’m glad you took it up.

  4. .

    PDoE’s comment last time was a killjoy, but I’m sympathetic to it. I often feel that way when I see someone representing in a way I don’t like something closely connected to the Church. I’ve tried to get over that because I need to be fair and admit that although Boy Scouts meant nothing to me, it did mean things to other people. And although I loved scriptures chases, other people view them as the ultimate in pointlessness. It’s healthy, I think, to recognize that even within Mormondom, we can have very different experiences within our shared experiences.

  5. I often feel that way when I see someone representing in a way I don’t like something closely connected to the Church.

    This is partly why I haven’t read Twilight–because my own experience with the undead has been so sweet, I’m just afraid to see it turned into something tragic or dirty.

  6. “This is partly why I haven’t read Twilight”“because my own experience with the undead has been so sweet, I’m just afraid to see it turned into something tragic or dirty.”

    Ohhhhhhh, that is awesome!

  7. Like sister blah 2, I thought Steve nailed the voice, especially the defensiveness and justification. My one critique of the story is that I thought the narrator had too big of a moral epiphany in the last paragraph of the story (although, now that I’m rereading it, it’s more subtle than I remembered).

    Thanks for picking this, William!

  8. Perhaps some quotes would be useful in the post title, because when the page loaded I wondered in what way William is otherwise afflicted by Steve Evans.

    What I liked and found authentic was the self-centered nature of the narrative. The story is about Anna, but it’s focused on the speaker’s perceptions and feelings. Nicely done, Steve!

  9. Well done, sir. I am now fantasizing about seeing it as a New Era submission… sigh… Not in my lifetime.

  10. For the most part the voice is successful. There are few moments where it drops off and I see Steve behind the curtain, but by and large, a very successful writing exercise.

    It made me squirm. Good job.

  11. Tracy, I’m not sure what your moments were but for me, “if the shoe fits” was jarring. Maybe it’s a regional thing. Anyway, I thought that for the most part it was excellent.

    I think it would be really powerful to have a whole Young Women read this and discuss it. Maybe you would have to take out the B-I-T-C-H if you were doing it at church (though absurdity of that is readily conceded)(the spelling of it was a nice touch btw).

  12. By “whole Young Women” I mean an entire ward’s group, not comparing whole and parts of a youth. 🙂

  13. I went to a Girl’s Camp in Texas with a Liahona tradition similar to the one in the story – our whole camp was based on some fictional Indian girl named Liahona. We even sang a song about her and had a big night with torches and a program that the 4th years put on every year. Lots of tradition. I never understood it, can’t remember much about it. I thought this was well written. It actually brought back memories.

  14. I didn’t like the story.

    I felt like it was trying too hard to engage with “issues” without being sufficiently grounded in lived experience.

    I also think the self-justification and defensiveness were unearned: no one is “making” her tell this story. Teenagers are most obnoxious when backed into corners. On their own, they are capable of incredible guilt and compassion.

    That’s not to say one girl can’t be like this girl–but I feel like I’d get a lot more from hearing from a girl I can sympathize with and who is comfortable in confiding in me than I got out of this.

  15. I also wonder about the tendency I’ve seen among developing white male writers who choose to engage with racial issues to try to compensate for their own lack of experience by working too hard to condemn prejudice/racism.

    I saw a set of short plays about immigration in Provo recently: the ones from writers with minority backgrounds were gentle, humorous, and willing to embrace some complexity. The two by white male writers were angrier and stereotyped certain characters as prejudiced or clueless.

    I don’t want to say that writers without personal experience shouldn’t engage racial issues. But I think responsibly engaging with such issues, for any writer, involves a great deal of compassion and awareness of complexity. It is not enough to write against racism. You’ve got to get a different sort of vision…

    I don’t know. What do you think?

  16. .

    I see this a lot too. I imagine it’s part of the process. First the white male writer realizes there is a problem. Then he has to work through it. A lot of us seem to get stuck there.

  17. I’m with James: the minority card seems overplayed and heavy-handed—like the writer was self-consciously trying to speak to racial issues, to make up for past offenses the white majority (even within the Church) has made against racial minorities. For me, this self-consciousness works against any merit the story carries in terms of sharing human experience. I walked away feeling sort of jaded because, though the character’s voice was fairly strong, I could still hear the writer yelling, or at least talking loudly, beneath her. And this polyglossic effect—like the echo I sometimes get during conversations on my cell phone—bothered me, perhaps, among other things, because the make-up of each character (the girl and the author) is so different and because the complexity of the interaction between the author, the girl, the Church, and issues of race was over-simplified and, thus (even if unintentionally) stereotyped.

    I’ve spent a lot of time with Garcia Marquez over the past semester (not personally, silly; just with his texts) and I think he’s a master (among many) at embracing and trying to subvert such complexity as arises when cultures clash and people don’t quite have the language to confront/deal with/temper what’s going on. Part of this may have something to do with the deep tradition he’s writing from as a Colombian author whose life and history are rooted in and defined by turmoil as well as with his maturity and breadth as a writer. Mormonism, as theologically deep as it is, doesn’t quite have such cultural depth and complexity, though, I’m convinced, we’re moving slowly beyond adolescence into cultural maturity, as evidenced, in part, by the flourishing of Mormon writers, our willingness to more fully and openly confront difficult cultural issues (as those tied to race, gender, etc.), and the many Mormon studies programs popping up across the country.

    “Otherwise Afflicted,” arising as it does from this maturing cultural tradition, seems to be afflicted by the lack of language I reference above. I’m convinced that earning this language is presupposed (as James comments) by the effort to “responsibly engag[e] with such issues” of race (and other difficult issues), and that we must learn “a great deal of compassion and [gain an] awareness of complexity” to get there. And these things (language expanded by compassion and an awareness and acceptance of cultural complexity) contribute to the “different sort of vision” James calls for and that Mormon artists may need if Mormon arts, letters, and culture are to flourish toward and help build Zion. Or even if we’re to produce those cultural greats we’re so obsessed with finding and that get referenced so often as to become (forgive me) cliche.

    As a final note: I’m not saying that Mr. Evans isn’t compassionate and aware of complexity. I’m just suggesting that “Otherwise Afflicted” seems “stuck” (to borrow Th.’s term) in a somewhat stereotypical version of cultural/racial relations. Not that I’m necessarily unstuck, myself. But, like Th. also says, maybe getting stuck is part of the learning/maturing process. As long as being stuck doesn’t stick.

    Or something like that.

  18. Ditto nos. 20-23 re the effectiveness of “Otherwise Afflicted”. With its parade of stereotypes, the entire story reads rather like the Princess Liahona skit it takes to task.

    Skillfully handled, a pageant of stereotypes portraying the dilemma of stereotyping could work. When one person or group stereotypes another person or a group, it often means that the stereotypers have stereotyped themselves right along with the others.

    That’s an interesting problem, worthy of the concerted effort of “lived experience,” “a different sort of vision,” and language having the mind to get across.

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