I’ve been following Stephen Carter’s career for several years — from his participation on the AML-List during it’s heyday, to his graduate studies in creative writing, his work on the Sugar Beet and then as editor of Sunstone. I like Stephen, and I like his essay collection What of the Night? (Zarahemla Books — note that the e-book editions, including Kindle, are only $2.99) I’ve put off this review long enough (not because of lack of interest, but because of lack of time) so I’m not going to go into detail about the collection, but I will make a few points.
1. What of the Night? is like a really good album. It’s of one piece but with variation. Themes repeat, tone modulates but doesn’t swing to extremes, length varies but within a range. These essays go together. There’s a rhythm to the collection and the reader (or at least this reader) feels that they were all written within the same energy.
2. There is humor. There is earthiness. There is doubt. But on the whole I like that the Church’s pull on Stephen is generally a good thing. Sometimes a perplexing thing, but a good thing. And that the essays are more about Stephen figuring out where he is located in relationship to the LDS Church, to Mormon culture, to the gospel, to his family than trying to make grand, global pronouncements about how the reader should feel about such things. He’s a dude trying to figure things out. I can relate, even if my particulars are very different because I never quite felt the pressures of Utah culture that he did growing up.
3. I like the cover.
4. There are a few sections where the writing seems too honed and needs to loosen up and breathe a bit. Endings end too early sometimes. Stephen seems at times too allergic to sermonizing or drawing larger conclusions. But really, that’s okay — he needed to err on that side of things as he learned his craft, and so does Mormon letters in general, I think. Right now honed and more personal, less socio-cultural is good.
Note: this review is based on a free PDF of the book provided to me by the publisher