Bright Angels & Familiars: “Hit the Frolicking, Rippling Brooks” by Karen Rosenbaum


I must admit I would find it difficult to talk badly about this story if it deserved it (it doesn’t) as Karen is a friend of mine and, arguably, a large part of the reason life has resulted in me doing story-by-story reviews of a two-decade-old Mormon-short-story collection.

After graduating from BYU I joined the AML-List and took a menial job. With my brain untaxed at work, I aimed my thinking at the AML-List. Which ignored me. Sometimes the email I rewrote three times couldn’t get past the moderators because the day’s volume had already been capped off with a pair of three-sentence witticisms from Richard Dutcher; but I kept trying to get attention, jumping and waving my arms from the back of the room.

Anyway, fastforward a couple years and Karen Rosenbaum, then fiction editor at Dialogue, picked up my short story “The Widower,” and edited it to a new level of excellence. This was an important learning experience for me; plus, it let me feel that maybe the world of Mormon letters had a place for me after all.

Karen was friends with Eugene England and he approached her to write fiction for Dialogue in its early days. The second piece of fiction Dialogue published was one of Karen’s stories and she’s been a staple on the scene ever since. This particular story was published by Dialogue in 1978 and received an honorable mention in short fiction at the AML Awards that year.

The voice is extremely conversational—to the point many details are utterly lost as the speaker clearly assumes you can see what she sees and that you know what she knows. I was worried about this at first, but in the end it proved a sensible choice. The story is very meta (the protagonist is grading creative-writing assignments throughout, to say nothing of the final paragraph or the early discussion of cliches reflected in the title), signaling which tropes could have filled in the gaps had such filling been necessary.

The story might also be somewhat autobiographical (Karen’s husband is named Ben, though I don’t know if they were married in 1978; Karen taught college-level creative writing, though I don’t know if was doing so in 1978), but this too just serves to suggest ways to fill in gaps that don’t need to be filled.

But I was not certain what was going on in those gaps until the story ended unexpectedly and all that was left was for me to smile and say aloud, in genuine surprise, that was just right.

It’s short. Check it out.

4 thoughts on “Bright Angels & Familiars: “Hit the Frolicking, Rippling Brooks” by Karen Rosenbaum”

  1. .

    I was trying to find this quote, but couldn’t remember where it was until I finished this post. It’s from the Mo Lit article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism by Bruce Wayne. (Jorgensen.)

    Karen Rosenbaum also experiments with “openness.” Her agile, comic voice sounds in “The Joys of Mormonish” (1977) and “Hit the Frolicking, Rippling Brooks” (1978), but she also examines the erosion of simple faith in more somber tones in “The Mustard Seed” (1964) and “Low Tide” (1980).

    Seeing it again, it wasn’t quite as perspective as I remembered it being.

  2. I have to ditto Wm. I liked it — actually more than I expected to partway through, when I worried that it was going to be all about how the POV character’s husband never is at home because he’s helping at Church and maybe she should have married Eddie after all. And yet that wasn’t how I felt by the time I ended it. The problems are there, but the feel seems more affectionate than not. Or at least that’s how it strikes me.

  3. .

    Right. It follows the surface of an angsty literary povcentric tale, but somehow ends in an optimistic, Mormon place.

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