Bright Angels & Familiars: “Woman Talking to a Cow” by Pauline Mortensen


This series has been on hiatus for a while, so, for those who do not recall, Signature Books has made this seminal collection of stories available free online. I have been reading the stories and posting about them. Together we share our thoughts and opinions.

Today’s tale was also collected in Mortensen’s Back Before the World Turned Nasty which I read is at is best in describing place. This particular tale is quite short (enough to be included on Everyday Mormon Writer).

Go read it then return.

The story is exactly what it claims in the title—a woman talking to a cow. About the problems in her life, each of which is desperately symbolic. The fork she uses to serve hay is missing a tine. Which makes the hay fall through but also makes it loaded in other ways as well. Then her husband enacts Christ (and she draws our attention to it), her children destroy symbols of comfort and heritage, the sheep are black and steadily decrease in number while jumping up and down in perceived value, and finally we learn they must decide to feed the sheep (possibly at the expense of all else) or treat their little ones not so well. All while the narrator is revealing herself an absolute Martha (however unfair the Martha/Mary dichotomy may be). Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “Woman Talking to a Cow” by Pauline Mortensen”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “Windows on the Sea” by Linda Sillitoe


Linda Sillitoe, who passed away recently, will undoubtedly be best remembered for her nonfiction, her journalism and her history. But she was also a poet and a writer of fiction, including two novels and today’s story (a quick read) about a woman who has lost her face saving her daughter from fireworks. She’s approaching the final skin graft of her hospital stay when she is approached by a troubled team with blue and orange hair, who needs a friend of a mother or something of her own.

Sillitoe’s prose is a nice blend of poetry and journalism. Listen to the first paragraph:


Strange that the world looked reassuringly the same although Lora Starkham would never look the same to the world. From the stocking-lined mask fitted over her face like a cat burglar, her gray-green eyes observed the traffic around the sunny atrium on the hospital’s seventh floor. She was newly grateful for her sight, for the fact that her eyes opened easily. She had been afraid for a time that her eyelids had melted, just as she knew the flesh over her cheekbones and chin had–we are, she observed wryly, clay after all.


Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “Windows on the Sea” by Linda Sillitoe”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “I Am Buzz Gaulter, Left-Hander” by Darrell Spencer


I’m not a fan of Spencer’s most famous story and it was, until now, the only Spencer story I’d read. This one (read it now!) I liked more, but I’m still mulling it over, not quite sure what to make of it.

The tale is apocalyptic in nature. Earthquakes are threatened, floods are happening (a town’s been wiped off the map; our eponymous hero nearly dives off a washed off road), roofs cave in without warning, wives are kicked out of the house who then leave with dire warnings of the Lord’s return, crazy people execute the innocent, polygamists shoot themselves, deer are dying.

The world is ending and everyone is feeling it as the rain falls on the just and unjust alike.

Not a bad story for 2012, winkwink.

Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “I Am Buzz Gaulter, Left-Hander” by Darrell Spencer”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “The Christianizing of Coburn Heights” by Levi S. Peterson


Welcome back! After a Bright Angels & Familiars hiatus (that we might better engage with Mormon Lit Blitz), we are picking up with a terrific story from Levi Peterson. Unlike his famous The Backslider, the hero of this story is not a dirty ole backslid cowboy but a rich stake president from the hills looking down upon Salt Lake City. Like the eponymous hero of Orson Scott Card’s “Christmas at Helaman’s House” (available in Dispensation and Keeper of Dreams), our stake president lives in the foothills, on the bench surrounding the Salt Lake Valley, among his fellow rich. In Card’s story, Helaman feels guilt over his wealth and comes up with a plan to share his largesse with the poor of his community. Sherman Colligan, on the other hand, and his stake have never thought to question the rightness of their dripping wealth. The poor must come to them, in the form of Rendella Kranpitz, before the poor become anything more than an abstraction.

Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “The Christianizing of Coburn Heights” by Levi S. Peterson”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “Born of the Water” by Wayne Jorgensen


In his introduction to this book, Eugene England describes Joregensen’s fiction as “meticulously-crafted.” This seems like  a good spot to begin discussing “Born of the Water.”

The story is loaded. It would take us months to tap it of all its symbolic potential. It’s structure is surprisingly complicated without ever seeming at all disjointed or forced or confused. The way it connects generations and deaths and baptisms and resurrections is frankly stunning, but—as I realize I’ve just scheduled this post to go live on my father’s birthday—I think I’ll focus on the father-son relationships.

Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “Born of the Water” by Wayne Jorgensen”

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.

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

Bright Angels & Familiars: “Sayso or Sense” by Eileen Gibbons Kump


Before we get too deep into “Sayso or Sense” by Eileen Gibbons Kump, allow me to quote from the sixth page?

But that night she had a dream. God was conducting priesthood meeting and Grandpa and Israel and the carpenter were on the front row, hanging on every word. God said when they came to earth, men could have their choice–sayso or sense–but they couldn’t have both because that wouldn’t be fair to the women. He called a vote and Grandpa’s hand shot up for sayso before God had finished speaking. Amy awoke, sure the choice had been unanimous. By daylight she had decided that, God approving, she had no alternative but to leave the men to their folly.

Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “Sayso or Sense” by Eileen Gibbons Kump”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “The People Who Were Not There” by Lewis Horne Guest analysis by Lee Allred


On my post yesterday on this story, I claimed a certain ambivalence re the story’s attempts and affectations. Lee Allred claims to have cracked the lock and opened to story. And, frankly, he makes a compelling case. His argument (complete with diagram) appears below. (The only changes I made were the addition of hyperlinks.)

Tell him what you think.

Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “The People Who Were Not There” by Lewis Horne Guest analysis by Lee Allred”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “The People Who Were Not There” by Lewis Horne


I don’t know what this story means. Maybe you can tell me. It certainly intends to tell me something, but I’m leery of drawing conclusions.

It’s starts off as yet another of those once-upon-a-time-in-my-memory-in-the-West stories, then suddenly throws a three-paragraph bit of essay at the reader, then ends with a new vignette from, oh, a couple decades after the first—this story only the slightest bit connected with the first. It left me a little dizzy. And if it weren’t for a genuinely surprising and painful moment in the second story, I might have been left completely confused.

But somehow that moment provided an aesthetic completeness.

Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “The People Who Were Not There” by Lewis Horne”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “The Week-end” by Donald R. Marshall


Before I can write about this story, I need to talk about Stephen Carter’s “Winter Light” (in What of the Night?) because as I read “The Week-end” I kept thinking This could have been May Swenson.

Carter’s Aunt May is one of the Twentieth Century’s great poets and she was an expat Utah Mormon living in the wilds of New York, leaving behind family and faith for poetry and pretty girls. “Winter Light” discusses May’s career from the point-of-view of her family. Over the course of the essay, Carter becomes more sympathetic to her plight, but the family in general views her as a lost soul, eternally trapped in a waiting place, separated from the family she loved.

What’s lacking from “Winter Light” (and Carter knows it) is May’s own perspective.

And as I read Marshall’s “The Week-end”, I kept wondering if this is what May would have become had she never left Logan. Continue readingBright Angels & Familiars: “The Week-end” by Donald R. Marshall”