Bright Angels & Familiars: “Opening Day” by Doug Thayer

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Since I’ve been something of a negative nelly in this series so far, displaying a rich panoply of bad attitudes and an unpleasant irritability, I feel obliged, before saying anything about my previous experiences with Thayer’s work, that this story was a stunning read. And I mean that more literally than is usually intended in literary reviews. I sit here typing, feeling stunned.

Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “Opening Day” by Doug Thayer”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “They Did Go Forth” by Maureen Whipple

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Like Virginia Sorensen, Maureen Whipple is one who, as Eugene England says in this volume’s dedication to them, “taught us how.” And, like Virginia Sorensen, I’ve never read her. I know her reputation—or, more accurately, I know the towering reputation of The Joshua Tree, a book many people whose taste I respect admire greatly. Of course, there was also the Mormon backlash against this nationally published novel. In the words of Emma Ray McKay, “I am so disgusted with the author of ‘The Giant Joshua’ that I can scarcely contain myself.”

With Sister McKay’s words often the first thing I think of when I think of Maureen Whipple (or Virginia Sorensen for that matter, since I often conflate them), I was expecting “They Did Go Forth” to be a fairly edgy work, pushing the boundaries. And it was through that lens that I interpreted Tildy Elizabeth’s early actions in the story. She’s trying to read the Book of Mormon while sitting with her sick—practically comatose—child. Couple that with the flashbacks of the hardships she and her faithful husband had been though at the seeming whims of Brigham Young and I found myself reading a story about how Tildy had lost her faith after feeling rejected of God; she was now and had long been oppressed by men in the faith including Brigham Young, her husband and the best available quack. Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “They Did Go Forth” by Maureen Whipple”

Bright Angels & Familiars: “Where Nothing Is Long Ago” by Virginia Sorensen

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I’ve just read How to Read Literature Like a Professor and I’m pleased enough with it that I’m figuring out how to implement it into my classes. In essence, it’s all the stuff English majors should know by the end of their sophomore year of college—how to read a text to find patterns like journeys and season, what might meaneth the rainbow, or why, to be fully literate, one must know some Bible, some Greek myth, some Shakespeare. In other words, great stuff for the demographic I teach.

The final chapter contains Katherine Mansfield’s lovely short story “The Garden Party” along with analysis from college students, followed by some from the professor himself. I read the story while walking to school and did not spend much time analyzing it myself before reading others’ responses to the story. I had noticed some patterns etc and figured I had a pretty solid grasp on the story. Then it was pointed out to me that it is a Garden of Eden story and I immediately felt hugely embarrassed. As an Eden junkie, how did I miss this? Reading while walking is no excuse.

It’s in that spirit of contrition that I will now discuss Sorensen’s tale (read online). Continue reading “Bright Angels & Familiars: “Where Nothing Is Long Ago” by Virginia Sorensen”

Bright Angels & Familiars

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I recently was given a copy of Bright Angels & Familiars, a short-fiction collection edited by Eugene England (Signature Books, 1992). I rather wish someone had given me this book in high school. Who knows? Maybe I would have read it and who knows where I would be now!

Fascinatingly, this volume was published seven (seven!) years before his famous essay “Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left!” which decried two recent books of short fiction, one from Signature (1998), one from Deseret Book (1994), that, in his opinion, were more about spreading (im)piety than being good, ethetical and esthetical fiction. Oh, how disappointed he was in this turn in our letters.

For me, as the publisher of collections that, in my opinion, are of high ethical and esthetical value (The Fob Bible, Out of the Mount, Fire in the Pasture, Monsters & Mormons), I’m reading England’s collection with the desire to learn from our history —  a history I am, alas, much too ignorant of. I’ve enjoyed England’s introduction and have read the first story (by none other than Virginia Sorensen). This post serves as an announcement that I will be blogging my reading of Bright Angels & Familiars here at AMV, one story at a time. The posts will be short and I have decided to avoid requiring myself to discuss any particular aspect of the tales (eg, their Mormonness, their ethics, what they teach about the history of MoLit, etc); instead I wish to respond honestly and see where this reading takes me.

Expect my first post, on Sorensen’s story, soon. Then they will appear irregularly as I fit stories into my rather hectic reading schedule.

See you soon.

ps: follow along at home — Signature has kindly made this volume available online

Short Story Friday: Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left! by Eugene England

For today a departure from our normal reading — a piece of criticism rather than a short story. Read it and then go back and read one or two or three of the Short Story Friday stories you haven’t read yet.

Title: Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left! The Ethics of Recent Mormon Fiction

Author: Eugene England

Publication Info: Fall 1999 — Dialogue, Volume 32, Number 3

Submitted by: William Morris

Why?: 1. Because it’s the most significant piece of Mormon criticism published so far that focuses on short stories. 2. Because I think it gets at what I mean by the radical middle (but not entirely) 3. Because it has an hilarious title. 4. Because it’s criticism that actually dares to not only examine ethics but use specific examples! 5. Because it’s Eugene England.

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