Weekend (Re)Visitor: Gentlemen Broncos

In the early days of AMV, I wrote briefly about the limitations of urban(e) critics who were trying to review Napoleon Dynamite and failing to get their minds around what Jared and Jerusha Hess were doing. I never reported back on that, but after watching the film several years later, I discovered that, yes, I was right to point out those limitations. And yet I didn’t seem to learn from that vindication and develop faith in my co-religionists because when Gentlemen Broncos ( Amazon ) was absolutely savaged by the critics I believed them.

Then earlier this year I ran across (and mentioned in a links roundup post) this brief Richard Brody review of the film for The New Yorker. Here was an urban(e) critic who made me rethink my earlier impressions — enough so that last week my wife and I watched Gentlemen Broncos. Brody writes, “…. it’s a work of visionary inspiration that, like many outrageous Hollywood comedies of the classic era (such as those of Frank Tashlin), tackles remarkably serious matters.”

It turns out that he’s right. What I’m less sure about is where he tries to give a Mormon gloss on the film: “In his jejune yet highly moral inspiration, Benjamin is the prophet of a pop-infused Gospel, an updated Book of Mormon, that speaks to a new generation of young people whose coarsened sensibility is paradoxically attuned to Biblical explicitness and ferocity.” Continue reading “Weekend (Re)Visitor: Gentlemen Broncos”

Weekend (Re)Visitor: Salvador (again)

Although I remembered most of the plot of Salvador (Amazon), re-reading it five or six years after my initial encounter with it was still an experience of surprise and intensity. And oddly, I think it was an even more intense experience because since I already knew, sorta recalled the basic narrative  and thematic arc for the main character Julie, my mind was freed up to focus on everything else, and it turns out that there is a lot going on.

In short, Salvador became a more important novel to me through the re-read.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, though: it is not a work of magical realism. Nobody makes hard claims for that, but the term is still sometimes invoked in relation to the novel. It’s easy to see why — it takes place in El Salvador and there’s a certain lushness and vividness and poetics to the imagery — swarms of butterflies, sparkling fireflies, the cry of a jaguar in the night, the smell of gardenias, or the impression that the fruits on the mango tree are decapitated heads. But any values or magic assigned to the nature imagery are provided by Julie. She experiences El Salvador as magical (until everything goes to hell). Continue reading “Weekend (Re)Visitor: Salvador (again)”

Weekend (Re)Visitor: Salvador by Margaret Young

I am 50 pages into a re-reading of Margaret Blair Young‘s second novel Salvador (Aspen Books, 1992). I first read it in the early part of this decade and captivated by her teeming prose, pseudo-elements of magic realism (more on that later, hopefully), and use of humor. It all rushed back with the first page.

Let me give you an example of the achingly beautiful prose:

“Salto Blanco” is a hundred-foot waterfall that cascades into steaming craters. You hike up a mountain, then descend a ravine that rivals the Grand Canyon. Half way down, you hear the crackle of the waterfall and see the craters’ steam rising as during creation. Closer, and you see “Blanco” foaming over the cliffs like milk; leaves and moss glistening under it; steam rising from the craters, mixing with its pray. You are descending into an inferno made lovely. Iridescent blue butterflies the size of a child’s hand are hovering everywhere. There are purple-veined green orchids, hibiscus, coconut palms. There are people inside the craters, like something out of Dante. But this is their bath, not their punishment. They know which pitcs scald, and they add cold well-water to the safest ones. They are washing themselves in perfectly warm sulphur water, jumping around happily like brown frogs.

The novel is about Julie, a recently divorced Mormon woman in her early twenties who travels with her (excommunicated, Vietnam vet) dad and (kooky, hippy-like) mom to visit her mom’s brother and her dad’s former mission companion in El Salvador. Uncle Johnny has married a local beauty queen and set up a farm and a bit of a commune to help out (and continue preaching the gospel) to the locals. Other than one early, horrific incident, I’m not yet to that part of the novel where things go seriously wrong and some serious stuff comes out. And to be honest, I don’t quite remember the particulars — just that it’s coming. And I’m thinking that this time I need to dig in deeper to what’s going on, with the language, the use of the materials, the Mormonism, the linkages to faithful realism.

I don’t think Aspen publishes literary fiction anymore. And Young would go on to publish just one more novel in the faithful realism mode — Heresies of Nature. Most of her writing time since the mid ’90s has gone to her work with Darius Grey (including the historical fiction series Standing on the Promises) and blogging and short work. All excellent work that Margaret has felt called to do. But so far my revisiting of Salvador has made me wish for more of the quirky, well-crafted, achingly beautfiul but also funny woman’s voice in faithful realism. It’s been a strange exercise in nostalgia, rediscovery and luxuriating in good writing so far. A flashback to when the field of Mormon literary fiction seemed to hold so much promise. I think we’re in a pretty good place at the moment. But rereading Salvador is a reminder that the trajectory hasn’t been quite what I (and perhaps others) thought it would be. The irony, of course, is that I’m talking about a time a decade after the novel was published. I wonder how those who were ensconced in the community in 1992 feel now.

Weekend (Re)Visitor: “Family History”

With this post Weekend (Re)Visitor joins  Short Story Friday and as one of AMV’s Friday features. It involves one of the co-bloggers revisiting a work of Mormon narrative art that he or she has consumed, reviewed or commented upon in the past and saying something about that experience. Or it involves one of us picking up a work that’s new to us, but which we have read/heard about and developed certain attitudes about. Because of the nature of this feature, it will usually contain spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

I’ve been thinking about Todd Robert Petersen’s novella “Family History” (from his short story collecton Long After Dark) for the past couple of weeks. Part of the reason is that his novel Rift was recently published, but it’s also because I wanted to kick of Weekend (Re)Visitor with something that I could read in a day, but wasn’t a short story.  There’s also that I didn’t write much about it when I reviewed the collection back in 2007.

Here’s my one sentence assessment after the re-read: it’s more audacious, worse speculative fiction, and both more complicated and close to home literature than I had remembered. It also remains, as far as I know, the first and most direct Mormon fiction response to the events of Sept. 11. And I like it very much for all of those qualities while at the same time I’m not sure how well I could defend it strictly on the grounds of modern American literary criticism. It is a wonderful Mormon hybrid that would be much less of interest to non-Mormon readers than the stories in the collection (all of which would not seem out of place in a literary journal — and indeed some of them were printed in literary journals, although mainly in Mormon ones). Continue reading “Weekend (Re)Visitor: “Family History””