I had planned on reading Stephen Carter’s What of the Night? on the side, as I worked to plow through other books I wanted to get through. It was a book of personal essays, so it would be easy I thought to read one or two a day, while focusing on the full length fiction on my new pile of books I wanted to read and review. About a day and a half after starting the first essay I had read the entire book in two sittings. Granted, the book is a slim one (168 pages), but the book had caught me off guard with how entrancing and poignant it truly was.
Carter’s voice is intimate–exposed. He speaks of faith and doubt and spirit and family and struggle with the disarming honesty that causes you to lay your judgmental attitudes aside and simply listen to his complex thoughts and simple heart. His tales include his time with Eugene England before he died, the disappointments and triumphs of a Mormon mission, a tutorial through clippings with his grandmother, bright Alaskan lights and dark Alaskan doubts, a black sheep brother who showed him the way, the weight of priesthood, and the liberation of the Spirit. Each essay was carefully crafted like a sonnet or a piece of excellent cinema. Ponderous, vulnerable, honest, loving, good, afraid. Many of the things we carefully sidestep, Carter plunged into and felt his way through it, even when it became painful. It’s a brave, beautiful piece of work. Personal essays aren’t my typical reading, but this particular collection had me enraptured and made me want to pick up some more of Eugene England just to get some more of that style of intimacy and quietly spoken lives.
Now I do have a beef with one of the essays, “The Departed.” I started writing it about in this review, but then realized how disproportionate my discussion about that one essay was becoming in regards to the context of the whole book. So if you’re interested in reading my comments about Richard Dutcher and Eugene England in context of What of the Night? go to this other post here.
As it is, though, I wanted this short review to highlight how truly moved I was by Carter’s work. I recommend it enthusiastically without hesitation. Those who read it will be blessed by an insightful mind, a compassionate soul, and a troubled heart.
One of my favorite personal essays in Stephen Carter’s book What of the Night? is “A Brief Tour of England: My Year With Gene.” It told Carter’s perspective of that mistreated hero of Mormon literature, Eugene England, and his last days on earth. Carter was England’s assistant at UVSC (now UVU) and in the essay he paints a picture of a tireless, slightly eccentric, and loving man who pushed the cause of Mormon Letters (and Mormonism itself) with his entire will and force of character. After running into problems at BYU and being chastised by certain General Authorities, you could feel England’s broken heart when Carter recorded his words, “You don’t know what it is like to hear what I heard from men I believe have authority from God” (p. 18). Knowing England’s background and how he was forced out of BYU, it was all the more powerful then, after that experience, England stated firmly his continued commitment to the Gospel, “Some people don’t believe me when I say this, but I have spent my entire life being an apologist for the Gospel, because I know it’s true”(p. 23).
However, I couldn’t help juxtaposing that beautiful essay about Eugene England with the one Carter wrote about Richard Dutcher, “The Departed.” I still really like Dutcher, and think his Mormon films are some of the best in the genre. He’s a man who I have met briefly and still very much admire. So I’m going to try hard not to judge Dutcher too harshly in my following comments, as I believe he still has a valuable voice and I believe, even after he left the Church, his legacy for Mormon Cinema and the Mormon Arts is an extremely positive one. But I have to say my peace about Carter’s approach to Dutcher’s moment in the sun in the history of Mormon Letters. Continue reading “Eugene England and Richard Dutcher in Stephen Carter’s _What of the Night?_”
Stephen Carter’s 2010 essay collection, as you might expect, provides plenty stellar examples of the form, what with the personal essay being The Great Mormon Form (or so I hear) and Stephen Carter being Stephen @#(*&$^ Carter.
Before taking the helm at Sunstone, Carter racked up a few Eugene England Memorial Personal Essay Competition notations, had been cited in Best American Spiritual Writing, and scattered his work through the major Mormon literary rags. He’s Stephen Carter, folks!
(Obligatory note: Although I paid for my copy, I still may be biased as Stephen is a friend of mine. Who knows.) (In similar news, see Wm’s earlier review.)
First, as an object (this is not relevant if you’re planning on saving money and ). The cover has really grown on me since the book was first released. The type is huge making this 168-page book an even quicker read.
But the words, the words. What about the actual words? Continue reading “What of the Night?“