Weird admission: I grew up around every kind of Mormon kid you can think of, and yet I have rarely thought about how sex and Mormonism (don't) mix.

And when I say "every kind of Mormon kid you can think of," I am indeed talking about, well, Bountiful.

So, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance -- as a memoir -- could not possibly be more of a departure from my idea of what it means to be Mormon than you could get. Here we have a young woman -- a year younger than me, actually, and I'm trying not to think about what that says about what I've accomplished so far in my life -- struggling to be a good Christian and a modern woman. Perhaps, on the surface, that leads one to imagine a story of 1. a series of bad dates, 2. leaving her religion behind altogether or 3. finding the man of her dreams and living happily ever after.

But memoirs are real life, and Elna Baker brings so much more than you might imagine to the page. Here is a Mormon girl with great (often hilarious) parents, who wants desperately to lose weight, who corners herself into "happily ever after" and then has to figure out what that might actually mean.

It's brilliant. Laugh-out-loud, close-your-eyes-because-it's-too-awkward, learn-about-Mormon-underwear, remember-your-first-kiss, remember-your-first-heartbreak, remember-who-you-are brilliant.

Bizarre example -- perhaps not the best, other parts of her story are so much better, but I don't want to ruin them for you, and this illustrates Baker's unique neuroses --

"As I sat across from Jeff, I could think only of the things that would happen to me if I did something impure like let a man touch my boobs. My body was a temple and I needed to respect it as such and not defile it. The things I did with other people before I was married would limit my ability to completely love my partner because it introduced an element of comparison. Sexual acts were supposed to make me feel unholy in the presence of God, like my light had been diminished. I thought about what Mormons call the 'eternal consequences' of your actions: Sexual immorality is the second worst sin, the first being murder...." (p. 63)

You might -- if it doesn't make you throw up in your mouth -- call it a "coming of age" memoir.

And on that note, I'm going to mention I finished reading The Stone Angel a couple days ago.

I kind of can't believe I only discovered Margaret Laurence this year. Like, can I really have called myself a book snob before 2009 if I hadn't read Laurence? I love her. I love that reading her work makes me feel more connected to Canadian history, and specifically a younger kind of Canadian history that starts west of southern Ontario. I am charmed and made uncomfortable by her characters, their loves, their mistakes, and their never-resting unhappiness with their lives. I loved The Diviners, I liked A Jest of God, and I fricking can't believe I lived before meeting Hagar Shipley. Could there be a character more self-aware, regretful and watchful, who also manages to know absolutely nothing of herself? I actually laughed out loud in one spot of the book, when she is drinking with a stranger in an abandoned fish warehouse; he tells her of his wife, she says, "Well, the poor thing.... Fancy spending your whole life worrying what people were thinking. She must have had a rather weak character." (p. 227)

Ah, Margaret Laurence -- how you winked at your readers.

1 comment:

JK said...

Mormon Singles Dance looks like a great read. It was the Mormon underwear that sold it, really. Thanks!