on the cover:
There is a favorite early Mormon hymn, “In Our Lovely Deseret,” that urges Latter-day Saints to be “polite,” “affable and kind,” and “treat everybody right.” In this new anthology of short stories of the same title, good manners and proper etiquette are no longer even considered virtuous in many situations.
Circumstances change. For post-modern Mormons, the cultural landscape appears much different than it would have been for our pioneer forebears. As complexity adds to the confusion, good people sometimes falter. Addressing these troublesome issues are some of the most insightful LDS writers. Contributors include Phyllis Barber, Ron Carlson, Brian Evenson, Walter Kirn, Pauline Mortensen, Levi S. Peterson, and Dorothy Solomon. These authors, together with thirteen others, conjure engaging, conflicted characters—survivors, whose stories are sometimes horrific, sometimes cathartic, but always mesmerizing.
about the editor:
Robert Raleigh is a technical writer in the computer industry. He is the former publisher and co-editor of Poor Roberts Almanac (a literary magazine) and has published in Tar River Quarterly and elsewhere. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, in Utah Valley—the heart of Deseret.
In Our Lovely Deseret
Edited by Robert Raleigh
Salt Lake City
The illustration on the front cover is a collaboration of Robert Raleigh and the Galbraith Group.
∞ In Our Lovely Deseret was printed on acid-free paper and was composed, printed, and bound in the United States.
© 1998 Signature Books, Inc. Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books, Inc.
Editor’s Preface [see below]
01 - Staying Away from Blake
02 - The Six-Buck Fortune
03 - Durfey Renews an Interest in Rodeo
04 - Almond Milk
05 - My Father Waltzing Home
06 - Throwing the Bread
07 - Beyond a Certain Point
08 - Fidelity
09 - Pure
10 - The Prophets
11 - Something in the Shape of Something
12 - Sleuths
13 - Not Quite Peru
14 - Badlands
15 - Spirit Babies
16 - Red Moon Rising
17 - Love, Mormon Style
18 - Brainwaves
19 - Twinkie
20 - Mormon Eden
[p.vii]When you see the word “Mormon” on the cover of a collection of short stories, you have some expectations, however vague. Mormons pride themselves on their strong sense of morals and community. The church itself (the official organization, called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) prefers to show mostly its heart to the outside world, and if you watch television or listen to the radio, you have probably been exposed to this utopian vision of strong, wise parents, piloting their children through the choppy waters of the modern world.
Like any religious culture, however, there are those who live near that warm, beating heart, those who reside in the vicinity of the brain, and those who live somewhere farther out on the periphery, closer to the hard, sharp edges of the world. This collection of stories is mostly about people who live somewhere nearer the periphery of the “body of Christ”—people who can’t or won’t quite fit into a culture where fitting is one of the highest values.
Mormons face a very different world today from the one their religious forebears faced in the nineteenth century. When the LDS church started, it was considered a radical sect, and faced terrible persecution for its differences from mainstream Christianity, such as polygamy. The move to Utah allowed the culture to survive and thrive by being able to establish a unique religious, political, and social environment.
[p.viii]Since then, however, Mormonism has spread widely into the world, and the world continues to penetrate the “Mormon Belt” (centered in Utah, but stretching along the Rockies from Canada to Mexico). As Mormon culture has more and more contact with the “world,” Mormons have struggled to maintain their identity while also finding their place in a larger community. This struggle is arguably one of the strongest forces shaping the LDS church today, and along with it the direction of contemporary Mormon arts and letters.
As with most societies that have strong ideologies and centralized leadership, Mormons have an uneasy relationship with their arts and their artists. They want to show off their talents, to let their light shine for the world, so they value those among them who have vision and talent. They want that vision to be clear and unified, however. When artists present visions that are dark or unclear, many Mormons—especially those in positions of power—become uncomfortable or even hostile.
There is a tendency within Mormon culture to see the world in terms of good and evil only. You are either for or against the Kingdom of God. Within Mormon culture, art can entertain, but it should also instruct and enlighten. There is a growing body of work, however, that doesn’t fit these categories or purposes. It is not for or against, but about. It doesn’t exactly instruct, though it often provokes feeling and thought.
One of the most striking things to me about contemporary Mormon fiction, and perhaps most of all what I hope to showcase here, is its incredible diversity. There are many ways of telling a story, and this group of stories certainly demonstrates that point.
These are stories about men and women negotiating love: Levi Peterson’s story of a man coming to terms with an old flame; Joanna Brooks’s tale about a young couple trying to heal their differences in the South Dakota badlands; and Thomas Burgess’s story of a young English teacher trying to figure out how to love a Hong Kong prostitute without drowning in her world. There are coming-of-age tales, such as Dawn Houghton’s humorous tale of a girl being baptized for Marilyn Monroe; Ron Carlson’s story about a boy’s crush on his Mormon friend’s mother; Johnny Townsend’s tale of a gay Mormon missionary in Italy; and Jan Stucki’s story about a young girl struggling to avoid the painful issues of her parents’ separation. Some of the stories are funny, such as Bob Bringhurst’s story about a Brigham Young Univer-[p.ix]sity student’s struggle to stay chaste; Pauline Mortensen’s comedy of manners at a poolside party; and the black comedy of Brian Evenson’s narrative of religious obsession and madness. Others are more serious, such as Lee Ann Mortensen’s tale of a body-building daughter of Mormon missionaries struggling to find her identity; Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner’s poignant story of a father and his son; and Dorothy Solomon’s story about growing up in a Mormon community.
Mormonism may be a jumping off point (for an ever-growing number of people around the world), but ultimately these are stories about living, with its infinite variety of experiences and attendant emotions. I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I have.