On the cover:
Douglas H. Thayer is appreciated by many as the foremost writer of short fiction in the Mormon Church. The ten stories of this collection reveal the skill and fresh vision for which Thayer is noted; they provide the perfect framework for his insights into contemporary experience, insights revealed in subtle characterizations, vivid imagery, and unique symbolism. The plots are not linear arrangements of actions, they are carefully woven fabrics of detail.
The stories are set in Provo, perhaps Utah’s most Mormon city. The characters are decent people, comfortable in their moderate affluence and in the unexamined assurances of their faith. Then for each character Thayer creates a disturbance—the comfort is threatened, the faith challenged.
In “Second South” and “The Clinic,” two young Mormon soldiers come home, one from the Army of Occupation in Germany, the other from combat in Vietnam; one wiser than when he left home but still uncorrupted, the other emotionally anesthetized by killing—both must find how to live in the imperfect Zion of Utah Valley.
In “The Rabbit Hunt” and “Opening Day,” two more young men confront violence. One leads his Sunday School boys on a jack rabbit hunt that ends in reckless slaughter. The other, a recently returned missionary who has decided that to continue hunting and killing would violate his new spirituality, goes along on the traditional deer hunt so he won’t disappoint his father, and confronts forces he hadn’t anticipated.
In other stories: An eighteen-year-old priest awakes and dresses for the Sunday when he must decide whether he will run from the responsibilities of repentance or will confess to the bishop that his girlfriend is pregnant. A returned missionary, converted to the gospel on his mission, must decide in the moments before his welcome-home talk whether to give his ward members the half-truth he thinks they expect or the whole truth he knows. A father wants to hear the son he has just ordained a priest bear the testimony he hopes will protect the boy from the evils of modern life.
In the final three stories: A successful west-coast dentist returning home to Provo tries to understand how much it has cost him to live his life as an example. A university professor is forced to deal with the untimely death of his closest friend, and with his own mortality. And an accountant has to decide what it means for him if he sells his great-grandfather’s old stone house, the tangible symbol of a whole heritage of courage, labor, and dedicated faith.
Poised on a decisive moment, a story may follow the fractional turnings of a character choosing his way through a crisis. Or it may follow him into the gap between the limitations of his own understanding and the full enlightenment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The result may be devastation; it is more often renewal. But whatever the result, the stories are rich. They demonstrate that the most ordinary experiences of human life can still be the most profound.
about the author: Douglas Thayer grew up in Provo, Utah. In 1946 he quit high school to join the U. S. Army, serving in Germany during the occupation. Eighteen months after his discharge, he returned to Germany as a Mormon missionary. He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1955 with a major in English. He later took a master of arts degree in American literature at Stanford University and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at the University of Iowa.
He has been a clerk-typist, a janitor, a steel worker, a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone National Park, an insurance salesman, a construction laborer, and a driller’s helper. Since 1957 he has taught in the English department at Brigham Young University, where he currently directs the creative writing program. He has won several prizes for his published fiction, and in 1972 he received the Karl G. Maeser Creative Arts Award.
Thayer’s short stories have appeared singly in the Improvement Era, the Ensign, Sunstone, Colorado Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Brigham Young University Studies, and Dialogue. His story “The Turtle’s Smile” was listed in The Best American Short Stories 1971. Under the Cottonwoods and Other Mormon Stories is the first published collection of his work. He has now finished a Mormon novel, to be published by Signature Books, and is completing a collection of short stories set in the Rocky Mountain west.
Active in the Mormon church all of his life, Thayer presently serves as historical clerk in his ward. He is married to Donlu DeWitt, and they have five children—Emmelyn, Paul, James, Katherine, and Stephen.
Under the Cottonwoods and other Mormon stories
Douglas H. Thayer
dedication page: For Donlu
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Thayer, Douglas H 1929-
Under the Cottonwoods and other Mormon stories.
1. Mormons and Mormonism — Fiction. I. Title.
PZ4.T372Un [PS3570.H346] 813′.5’4 77-1210
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 77-1210
© 1977 by Douglas H. Thayer
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.
Printed in the United States of America
First Printing, March 1977
Second Printing, July 1977
Third Printing, November 1983
Book design and illustration by Ron Eddington
Published by Orion Books, a division of Signature Books
P. O. Box 524
Sandy, Utah 84091
The previously published stories in this collection appear by permission:
“The Rabbit Hunt,” Brigham Young University Studies (Winter, 1969).
“Opening Day,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring, 1970).
“Second South,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Winter, 1970).
Testimony.” An earlier version of this story appeared in The Ensign (May, 1971) under the title “The First Sunday.”
“Under the Cottonwoods,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Autumn, 1972).
“The Clinic,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Autumn/Winter, 1973).
Zarahemla.” An earlier version of this story appeared in Brigham Young University Studies (Winter, 1974).
“Greg,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Autumn, 1976).
01 – Second South
02 – Opening Day
03 – The Rabbit Hunt
04 – The Clinic
05 – Elder Thatcher
06 – Greg
07 – Testimony
08 – Under the Cottonwoods
09 – Indian Hills
10 – Zarahemla