The AML has had an online discussion about the expectations Mormon readers have for Mormon literature. One idea put forth is that a fair amount of hypocrisy is involved since Mormons boycott LDS fiction with more than a G-rating while devouring PG-13 movies and equivalent non-LDS lit. And some of my experience verifies this notion. Our ward RS book group is reading Charlotte’s Web this month. “It’s just too hard to find adult books that aren’t full of ‘inappropriate’ things.” Inappropriate being code for sex. While our official RS book group would not select any of the Twilight series with their fascinating sexual tension for a group read, I know most of the desperate housewives in our ward devoured every Twilight book hot off the press. Still, I don’t think the division of appropriate and inappropriate books is really about sex or is a form of hypocrisy.
Before I morphed into my present incarnation, I was as divided about literature as any secret Mormon Twilight fan. I enjoyed realistic novels from non-Mormons –Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, Paule Marshall and Marge Piercy. But in the back of my mind, I knew the characters in these books would have dealt with their situations much better if they’d only had the gospel to guide them. Same thing with movies. If Meg Ryan had only been a good LDS girl, she wouldn’t have leaped from under the covers with the wrong guy and into Tom Hanks’ arms. The heroine would have kept her virtue, converted the wayward boy friend, and none of the bad stuff would have happened.
The fact that I’d never seen such a wondrous scenario in real life didn’t keep me from believing that in a fictional world where characters truly lived the gospel such a happy ending was possible. And that was why I didn’t read Mormon literature. Conflict couldn’t exist in a Zion world, so Mormon authors had nothing to write about. And cheesy popular LDS fiction proved that.
The first serious Mormon novel I read was Maureen Whipple’s The Giant Joshua. I was captivated by Clary, of course, but when I got to the part where her 60-year-old husband abandoned her and his first wife to take a new, young wife and head for his calling as Logan Temple president, I was outraged at Whipple. The church would never have called a man that calloused as temple president. And I also objected to the portrayal of Erastus Snow wondering about the purpose of life. An apostle would never express doubts about the gospel plan.
Age and experience have changed my world paradigm and my faith that the gospel can perfect human beings. But I understand that for people in my previous mind-set, realistic Mormon fiction is unappealing, even heretic. And no, I don’t have a solution to the resistance of Mormons to realistic Mormon fiction. Who am I to undermine the security of people who believe the gospel can solve every problem?