An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Stephen Carter’s recent Sunstone editorial and Annette Lyon’s recent blog at Dawning of a Brighter Day both express optimism that an audience for realistic Mormon fiction is developing. I hope they’re right, but I suspect it’s mostly wishful thinking. I spoke with a book editor from a conservative Mormon publisher recently. She said their readers are Mormon women who want escapism from their lives of kids, cooking, cleaning, church callings, and empty checking accounts. They choose to read either YA fiction or romances involving a 24-year-old LDS girl meeting her eternal companion.

So I wonder, are Mormon women’s lives more stressful than those of other women? Maybe not, but I do suspect my neighbor—struggling with house repairs, kids, and yard-work while her husband watches TV and yells for quiet—wouldn’t reject an offer to trade her eternal companion for an adoring admirer with pointy teeth and a lust for virgin throats.  Maybe a realistic novel about a wife dealing with a less-than-perfect, but active-Mormon husband would give this neighbor useful insights for living with her prince who’s turned into a frog. Stephanie Meyers doesn’t seem to benefit my neighbor for more than a brief period of escape or possibly daydreams about “If I knew then what I know now.”

Is it unhealthy for a grown woman to be stuck in a high school mind-set? Is it living in the past? And are  romances for women like porn for men—a way of comparing the spouse with an unrealistic model? I don’t know. Probably neither YA novels nor romances are particularly harmful, but I doubt they do much to provide greater understanding of the human condition and possibilities for a fulfilling life.

I hope the editor I spoke with is wrong and Stephen Carter and Annette Lyons are right. I hope Mormon readers will try realistic Mormon fiction.  Some really good authors are out there. But I’m not holding my breath for any of them to sell 10,000 copies.

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Comments on: "High School Romance for Tired Housewives" (6)

  1. olesha said:

    I think people still read for an old-fashion reason: story. Good story. I loved Under the Banner of Heaven. Oh, that wasn’t fiction.

    When I sat in my car waiting for my husband to come out of the air terminal, I fantasized about the men who filed out ahead of him, some in suits, others in ballcaps, some with classy bags, others with beat-up carry-ons, some with pot bellies, others buff in kaki Dockers and polos.

    I asked myself, if I could choose any one of them as my husband, the man I awaited, who would it be?

  2. charlene said:

    When I was in my tired housewife stage, monthly book group was a life saver. I think it was a unique group of women, but the opportunity to let our minds work hard and read some intense stuff was terrific. There was occasional fluff, but certainly not a steady diet.

    Expecting literature to give you “useful insights for living with her prince who’s turned into a frog” is a tall order. What goes into your head is for your growth and benefit, not to help you change someone else. You make your choices-you deal with the consequences.

    You mentioned the danger of a light-weight diet of literary junk food; it, “doesn’t seem to benefit my neighbor for more than a brief period of escape or possibly daydreams about ‘If I knew then what I know now.'” Throughout our lives, we all go through multiple cycles of stagnation, growth, regression and “if I knew then what I know now.” Seldom are they permanent or permanently damaging; even when one wallows in the “high school mind-set.”

    One trouble with reading more complex or deep material is that it’s tough to do it alone. You need someone to discuss it with. In order for Mormon readers to “try realistic Mormon fiction,” they have to know that it’s available. So keep the channels open with your neighbor. Share back and forth what each is reading. Just be there when she’s ready to experiment with something more nourishing.

    • Charlene,

      My comment “useful insights for living with her prince who’s turned into a frog” did refer to the wife learning how to live with her imperfect husband, not how to change him. The only person we can change is ourself.
      I agree that book groups can be helpful when reading more challenging literature. By its nature, reading is generally a solitary occupation. It’s great to talk to someone else reading the same book.

  3. In general the women’s reading group in our neighborhood was reading adolescent fiction and poor LDS fiction writers. However, I did join the group and after two months of disappointing reads put in my “2 cents worth.” The last two months we read better fiction about women closer to our age who took charge of their lives. Not Mormon writers but certainly better reading than most of what had previously been read.

    • Good for you!!! You’ve made a contribution to expanding the minds of the members of your book group. Did you know the Utah Humanities Council will provide up to 15 copies of a book for book groups for $25? They have hundreds of titles you can access online.

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