In these sympathetic but subversive stories, Mormons have their faith tested in ways both subtle and severe.
Most of the characters in Townsend’s latest take on the less-holy side of Latter-day sainthood are devout Mormons coping with realities—and unrealities—that cast their religious strictures in an unsettling light. At the more lurid end of the spectrum, a family finds that their LDS lifestyle uniquely equips them to survive a zombie apocalypse; a reporter hypes the exploits of a masked crime fighter dressed in Mormon Temple robes; a bride is struck down at the altar by a mysterious serial killer; and a straight-laced man has a thrilling sadomasochistic encounter in a dentist’s chair. Other tales feature quieter but still nerve-wracking intrusions: a husband loses his wife to an auto accident and reflects on the forbidden desires roiling their relationship; a family breadwinner struggling with bills risks divine retribution by cutting back on his tithing; the contrast between his boring existence and fantasies of heaven makes a middle-aged man long for death. The pre-eminent documenter of alternative Mormon lifestyles, Townsend (The Mormon Victorian Society, 2013, etc.) continues exploring the tension between religious belonging and repression; his characters are steeped in the highly organized, tightknit social life and elaborate rituals and theology of the church, but they chafe against its constraints on expression and sexuality. His normally understated critique of Mormon sexism, homophobia and reaction occasionally grows strident: In one schematic tale, a terrorist bombing prods a right-wing Mormon into patly repudiating his conservative principles, while in the title story, a woman’s questioning of church doctrine—“Wasn’t sugarcoating Church history just a way of making it more palatable?”—slips into soapboxing. Still, Townsend has a deep understanding of his characters, and his limpid prose, dry humor and well-grounded (occasionally magical) realism make their spiritual conundrums both compelling and entertaining.
Another of Townsend’s critical but affectionate and absorbing tours of Mormon discontent.