Countless fibs, evasions, and hypocrisies buttress the verities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in these slyly subversive stories.
Townsend’s (Gayrabian Nights, 2014, etc.) latest probe of Mormonism’s queer underbelly features upstanding families struggling to hold together strands of church dogma as they fray against reality. In “French Kissing Sister Andrews,” a teenage wiseacre hurls gibes at the anti-sex platitudes of his church youth group. In “A Name and a Blessing,” a father finds himself turning a blind eye to his transsexual son’s scandalous behavior. In “A Hall Monitor for the Celestial Kingdom,” a clueless prig’s refusal to forgive anyone’s transgressions leaves him smugly isolated. In “Lord of the Cul de Sac,” a Mormon couple appeases an irascible neighbor with baked goods, to comically disastrous effect. In “The Three Nephites Drink Eggnog,” a father hires actors to play characters from Scripture as a Christmas Eve rite—and ends up inadvertently exposing the charade, and much else, to his sardonic son. In “Burying the Fig Leaves,” a devout Mormon woman consoles herself that her sister died strong in the faith, despite evidence to the contrary. And in “The Blood Clot,” a woman convinces herself that she has a terminal illness so she can lead a gracious life. As always, Townsend’s subtly realistic prose vividly captures the counterpoint between the ordinariness of daily life and the often boring routines of religious obligation. There’s a self-consciously political note here, with much pondering of up-to-the-minute progressive issues, including the Ferguson riots, and occasional snatches of dialogue that sound like they come from a cultural studies seminar—“My gender is female. It’s only my body that’s male”—instead of a 14-year-old Mormon. Townsend seems eager to battle and caricature religious conservatives—a rancorous introduction castigates traditionalists who write dismissive reviews of his books and compares Mormon zealots to Nazis—and, in “Escape from Zion,” he paints a lurid vision of an America ruled by a Mormon theocracy. Still, especially in his quieter stories about gay Mormons weathering exile from the church, he gets under the skin of his characters to reveal their complexity and conflicts.
Another of Townsend’s shrewd, evocative, wryly humorous, occasionally didactic scenes of Mormonism and its discontents.