Townsend writes gorgeous, intimate tales from the edges of one of the fastest-growing religions in the world.
The best thing you can say about Townsend’s collection of short stories is that, after reading it, you can’t tell if Townsend is a Mormon. While his many touching vignettes draw deeply from Mormon mythology, history, spirituality and culture, his book is neither a gaudy act of proselytism nor angry protest literature from an ex-believer. Like all good fiction, his stories are simply about the joys, the hopes and the sorrows of people—and here, many of those people just happen to be Mormons. Townsend's status as a Mormon could be best described as a gay ex-Mormon who still associates himself with the traditions of his youth. The author reflects on his complicated faith by creating characters that, like him, dwell on the borders of the Mormon community—a nonbeliever stuck in purgatory, a young Mormon ready to shirk his missionary responsibilities, a gay contemporary of Brigham Young uneasy about taking a fourth wife. Townsend’s genre-bending tales span geography, space and time, taking us from 19th-century Salt Lake City to late-21st century Kansas City, or from “Spirit Prison” to the U.N. where an alien has just arrived to explain that God does really live on the planet Kolob. For a lesser writer, this challenging range would press fiction into absurdity. But for Townsend—who has a bit of Philip K. Dick’s blood flowing through his veins—it only adds to the richness and variety of his developing oeuvre. This range notwithstanding, Townsend knows the value of mining the single moment, and many of his best stories feature lush descriptions of a simple meal or an intimate conversation. Further, he has a flair for writing believable dialogue that reveals, among other things, that the gay Mormon experience is simply another aspect of the human experience.
Mormon literature with a universal appeal.