Mormon spirits are willing but the flesh is weak, wayward and kinky in these edgy stories.
The bans on alcohol, coffee and swearing are hard enough, but it’s the Latter Day Saints’ strait-laced sexual strictures that have Townsend’s Mormon characters tied up in knots. Their supreme commandment is to enter a sanctified marriage that will last through eternity and perhaps make them rulers of their own planet, but any pleasure taken outside or before wedlock can get them “dis-fellowshipped” from their close-knit, nosy congregations. From this crucible of inflamed but repressed desire flows a riot of furtive evasion and exuberant transgression. A woman who has sexual fantasies about Jesus—it’s ok, she reasons, because she intends to marry Him in the afterlife—panics when her bishop insists that she find a mortal husband. A studly missionary gets kidnapped and finds himself enjoying a situation that would be profoundly sinful if he weren’t tied up and forced into it. A drag queen hopes that her volunteer work will atone for her shoplifting sprees. A sexually frustrated wife decides that the only way she can save her marriage is by prostituting herself. In the most shocking story, a church pillar with a secret panty fetish takes drastic, biblical measures against his son’s pathologies. Townsend writes with a deadpan wit and a supple, realistic prose that’s full of psychological empathy, but he doesn’t let his characters off the hook. He places them in stark predicaments and observes their legalistic writhing as they try to square their hypocrisies and perversions with their religious beliefs; those who find redemption—a man who accepts his long lost son’s homosexuality, a married white woman who gives birth to her black lover’s child—do so by softening Church dogmas with sexual humanism. Townsend’s depiction of Mormon life is unbalanced and sometimes over-the-top, but still affectionate and generous; he takes his protagonists’ moral struggles seriously and invests them with real emotional resonance.
Lurid but humane tales of faith and its carnal discontents.