Well-laid but sometimes uneven steps toward understanding conflicted believers.

THE CIRCUMCISION OF GOD

Circumventing the paragons espoused by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Townsend (Marginal Mormons, 2012, etc.) returns with a collection of short stories that consider the imperfect, silenced majority of Mormons, who may in fact be its best hope.

Beyond an enigmatic cadre often in the national spotlight, there are regular Mormons; they’re anything but easy to define, but Townsend portrays the less publicized lives they lead. In “The Removal of Debra,” college student Gary receives important advice from his ailing mother, who, after receiving a terminal diagnosis, has been consumed by regret. To God’s own glorification, she implores Gary, pursue authenticity over obedience. “An Igneous Gravestone” also champions instinctual morality over doctrinal conformity, as its protagonist dares to defy his tyrannical mother in the name of preserving a healthy family. “Indian Giver” confronts the church’s ingrained racism: Steve Bitterwater responds to his wife’s race-based acrimony with an inspired request—he wants a gift back. Such tales, the gems of this collection, demystify Mormonism and humanize its sometimes-maligned adherents. Townsend’s characters wrestle with serious questions of faith, but they’re also hearteningly ordinary. They struggle with eating disorders, sexual orientation, questions of virtue and vice, and with their prescribed gender roles. Those unable to comply with the demands of the church often find themselves worrying ad nauseam over the states of their souls, yet the reader is made to recognize the implicit honor in regretful defiance. Not all of Townsend’s stories hit such high notes. Miranda, the capricious and neurotic husband-hunter who appears in three of these narratives, seems burdened less by church expectations than by immaturity. Her recurrence becomes almost disruptive, as does the fact that the vast majority of these tales close with characters either smiling or crying. In “The Deserter,” the impetus behind a young girl’s epiphany strains credulity, and “Homework for Hitler,” otherwise one of the collection’s more magnetic offerings, is undermined by its needlessly provocative moniker. Nonetheless, the strongest moments here leave readers regretting the church’s willingness to marginalize those who best exemplify its ideals: those who love fiercely despite all obstacles, who brave challenges at great personal risk and who always choose the hard, higher road.

Well-laid but sometimes uneven steps toward understanding conflicted believers.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2009

ISBN: 978-1609100520

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2012

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

THE RAVAGED

This debut novel from Walking Dead actor Reedus follows three thematically connected yet narratively unrelated people as they journey to find themselves.

Hunter, a heavily tatted Iraq War vet and self-proclaimed gearhead, attacks his boss at the bike shop after catching him kicking a dog. “Hunter was old school,” the narrator says, rough-hewn but with strong moral fiber and a heart of gold. After learning his father died in a “mysterious house fire” in California, Hunter hops on his Buell S1 motorcycle alongside his buddies Nugget and Itch for a cross-country haul to execute the will. Meanwhile, a wealthy 65-year-old executive named Jack is mugged while traveling aimlessly through South America, neither the first nor the last of his hardships. Jack abandoned his cushy, bloodless office lifestyle after his dying mother told him to “run and never look back,” words he continuously labors to unpack. Finally, Anne, an abused teenage girl in Tennessee, steals her father’s savings and .38 revolver and runs away from home, clobbering her brother upside the head with a cast-iron skillet when he tries to stop her. She connects with her friend Trot, and they join a community of train-hoppers. Co-written by Bill, the story reads like a pastiche of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the latter of which is name-dropped as “great” by multiple characters. Though occasionally hitting some beautiful imagery of the American heartland, Reedus falls victim to implausible dialogue—“Fabiola, you are reading me like a stock report,” Jack says—and overcooked language: “flesh the color of a high-dollar medium-roast coffee bean.” Frequently wordy summaries do little to develop the thinly sketched characters; we know nearly as much about them on Page 25 as on Page 250.

A curious fetishization of outsiders, outlaws, and the down-and-out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-09-416680-3

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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