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The Mormon Victorian Society

Funny, shrewd and finely wrought dissections of the awkward contradictions—and surprising harmonies—between conscience and...

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Gay Mormons struggle to reconcile their hearts with their faith in these slyly revealing stories.

Townsend’s characters wrestle with the normal neuroses of modern life as distinctively shaped by the Church of Latter-day Saints. In the title story, two young men find that their nostalgia for Victorian culture—sadomasochistic fetishes and a cult of virginity—resonates with their Mormonism. In “Latter-Day Sinners,” a New Orleans man caught in Hurricane Katrina wonders if God’s wrath has been provoked by his homosexual inclinations. The proper Mormon husband of “The Third Part of the Trees” finds his patriarchal authority challenged when his anxiety over global warming prompts him to uproot his family. Elsewhere, the dutiful Mormon angel in “Kolob Abbey” discovers that repressed homosexuality haunts even the most exalted realms of the celestial afterlife. “Julie and Cowboy” follows a closeted student determined to suppress his urges—until his obligatory Mormon fellowship service leads him into temptation in the form of a seductive wastrel. Several stories explore the conflicted impulses of gay Mormons who’ve left the church but find that, after escaping its stifling constraints, they miss the close-knit community it nurtured. Whereas Townsend’s previous story collections charted the darker margins of mainstream Mormon life, in his latest, the tone is more muted, the sexual transgressions less lurid, his characters’ discontent quieter and more reflective, yet it’s no less absorbing. Suffused with talk of politics, these stories register the new openness and confidence of gay life in the age of same-sex marriage; many are set in the tolerant milieu of Seattle, where middle-aged characters lead comfortable, dull lives, their ostracism from the church just another muffled ache amid ordinary estrangements and deflations. What hasn’t changed is Townsend’s wry, conversational prose, his subtle evocations of character and social dynamics, and his deadpan humor. His warm empathy still glows in this intimate yet cleareyed engagement with Mormon theology and folkways.

Funny, shrewd and finely wrought dissections of the awkward contradictions—and surprising harmonies—between conscience and desire.

Pub Date: March 15, 2013

ISBN: 978-1626463417

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Booklocker.com, Inc.

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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