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Like the non-fiction of Samuel W. Taylor (The Rocky Mountain Empire, 1978) and others, Bart's novel is a broadside against the modern-day Latter Day Saints: the Mormon Church--which is seen here dangerously expanding into mega-finance and political power. . . while proselytizing everywhere and oppressing its guilt-ridden flock with outmoded strictures. The action covers just four days in Salt Lake City, as newly-installed ""prophet"" Bryce (76, terminally ill) appoints a controversial new ""First Counselor"": icy, secretive tycoon Dana Sloat. Among those especially disturbed by Sloat's ascension: widow Eliza Hastings, the Church's top female official, who finds her quiet attempt to support women's rights being sabotaged; widower Turner Mead, the Church's PR director (Eliza's lover), who is informed of Sloat's visionary, media-blitz plans for Mormonizing all of America; Cora Snow (""Snowballs""), the endearingly tough matriarch of a mindless, druggy show-biz clan modeled on the Osmonds; Sloat's weak son-in-law Tad Hastings (Eliza's son), a secret drinker/adulterer who's the dupe in Sloat's sneaky scheme to buy a media conglomerate; and Hiram Cobb, excommunicated editor (with wife Gussie) of a dissident Mormon paper, who gets hold of some scandalous information on Sloat's ancestry (ties to a notorious 19th-century massacre) and progeny (Sloat's son leads a polygamous splinter cult). The pace is rather slow--as Bart fills in the characters' backgrounds, Mormon history, or (via longwinded dialogue) exposÉ-like material on Brigham Young U., Mormon women, inbreeding, finances, and politicking. And there are only a few slivers of suspense: Hiram is kidnapped by the half-wit henchman of Sloat's cult-chief son, then tarred-and-feathered (fatally), which leads to Sloat's downfall; Eliza finally weds Turner and quits her job (""I do not think it is important that we build a kingdom. . . or absorb vast corporations""). But, throughout, there's an undeniably strong undertow to Bart's caricature of life ""behind the Zion curtain""--complete with ""inappropriate encounters,"" ""Family Home Evenings,"" and hypocrisy galore. So, while this Polemical, exaggerated close-up is sure to enrage Mormons (or anyone sensitive to fact/fiction shiftiness), it does have a sledgehammer singlemindedness which--along with a cast of sympathetic characters--will keep many readers steadily interested.

Pub Date: June 7th, 1981
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster