Apparently this summer there was a mini-brouhaha over the question of whether “The Great Mormon Novel” would ever be written, and if so who would write it. A non-Mormon writer named Wallace Stegner said he thought it hadn’t been written yet, and it would probably be written by someone who’d left the Church and then come halfway back to it.
I came across that mini-brouhaha in the course of looking for examples of literary novels about people leaving the Mormon Church. At one level, that’s what my current book in progress is about, and I thought it might be helpful, or at least interesting, to see what else has been done in that vein. It’s a drag to spend a lot of time writing a book that someone else has already written, so it’d be good to make sure I wasn’t doing that. I’ve looked high and low and haven’t turned up much.
A number of blogs, as well as Stegner himself, mentioned The Backslider, by Levi Peterson. I keep seeing it called things like “an unjustly neglected regional Western masterpiece.” I have it on order from Amazon and am looking forward to reading it, but I hear that it ends with the main character repenting and finding God, i.e. staying Mormon, like in The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, which is not what I’m looking for. What I’d really like to find is something like the (ex)Mormon equivalent of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus wrestling with Catholicism, lust, and philosophy, chasing truth, beauty, freedom, and art.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to write the ex-Mormon equivalent of Portrait of the Artist, because good as it was—gods of literature forgive me for this—I thought that book also had a lot of faults, both artistic faults and personality faults. Dialogue often confusing. Too much local Irish politics that doesn’t carry well into future times and other countries. Too much untranslated Latin. Too many boring parts left in. You could probably have shortened that sermon. And so on. And as for personality faults, you get glimpses every now and then through the fictional veil into the author’s psyche, and you have the sense he’s this sullen rebellious teen who’s not that great at interpersonal relationships, has a bit of a superiority complex, and needs to get a sense of humor. But I’d definitely want to read such a book, if it existed.
I’m surprised it doesn’t exist. You’d think it would be an obvious thing that someone out there would have wanted to write. I’m still wondering if maybe I’ve overlooked it—if any of you out there on the internet knows anything about it, please tell me. It seems like Mormons (and ex-Mormons?) write sci fi (Orson Scott Card of course, of whose books I’ve read maybe four or so and was a bit creeped out by that one where the girl has sex with a big snakey monster-type thing), vampire books (Stephenie Meyer), YA fiction involving ninjas (Natalie Whipple, over there on my blog roll), mysteries, and so on. They write inspirational books, and they write books that aspire to be literary, in which the characters stay Mormon. But they don’t write that many books about leaving the Church, at least not that see the light of publication and that have serious literary aspirations. I did come across a novel, Exmormon, by C.L. Hanson, that was published serially on a blog and then self-published via Lulu.com, and I’ve started reading that. [SPOILER ALERT: For those of you who are not faint-hearted about such things, there is a very funny bit about teenage Mormons having sex in an empty baptismal font.]
As for my book in progress, it would be nice if it turned out to be The Great Exmormon Novel, but mostly what I’m aiming for at the moment is for it to be done soon and for it not to suck. That’s my big New Year’s Resolution, I guess—to write A Nonsucky Literary Exmormon Novel.