More on the Great (Ex)Mormon Novel

Large Polygamist Family
Polygamist Family Photo by Stephanie Sinclair

Back in January, I wrote a bit about the question of whether the Great (Ex)Mormon Novel had been or would be written, and what it might look like. And now just recently, Slate has an article by the poetry editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought that explores some similar questions and reviews a possible candidate for the title, Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist.

The book sounds good, but I find it interesting that many Mormonism-themed books that have been floated as contenders deal with Mormonism’s polygamous past rather than its plain vanilla present. American polygamy clearly has a lot of intrinsic novelistic drama to it, and so is a natural subject for fiction (not to mention nonfiction, like Jon Krakauer’s brilliant Under the Banner of Heaven). And clearly, also, this is the aspect of Mormonism that tends to capture the popular imagination, as witnessed by the continuing popularity of HBO’s Big Love and by yesterday’s Doonesbury cartoon. Books like Virginia Sorenson’s The Evening and the Morning, Levi Peterson’s The Backslider, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife, Carol Lynch Williams’s young adult novel The Chosen One, as well as less well known contributions like C.L. Hanson’s Exmormon all deal with polygamy to some degree or another.

The problem with this is that for your average Mormon on the street, especially once you get outside of Utah, polygamy is not a going concern or something you think about very often. At least, it wasn’t for me growing up and during my churchgoing years in Arizona and elsewhere. What I want to know is, where is the “Mormon” novel that isn’t about the freak show that is polygamy? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Well, *modest cough*, come to think of it, I’ve written one. I wonder if anyone will want to read a Mormonism-themed novel in which there is no mention whatever of polygamy …

Anyways, for some interesting discussions of the Slate article on other blogs, see also here and here.

5 thoughts on “More on the Great (Ex)Mormon Novel

  1. It is an interesting phenomenon. Maybe it’s because your average, run-of-the-mill-Mormon is not too different than your average, run-of-the-mill Jew, or average, run-of-the-mill Catholic. Most of us are just that–average and run-of-the-mill.
    : )
    Brady gave an interview on a local radio program that shed some light on why he chose the topic of polygamy. He said he could relate on some level to the lifestyle since he grew up in a large family. The podcast is here if you’re interested:

    Can’t wait to read your novel!

  2. I read Brady Udall’s novel, but don’t have the psyche to enjoy his written world; the world in general is too much with me anyway, and adding on his fictional one exhausted me. But that is a short-coming for a Mormon writer, the desire to simplify, to wrestle only with what seems essential. Although I have four children, and have a good taste of family issues, I stick to the less-is-more principle. Perhaps that’s why I was so taken with E.M. Forster’s book Aspects of the Novel — the “Prophecy” chapter. I knew if I wrote a novel myself it would have to lean that way.
    I really started this comment to say that I gave you the wrong blog address! It’s (not .blog). Sorry. Marylee

  3. May I have the permission to show the top picture on polygamy family at a power point presentation. It will be included in a lecture about family here in the Philippines. My audience are freshman college students. Thank you.

  4. Hi Jose,

    I don’t have any rights to the photo, but I believe under U.S. law “fair use” would make it fine to include as long as you give proper attribution to the photographer, Stephanie Sinclair via National Geographic (if you click on the imagine, it will take you to the original site).

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