What do you do when obeying the commandment to raise a family means kissing all your dreams goodbye and getting locked into a dead-end job for life? And barely keeping your head above water at that? And what if the prophet is leading the church astray? That's when you need a miracle.
C. H. Young is making the best of plodding through the responsibilities of his humble life when all of the sudden he wins the lottery -- Mormon style!!!
If you believe in Mormon doctrine, on some level you you believe this could happen: An angel appears to an undistinguished person and tells him to prepare to be called to lead the church because it's time to restore "the new and everlasting covenant" (polygamy) and the sitting prophet is disobeying the command to do it.
It's every Mormon guy's secret fantasy and every Mormon woman's secret nightmare played out in thrilling detail. If you want to psychoanalyze a whole religion through its darkest dreams, Brother Brigham offers you Mormonism's naked psyche.
As C. H. struggles with accepting his call, the hardest part is dealing with the fact that he wants it -- but doesn't want to want it -- as by luck or divine providence all of the pieces fall neatly into place for him. Finally being able to provide things that are a little bit nicer than the rock-bottom bare necessities for his beloved family is on some level a guilty pleasure even when commanded by God. Finally having the opportunity to develop his musical talents is a spiritual command that C. H. can't help but experience in sensual detail. And sincerely struggling to be a "good polygamous husband" as he divides his attentions between two sexy ladies competing for his love? You can bite into the feeling of how badly he doesn't want to want it...
The story really isn't threatening to an LDS reader's faith -- it's frightening only on the level of "Do we really want to go there? Do we really want to be prodding this sore spot? Exploring every emotion in intimate and reckless abandon?" Yet the novel provides a weirdly cathartic purging of these dangerous feelings.
It's a guilty pleasure to read Brother Brigham. It's a story that takes you to heaven and hell and back. You read it in a day then catch your breath and want a cigarette. Then you remember you don't smoke.
Brother Brigham by D. Michael Martindale is one of three original titles being offered by the new LDS publishing house Zarahemla Books!!! The other two currently offered are Kindred Spirits by Christopher Bigelow (discussed here) and Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen which I haven't read yet. Zarahemla Books is also distributing some existing titles such as The Pictograph Murders by P. G. Karamesines.
From what I understand, the charter of Zarahemla Books is to provide fiction that is ultimately LDS-faith-friendly yet willing to explore a little bit outside the Deseret-Book-and-church-correlation box.
I assume at least some of you reading this think it's pretty wacky of me -- as a non-believer -- to have any interest at all in LDS fiction for the LDS audience. But really I'm fascinated by literary portraits of Mormon culture from all different perspectives. And I don't want to limit myself with a ridiculous conceit such as thinking it's impossible for a true believer to have an interesting take on some aspect of Mormonism.
Some say you "recover from Mormonism" by practically forgetting that you were ever Mormon at all. Others (not naming any names or anything ;-) ) seem to think that retaining a relaxed interest in exploring the culture that formed you is also a sign of a healthy and well-adjusted exmo. ;-)
If you're part of the latter camp (or if you're a Mormon or just Mo-curious), you might want to go have a look at the Zarahemla Books website and see what kind of entertainment the Mormons-outside-the-box have to offer!!! :D