I've never read a novel that more perfectly captures the Mormon view of the perfect love story than Eugene Woodbury's novel The Path of Dreams. I'm almost tempted to call it canonical in the mathematical sense. If the stars were to align for a pair of Mormons to make their love and marriage ideal in every way, the result would be exactly the tale you find here in this book.
The author would probably protest that Mormons aren't supposed to get married after less than a month of knowing one another (as the characters repeatedly protest when other Mormons hold them up as role models), but that's not quite true. By Mormon standards you're supposed to pay lip service to the principle of getting to know your spouse for a few months before marriage, but if your love is truly destiny, then it is above such petty, temporal rules. It will be clear that there is no other choice than marriage, hence no reason to postpone it. Then the girl's aunt will just happen to have the perfect dress waiting in a box, and the guy will happen to be living in an apartment where there's no problem for the girl to move in right away, then the girl's old missionary companion will show up needing a place to live immediately so she can take over the girl's current apartment contract, then the girl's grandpa will happen to be a General Authority living nearby who can perform the service on short notice, etc., etc., right up to the perfect ending (which I'll discuss below after the spoiler bar).
One uniquely Mormon ideal portrayed in this book is the idea of marrying someone from the culture where you served your mission. An LDS mission to a foreign country is typically a two-way cultural exchange. The theory is to learn the language in order to preach the gospel, but this leads to learning the culture, and -- especially for young people -- loving the culture and internalizing it. In Path of Dreams, Connor McKenzie meets a woman (Elaine) who not only served a mission in the same country where he served (Japan) but is also half-Japanese herself, with all of the Japanese family and cultural heritage that implies.
Woodbury does a very good job of presenting bi-culturalism in a natural way. His novel is full of Japanese words and Japanese cultural references, but these elements arise at points where they're relevant in the story. Even for someone like me who knows little about Japan, the Japanese details weren't overwhelming or confusing. Instead I felt like I learned a bit about Japanese culture, and especially how it contrasts with Mormon BYU culture.
The most unusual aspect of this novel is the fact that it has no conflict. The couple has to deal with the standard getting-to-know you phase as they merge their lives, plus they have to tell their respective families about their marriage. Connor has a bit of commitment-phobia, or at least he toys with the idea briefly before deciding to just go ahead and propose right away. Of course the reader doesn't get the impression that he's even remotely commitment-phobic -- he's obviously an introverted homebody who would like nothing more than to have a loving relationship with his soul-mate. (Otherwise he wouldn't be writing this novel, see my edit your life post. ;^) ) The few obstacles they encounter are swept away like bits of dandelion fluff against powerful whirlwind of their passion.
Conventional wisdom would say that the lack of conflict is a weakness in the story, but it actually provides an original burst of realism compared a lot of romantic comedies which rely on some of the most absurd situations in order to keep the lovers apart or to keep them (for a time) from realizing they're made for each other. The one point of the story that's clearly a flaw, however, is the development of the female characters.
Both of Elaine's former missionary companions are bland and uninteresting. Melanie is characterized by being exceptionally beautiful, and hence leading a charmed life at BYU, with no worries aside from minor jealousy over her roommate getting engaged first. While being beautiful certainly makes BYU life a lot easier, it doesn't simplify it down to nothing, and some of the things Melanie reports about her situation don't sound like what a beautiful woman's life is like so much as they sound like what it might look like to a guy. In the story, Melanie's beauty serves to place Elaine modestly in the shadow of her friend (even though Elaine herself is also very beautiful). This would be accomplished far more effectively by placing Elaine beside a companion with a fascinating personality rather than fascinating boobs.
Elaine herself has some similarly questionable aspects, especially her behavior the first few times she speaks to Connor. They'd both been (supernaturally) interacting with one another in dreams, and the first time they speak in person, Elaine confronts Connor -- out of the blue -- with a cryptic complaint about his behavior in dreamland, as though she assumed that it was obvious to both of them that they were both dreaming of one another and the dreams were connected. The author grants Connor a perfectly reasonable human reaction (he wonders what she means and what's going on), but Elaine's behavior makes no sense whatsoever. Even the corresponding scene from Saturday's Warrior makes more sense than this ("I've seen that smile somewhere before..."). The scene only makes sense once you realize that it is constructed entirely to frame Connor's reaction when he's first confronted with The Unfathomable Woman. Some aspects of Elaine's character are believable and well-developed (her headstrong decisiveness, inherited from her mother), some far less so (she's a "dragon lady" which apparently means she behaves unpredictably in the heat of passion).
The one piece of advice I'd give to young male writers is not to set out to write a woman. Instead, set out to write a person and then make that person female. The one recent example I can think of where a male writer wrote an intimate relationship effectively from a female perspective is Christopher Bigelow's Kindred Spirits, and in that case I think the key was (as he explained on his blog) that he was writing about his own feelings and just transposed them into a female framework. Guys, don't give female characters irrational behavior just because they're female -- make sure their behavior at least makes sense based on their own point of view. If this is hard, try thinking of an amusing male character and change the superficial trappings so it works as a female character, but keep the basic personality and outlook the same. Seriously, try it. In this story, since the two main characters are both so very earnest, I'm willing to believe that they're made for one another, but they'd be set off better if the two blah companions (and maybe also Connor's boring aunt) were replaced with characters who are more laid-back, light-hearted, and funny. (Interestingly, Woodbury seems more capable of granting personality to Japanese women than to American women...)
This brings me to the next big topic: intimacy. Woodbury does an impressive job of writing a story that is at once passionate and chaste. I'd even call it erotic even though it's tame enough for a faithful Mormon to be okay with giving it to a teenager. The treatment of sexuality is surprisingly positive for a story set in a culture where it's a grave sin for an engaged couple to even fantasize about having sex with one another. Under normal (LDS) circumstances, either the couple is tortured by desire during the weeks leading up to the wedding date (a problem) or they're not tortured by it, which is an even worse problem because it portends major bedroom problems for the marriage to come. Woodbury gets around this eternal conundrum by using the only two outs faithful Mormons are allowed: a ridiculously precipitous wedding and (leading up to it) involuntary erotic dreams. The wedding night is of course perfectly satisfying -- almost transcendental -- for both of them. With no awkwardness. On the first try. Not terribly likely for an ordinary couple, but in this story it's par for the course...
Now I'd like to talk about the treatment of apostates, but that involves discussing the ending, so if you're one of those people who doesn't like spoilers, please stop reading now.
As the story unfolds, the two lovers learn about each other partially through learning about their respective families and ancestors. In Elaine's case, Woodbridge is (somewhat) candid about dealing with the fact that Elaine's (white Mormon) grandfather would have had a racist reaction to her parents' interracial marriage, but overall her Mormon pedigree is impeccable: a BYU prof for an uncle, a Mission President for a dad, a General Authority for a grandpa. This affects her value and status in Mormon terms, especially compared to Connor's apostate ancestors. Connor's great-grandfather had been put out of business and ruined by a church-owned business, and he ended up leaving the church over it. In my own personal family lore there's an ancestor who left the church under similar circumstances, supposedly sparked by a dispute with his bishop over irrigation rights. This sort of problem is a natural consequence of mixing religion and economics (a church with for-profit companies), so I was disappointed by Connor's dismissive treatment of his great-grandfather's perspective. The reported "happy ending" was when the church forgave the great-grandpa and was kind enough to allow him to be re-baptized after his death.
As bad as that sounds, the story of Connor's grandfather is even more questionable. Grandpa McKenzie lived his entire life in Utah, surrounded by Mormonism, married to a Mormon, and refused to join the church for his entire life. Then he specifically stipulated in his will that temple work should not be performed for him after his death, much to the dismay of his Mormon family. But (and this is the surprise ending, sorry...) it turns out that there was a sealed portion of his will that was to be opened only after Connor was grown and married. The sealed portion indicated that, in fact, Grandpa McKenzie did want his temple work to be done -- by Connor and his wife.
Now, anyone outside of Mormonism reading this would be going "What the...? So he never converted to Mormonism all his life, but he put that in his will??? I don't get it..." But in the logic of the story it makes perfect sense. The Mormon temple wedding is ultimately about sealing together an (extended) eternal family. Woodbury was developing the Mormon theme of "the hearts of the children turn to the fathers" as Woodbury had Connor reconcile with his grandfather posthumously. And the reason this is the perfect ending was because it provided Connor and Elaine with a reason to have a second temple wedding for the whole family once they had time to make the plans to gather everyone up (since the original ceremony had to be dispensed with as quickly and simply as possible for *ahem* reasons). So the second wedding was as much a proxy/replacement for Connor and Elaine's own rushed wedding as it was a proxy for Connor's grandparents.
Overall, I'd say this story would be enjoyable for faithful Mormons interested in a sweet and totally Mormon fairy-tale romance. But I'd recommend the book even more strongly for cultural anthropologists hoping to understand Mormon culture, values, and mindset. If you get this story, you get a whole lot of what makes Mormons tick.