Friday, December 22, 2006

The latest from exmo-lit's master of suspense: Behind Closed Doors by Natalie R. Collins

This January will bring us another exciting thriller from the exmo community's own Natalie R. Collins!!!

The same author that wrote the unforgettable Wives and Sisters has a brand-new novel about to hit the shelves: Behind Closed Doors!!! This new novel is a complex mystery that kept me in suspense right up to the end. And it was scary enough that it actually gave me a nightmare!!!

Since murder mysteries aren't my specialty, I was a little worried when I picked up this book that it might just be a reworking of the same material as Natalie's earlier novel. After all, how much can you do with a Mormon-themed murder mystery?

Oh me of little faith!!! ;^)

It should have been obvious to me that LDS culture is rich enough to provide plenty of different situations for setting up a dark and shadowy thriller. And Collins has done a great job here of exploring a different segment of the LDS community and different facets of Mormon doctrine to create a new mystery with an original flavor.

In terms of criticism of Mormonism, Collins' earlier novel (Wives and Sisters, discussed here and here) dealt with the fact that repentant abusers are sometimes shielded by the church hierarchy and hence given the opportunity to strike again. In her new novel (Behind Closed Doors), Collins explores the theme of how LDS victims of date rape are affected by the teaching (especially from S. W. Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness) that one should fight to the death rather than "lose one's virtue" by being raped.

Now some of you are probably thinking that this must be some sort of anti-Mormon book. Well, that depends on your definition of anti-Mormon. It is certainly not complementary to Mormonism. The protagonists are Mormon apostates and the villains are Mormons. The book portrays domestic violence taking place in LDS homes.

However, this time the author was careful to explicitly state (I think twice) that domestic violence exists in every type of community and isn't something unique to Mormonism. Reading Natalie's blog I can't help but think she spelled it out this time because she was tired of getting angry emails from Mormons accusing her of portraying Mormonism as having some sort of monopoly on evil, abusive people.

Really I think it's more that the author's specialty is suspenseful thrillers -- which require evil villains by definition -- and she sets them in Mormon country because, well, write what you know. And it's not as if nothing bad ever happens in LDS communities...

The point I think has the most potential to offend LDS readers is that the novel opens with the main character in the temple thinking about how she'd been freaked out and traumatized by her first experience with the endowment ceremony. I've never been through the temple myself (except baptisms for the dead of course) so I'm not sure if her description of the ceremony is sufficiently detailed to qualify as "anti-Mormon." But from what I've read of people's temple experiences on exmo blogs (and even on LDS blogs really), I think her character's reaction to the ceremony isn't so far-fetched as to be unrealistic.

Even so, the fact that the book contains a negative perspective on the endowment ceremony is probably enough to make this book offensive to some Mormons. So I'm glad she put it right at the beginning so that if you're going to be offended by the book, you can get your shot of righteous indignation from the very first chapter -- indeed the first line -- and then put the book down. That's much better than having to read the whole book, getting angrier and angrier as you go, until by the end you're so pissed-off that you can't help but send Natalie one of those "Why are you so mean and angry?" emails. If you do that, all that will come of it is that Natalie will find your message amusing, and she'll post it in full to her blog surrounded by wry comments. And really, you don't want to waste your time (and Natalie's) on such a pointless exercise. Actually, if you think you'd be offended by reading about someone being spooked by the temple ceremony, then do yourself a favor and don't even pick up this book at all.

One detail from this book that really jumped out as hilarious was the fact that the author created a male apostate character who has the misfortune of being named Moroni. The reason this detail made me literally laugh out loud was that the exact same ironic detail -- an apostate guy saddled with the name Moroni -- makes an appearance in D. Michael Martindale's new book Brother Brigham!!!

It just goes to show that "Mormon Literature" and "post-Mormon Literature" are really just two faces of the same thing -- two different real, human, valid views of the exact same culture.

It hit me that because Mormon lit and anti-Mormon lit are two totally separate and unrelated categories -- everywhere except on my blog ;-) -- I think it's very likely that I may be the only person in the world at this moment who has read both of these hot new books on the Mormon lit scene: Brother Brigham on the faithful side of the Mo-lit divide (discussed here) and Behind Closed Doors representing the apostate side. Yay me!!! :D

Now you're probably wondering how it came to be that I've already read Behind Closed Doors since it doesn't come out until January 2, 2007.

So, would you like the true version or the improved and embellished version? ;-)

The true version is that with this photo I won in the "farthest away" category of Natalie's book-sighting contest. And when she wrote me to ask what book I would like as my prize, I asked her to send me one of her own novels, so she sent me a coveted "advance reading copy" of this new book.

The improved and embellished version is that I'm one of those influential, trend-setting, book-reviewing bloggers that publishers like to send their advance reading copies to!!!

Yep, I'm really moving up in the blogs-about-books world!!!

Fictionally speaking. ;-)


T Wanker said...

Well, you certainly scooped everybody by reviewing Natalie's book early.

I've read two of Natalie's previous books and was looking forward to reading
Behind Closed Doors when it comes out the end of next month.

I also wondered if this was going to be a re-working of her previous themes. From your review, the date rape/virgin concept seems to be yet another variation on Natalie's anti-patriarchal authority themes from her previous book. I look forward to see how this book differs.

You've peaked my interest about the endowment scene. Being male and growing up Mormon, I was always concerned about my endowment.

I'm sure that the violent response Natalie generates from the Mormon community comes from how close her critiques often hit home. Mormonism in its current incarnation is rife with patriarchal embued sexism by both its male and female members.

I think Natalie has found her genre niche and I hope I can only be as fortunate.

I completely agree with you on the Post-Mo and Mo Lit as different views of the same thing. Reminds me of a quote from this rather dichotomous fellow, Joseph Smith: "By proving contraries, truth is made manifest."

I disagree that you are the only one espousing combining the Mormon/Anti-Mormon literary split. As early as 1981, I had a BYU English professor tell us in class that the first great Mormon literary genius would by necessity have to come from outside the faith. He saw the ability to literarily recreate the Mormon experience as an inside-out job. Now he seems most prophetic as two of the most talented "Mormon" writers are Neil LaBute and Brian Evenson.

The literary heritage as Mormon and Post-Mormon writers should aspire to is that of the Jewish-American authors. This aspiration pays homage to the Mormons odd sympatico with the Jewish faith and taps into one of the richest literary arenas of contemporary American fiction. The Jewish/American authors have transcended their faith and written universal stories for the general public, all while exploring the impact of their particular faith, for example: Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Chaim Potok, Issac Singer, Bernard Malamud, Natalie Goldberg, Alan Ginsberg, Elie Weisel and those are just the authors that I could think of at 2:20 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

As critics and writers, I would urge everyone to take up your cause C.L. and actively promote your brand of literary integration.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey T-Wanker!!!

Of course I'm exaggerating when I say I'm the only one who groups mo and exmo lit together as sub-genres of a single genre. However if there's another blog out there that regularly reviews both Mormon and post-Mormon works, I don't know about it. ;-)

I think they were talking about the idea that "the first great Mormon literary genius would by necessity have to come from outside the faith" over on the Mormon lit blog A Motley Vision, although I can't find the exact reference. Still those guys are pretty careful about separating Mormon lit into pro and anti, for example here.

I agree with you on the parallel with Jewish literature. I talked about it in this post: Mormon lit misfit.

p.s. I listed all of my other book reviews here.

Cyn Bagley said...

I haven't seen her next book yet. I am looking forward to it though.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Cynthia!!!

Well you can pre-order a copy if you follow the link above. I would definitely recommend it -- I recall you liked her earlier book, and I think you'll like this one as well!!!

Sister Mary Lisa said...

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Chanson!

C. L. Hanson said...

Merry Christmas to you and your family too, SML!!! :D

Natalie said...

What a GREAT review, CL! Thank you so much. And WOW, exmo-lit's MASTER OF SUSPENSE? Me likey that title!!! LOLOL.

I am glad you saw that this was not a reworking of the same themes in WIVES AND SISTERS. It will be interesting to see how controversial the temple scene is considered, at least by believing Mormons, since it's already been done by quite a few others before moi.

At any rate, THANK YOU again!

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Natalie!!!

It's good that you had a nice vacation too after all the work it must have been to get your book ready for publication!! :D

Anonymous said...

I have another book for you that i think you will enjoy. SWAP by sam Moffie. The wit is very Jewish!

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Anonymous!!!

Interesting idea -- since people keep comparing Mormon literature to Jewish literature, maybe I should branch out and start reading some Jewish literature...