I am going to post this column bi-weekly for the foreseeable future, although I’ll keep the title, for now. This bi-week gives us two more chances to see The Opposing Wheel on stage, an Orson Scott Card controversy, and a Joseph Smith film. Also a ton of new books, including a pile of Christmas novels from Cedar Fort. Please send any suggestions or announcements to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.
Mahonri Stewart’s The Opposing Wheel, produced by Stewart’s Zion’s Theatre Company, opened on September 2, at the Castle Outdoor Ampitheatre in Provo, and will have its last performances on Sept. 9 and 10. Heather Jones is the director of this quirky Doctor Who-like/Mormon/feminist original work. Daily Herald preview article.
The Utah Theater Bloggers review says “The Opposing Wheel shows promise despite production faults . . . The Opposing Wheel is something we don’t get on stage very often: high fantasy . . . Stewart’s script is complex and full of detail—like many high fantasy stories are—but on stage the audience is forced to digest all the details and relationships in less than two hours . . . Visually, the play is performed in the right place: the Castle Amphitheater. This outdoor facility, built out of stone and cement to mimic a stereotypical castle, is ideal for a play that takes place entirely within a castle. I also enjoyed how the costumes were a smart blend of modern and medieval . . . Overall, it is a suitable evening of theatre. It’s certainly a unique play performed in one of Utah County’s favorite theatrical venues. However, this likely won’t be one of my favorite plays of the year, thanks to the directing problems and the lack of relationships and urgency among the actors. But if you’re LDS and enjoy fantasy stories like the Narnia books, then the show should be irresistible.”
Hillary Stirling review. “The Mormon elements are particularly fun for someone who is LDS but are not so central that a non-LDS audience wouldn’t enjoy and appreciate the play . . . Mahonri is unequivocally the most brilliant feminist I’ve ever encountered, and that really shines through in “The Opposing Wheel.” You have the classic female archetypes of maiden, mother, and crone/witch, but each of them take on added dimensions. The young woman trapped in a tower grows into a warrior-maiden. The mother is also an adulteress, and even more remarkably, a redeemed adulteress . . . The women in the play are strong and, above all, human. However, unlike so many who wade into the battle between the sexes, Stewart handles the male characters with the same respect . . . It truly is a delight, embracing both the deep and the light-hearted aspects of the human experience. It is an artistic work of the highest quality, and the fact that it’s performed in an outdoor theater only enhances the experience.”
Eric Samuelsen’s new translation of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House was performed as part of the Plan-B Theatre’s Script-in-Hand series, on August 28th, in Salt Lake City. Megan Pedersen, for the Utah Theater Bloggers review said, “I felt Eric Samuelsen did a wonderful job on his translation. I very much felt for these characters – even if it was frustration. As he mentioned in a recent interview, Ibsen can be quite funny . . . My only thought for Samuelsen was that it felt too modernized at times. Having a character know how to “put away” an alcoholic drink, or even meek little Nora swearing after Torvald, brought this story screaming into the present.”
Mel Leilani Larson’s Little Happy Secrets was performed as a staged reading on August 26 and 27 as part of the SLAC Fearless Fringe Festival. Callie Oppedisano’s Utah Theater Bloggers review said, “Having read and seen a considerable amount of contemporary Mormon drama, it is my opinion that Little Happy Secrets ranks among the best, and is certainly among the very best works by female Mormon playwrights (of which there are far too few). This is not to say that the play is not good outside of the Mormon theatre genre. It is, at its heart, a story of self-discovery, and the plot is reliant on a messy love-triangle. These two elements are universally recognized and appreciated when supported by well-developed characters, thoughtful structure, and intelligent dialogue, which Little Happy Secrets has.”
The BYU Experimental Theatre Company presents the 24 Hour Theatre Project. 5 writers, 5 directors, 25 actors, 5 original plays, with the conception to curtain in just 24 hours. The performance will take place in the Nelke on September 10 at 7:30 pm. Admission is free. Visit experimentaltheatre.blogspot.com for more information.
The Book of Mormon national touring production will begin in Denver in August 2012, and move to Chicago in December. The creators say that they are scheduling the productions around South Park production schedule, so they can personally oversee the new staging, and they will not tone down the content for heartland audiences.
Columns and news
Orson Scott Card’s novella Hamlet’s Father has become the center of a small internet firestorm. The work first appeared in a 2008 anthology entitled The Ghost Quartet. The re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was released as a stand-alone limited edition book by the specialty publisher Subterranean Press in April 2011. A few days ago a blog named RainTaxi’s reviewed the book, and called it out as a homophobic work. It seems that Card imagines Hamlet’s father to be a homosexual pedophile, who molested Horatio, Laertes, Rosencrantz, and Guildestern, turning them all gay. The ghost of the murdered father is a demon, who misleads Hamlet into killing the innocent Claudius. Card had written on his blog in 2004 “the dark secret of homosexual society – the one that dares not speak its name – is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally”. Angry bloggers, putting that quote together with the description of the novella (which I doubt many have read), accuse Card of equating homosexuality with pedophilia.
The publisher of Subterranean Press put out a statement, saying, “These concerns and complaints are serious enough that I want to address them. Let me first admit that these complaints about the novella have caught flat-footed, in part because the work is a reprint. The novella had been published twice before, first in the 2008 Science Fiction Book Club anthology The Ghost Quartet, edited by Marvin Kaye, and then in a later reprint of that anthology published by Tor Books. Subterranean Press has had a fruitful publishing relationship with Orson Scott Card, and anticipated a collector’s edition of the novella would find an audience among his fans. We did not anticipate controversy for republishing a work which had received no controversy prior to our publication, and which remains in print elsewhere. Nevertheless, as publisher of Subterranean Press, I am responsible for everything we publish, and that means being ready to hear any complaints and criticisms about what we publish.”
Here is an article on the controversy in The Guardian, and a negative Publisher’s Weekly review of Hamlet’s Father. I’ll note that Card probably got the idea of Hamlet’s father’s ghost as a deceitful demon from Eugene England’s 1987 essay “Hamlet Against Revenge”. England claimed that Shakespeare meant the story to be seen as a warning against the spirit of revenge, where Hamlet chooses the “not to be” of violence rather than the “being” of Christian peace (homosexuality does not come into England’s interpretation at all). I seem to remember Card writing appreciatively of England’s interpretation at the time, either in Sunstone or in his Storyteller in Zion book of essays.
Scott Hales, at The Low-Tech World, reviews Eliza R. Snow, The Complete Poems. “Sister Snow—even at her best—doesn’t really write the kind of poetry I like. In fact, no one in the nineteenth century, with the exception of maybe Emily Dickinson and a few other abnormalities, writes the kind of poetry I like. For a reader like me, therefore, the value of a book like Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry is not in the poetry itself, but rather in the work of the editors. In this respect, Eliza R. Snow shines. Not only does the introductory essay by Derr and Davidson provide an insightful, honest analysis of Snow’s talent, as well as a thorough overview of her life, but it also introduces each of its nine chapters and all 507 of its poems with commentary that is both impressive and essential for anyone who wishes to gain a deeper appreciation for Snow’s work. One insight, for instance, that I have found most useful in my haphazard reading of the poems is Derr and Davidson’s observation that “Snow’s well-known public role [as “Zion’s poet laureate] complicated and sometimes obscured her self-expression.” Unlike Dickinson, in other words, whose poetry is often marked by the painful nakedness and intense interiority of its narrative voice, Snow, tightly buttoned, keeps her readers at more than arm’s length. Indeed, as Derr and Davidson note, “Contemporary readers” are not likely to warm up to Sister Snow and her poems because her apparent “reluctance to allow a personal, lyric, truly revealing voice to break through the persona of Zion’s Poetess” sometimes makes for chilly reading.”
Scott also takes on the “roach in the ice cream” metaphor on appropriateness in literature.
LDS Publisher is back after a summer break. She announced her 5th Annual Christmas Short Story Contest, with submissions due September 24, ran a detailed Tristi Pinkston column about how to do a successful signing at Costco, and answered a question about starting up an LDS magazine.
Theric, guest-posting at By Common Consent, calls upon us to flood BYU Magazine with requests to keep the Book Nook column alive after Richard Cracroft’s retirement, and writes about blogs and self-promotion.
At A Motley Vision William marks the 1000th post, and pledges his continued effort, despite the general decline in interest in blogs in the last two years, and reminds us of the October 1st deadline for the Marilyn Brown novel award.
Short Stories and Magazines
On September 20 Ally Condie’s short story “Leaving” will be published in Enthralled: Paranormal Diversions, an anthology of YA speculative stories, edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong. Sept. 20is also the day that Condie’s novel Matched will be released in paperback.
The Irreantum Fiction Contest winners were recently announced, and Lisa Torcasso Downing discusses the winners and talks about the judging criteria. In fiction, Darin Cozzens’story, “The Last Blessing of J. Guyman LeGrand,” won first place, followed by stories by Laura McCune-Poplin, Courtney Miller Santo, and Ryan Shoemaker. Kathryn Lynard Soper, Suzette Gee, Melissa Dalton-Bradford, and Shelah Miner won for Non-fiction, and Javen Tanner, Jared White, Lisa Rubilar, Tyler Chadwick, and Elizabeth Garcia won for poetry.
The new issue of Irreantum is now available. So far I have only read the essay by James Goldberg, and wow, what a wonderful writer he is.
New books and their reviews
Amber Argyle, Witch Song. Rhemalda Publishing, Sept. 1. YA Fantasy. First novel. Rhemalda is a new publisher, out of Wenatchee, WA, it looks like it might be a vanity press.
Shauna V. Brown. Threads of Faith: A Christmas Miracle. Cedar Fort, Sept. 8. Historical/Christmas novel. 19th century LDS conversion. Brown’s second Christmas novel at Cedar Fort.
Susan Dean Elzey, Miracle of the Christmas Star. Cedar Fort, Sept. 8. Christmas novel, set, I think, in Jesus’ time. Elzey’s fourth book. Her first two books (published by Hatrack River and Deseret Book in the 1990s) were written under the name Susan Smallwood.
Tracy Hickman, Embers of Atlantis. Fantasy Fight Games, August, 30. Contemporary fantasy, based on the Fireborn role-playing game.
C. J. Hill (Janette Rallison), Slayers. Feiwel & Friends (MacMillan), Sept. 27. YA Fantasy, her debut in that genre. Rallison is using a pseudonym for this nationally published book, but is not being coy about it, she is open about authoring the book on her web page. Dragon eggs and the teenage knights who are pledged to protect the world from them.
Reviews: The Non Reluctant Reader, 4 out of 5 stars.
Ted Hindmarsh, The Christmas Creed. Cedar Fort, Sept. 9. Contemporary Christmas novel. Hindmarsh’s fourth short Christmas novel for Cedar Fort.
Heather Holm, A Nightingale Christmas. Cedar Fort, Sept. 9. Christmas booklet (80 pages). A plane-crash victim struggles to recover.
Melanie Jacobson, Not My Type. Deseret Book, Sept. 6. Romance.
Kenny Kemp, The Wise Man Returns. Cedar Fort, Sept. 8. Historical fiction. One of the wise man returns to Palestine, becomes involved with Jesus again. Kemp wrote two historical fiction novels about Jesus, published by Harper Collins early in the previous decade, that I thought were great.
Josi Kilpack, Pumpkin Roll. Deseret Book, Sept. 6. Culinary mystery, Volume 6 of the Sadie Hoffmiller series. A very popular and well-respected series.
Brenda Novak, In Seconds. Mira, August 30. Suspense/romance. The Bulletproof Trilogy, Book 2. National publisher.
Rachel Nunes, Before I Say Goodbye. Deseret Book, September 3. LDS general fiction.
Theresa Sneed, No Angel. Walnut Springs, August. Paranormal romance. A guardian angel, and a feisty mortal. First novel.
Anita Stansfield. Shadows of Brierley, Vol. 3: A Distant Shore. Covenant, August 12. Historical Romance. Set in 1842, Nauvoo.
Diane Stringham Tolley, Carving Angels. Cedar Fort, Sept. 8. Short Christmas/Santa novel.
Reviews of not-new books
Rachel Renee Anderson, Minor Adjustments (Jennie Hansen, at Meridian Magazine). 5 stars. “Once in awhile a love story comes along that touches a special spot in the hearts of readers. Minor Adjustments by Rachel Renee Anderson is that kind of story . . . Never sinking to the level of hyped sentimentality or excessive physical stimulation, the love story progresses along realistic lines complete with sacrifice, respect, and real need for each other . . . Though not an action drama, the plot is lively and develops in a satisfying way that charms and holds onto readers through all of the twists and turns of a pleasing fiction arc. The bland cover won’t grab attention, but the story between the covers is worth searching out.”
Rachel Renee Anderson, Minor Adjustments (Mindy at LDSWBR). 4 stars. “Rachael’s writing is so smooth. I love the way the relationship between the characters progress . . . There is a bunch of humor that made me smile too (Stella is a lover of random facts). I also really enjoyed the beautiful setting of Australia.”
Linda Todd Bush, Voice Across Time (Deseret News). ““Voice Across Time” is a heartwarming piece of LDS fiction. Though the storyline is stereotypical of Mormon culture, it is a creative book that is entertaining and inspirational for readers of any age . . . Although the book illustrates difficulties faced by many Latter-day Saints, the characters’ actions are exaggerated. The book could be a Mormon spoof such as “The R.M.” or “The Singles Ward” movies. The book is overly dramatic, making the story seem comical.
Gregg Luke, Bloodborne (LDSWBR). Shanda: 5 stars. “Bloodborne has everything that makes a suspense novel great. The threat is terrifyingly believable. The protagonists are imperfect and relatable. Close calls and unknown elements keep the reader turning pages. There is the black and white of right and wrong along with plenty of gray in between . . . Because suspense novels are very plot-based, I was not expecting the depth with which Gregg wrote.” Sheila: 5 stars. “My first thought after reading Gregg Luke’s Bloodborne was, “Move over Dan Brown, Gregg Luke is in the house!!” Gregg has written a novel that plays out like a movie in your head. At times I forgot I was reading a book” Mindy: 4.5 stars. “I love Gregg’s writing style, and I really love his shorter chapters. They have a sneaky way of making me read just one more chapter. Before I know it, it’s midnight and I have finished a lot more then just one more chapter. Bloodborne blew me away. I loved it. I read most of it with my mouth wide open.
Christine Mehring, Bitter Blessings (Sheila, LDSWBR). 4 stars. “Thought-provoking and heartfelt, this debut novel shows that the power of love brings the best blessings even during the bitterest trials.”
Jeanette Miller. Montana Summer (Deseret News), “A lively LDS romance set in Montana . . . Miller writes in a descriptive, engaging style. The dialogue flows well and feels authentic. Her descriptions of an LDS family and church activities are wholesome and feel natural.
Tristi Pinkston, Hang ‘em High (Jennie Hansen, at Meridian Magazine). 4 stars. “There are old lady mysteries all over the place, but no others are quite like Ida Mae Babbitt and her sidekicks, Arlette and Tansy. They’re loveable, laughable, and have a knack for solving realistic mysteries and living life to the fullest . . . The clever dialog is well worth the price of the book. And the icy conditions that form the background for this novel provide a hint of coolness to blistering, end-of-summer heat.”
Mandi Tucker Slack, The Alias (Reading For Sanity). 4 stars. “I normally avoid books that could give me nightmares . . . yet I could hardly put this book down. LDS literature isn’t typically gritty or terribly realistic in its portrayals of violence, but this one broke that mold. Domestic abuse was captured as accurately as I can imagine it really is . . . While Slack’s writing isn’t delectable–you know, the type of writing that makes you sigh with pleasure (yes, that play off her book was intended)–it was solid and engaging.”
Elodia Strain, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend (Shanda, LDSWBR). 4 stars. “Jesse’s internal dialogue is where Elodia really shines. Entertaining internal dialogue is what made me a fan of Elodia Strain when I first read Previously Engaged a few years ago. Elodia did a wonderfully job meshing Jesse/Alyssa Milano’s voice and actions, putting them smoothly and believably into words on paper to create a fun and enjoyable read . . . A fun, easy-going romance.”
G.G. Vandagriff, The Only Way to Paradise (Michelle Ashman Bell, at Meridian Magazine).
Carol Lynch Williams, Miles from Ordinary (Bloggin’ ‘bout Books). B+. “If you’ve read either of Williams‘ previous books, you’re familiar with the raw, provocative tone that marks her YA fiction. True to form, the author’s newest gives readers an honest, albeit disturbing, look at the realities of dealing with a parent’s mental illness. It’s impossible not to feel for vulnerable, abandoned Lacey, who’s so trapped by responsibility and guilt that doing one simple thing for herself seems horrifyingly selfish. Her story’s so gut-wrenching, so real, so haunting, that it stays with you long after you’ve closed this taut, thought-provoking novel. Williams doesn’t write light, airy stories, so be prepared. Miles From Ordinary is a heavy-hitter. One you won’t soon forget.”
Christian Vuissa’s historical film Joseph Smith, Volume 1: Plates of Gold, opened on 29 screens in Utah on September 2nd. Vuissa has produced the most “Mormon” commercial films of the last 5 years, all with tiny budgets. He hopes the current film will be the first of a trilogy. Reviews have been mixed, from “inspirational” to “dull”.
Meridian Magazine review (Jonathan Decker). “. Credit writer/director Vuissa, as well, for challenging Harding as an actor with his rich screenplay; together they create perhaps the most human and rounded screen depiction of Joseph Smith yet . . . If the film has a flaw, it’s that it often chooses to tell instead of show. Key events are merely alluded to or described . . . To be fair, the dialogue and acting are so good that this is far from a deal-breaker. The movie remains compelling, moving, and powerful. Nevertheless, the effect of telling instead of showing is that the film sometimes unfolds like an excellent stage play, adapted wholesale and filmed on-location. Here’s hoping that Plates of Gold does well enough that further instalments in Vuissa’s planned trilogy can be more ambitiously cinematic. Minor squabbles aside, Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold is yet another triumph in what has been an excellent year for Mormon cinema, following on the heels of the charming romantic comedy Midway to Heaven and the stunning pioneer drama 17 Miracles. Vuissa continues his track record of handsomely-made, well-acted, and inspiring films. This is easily his best work yet; his take on the Prophet displays a perfect balance of reverence for the work and mantle of Joseph Smith with a grounded rendering of the prophet’s idiosyncrasies, foibles, and virtues. This is a film to share with family and friends and is not to be missed in theatres. GRADE: A-
Salt Lake Tribune review (Sean Means): 1.5 stars. “Mark Twain uncharitably described The Book of Mormon as “chloroform in print,” and this dramatic retelling of its translation will, for the nonfaithful and perhaps some faithful, have a similar sleep-inducing effect . . . . Vuissa dutifully recounts the obstacles suffered by Smith in translating the plates, but the movie fails to muster any tension or passion for the events it re-enacts. The only spot of warmth is the tender romance between the idealistic Joseph and the steadfast Emma.”
Very detailed review at LDS Cinema Review (KevinB), based on an early version of the film shown at the LDS Film Festival earlier in the year). B-.
Richard Dutcher (on Facebook): “Bored to (expletive deleted) death”
Jerry Johnson of the Deseret News on Plates of Gold . “Joseph and Emma’s romance seems perfectly believable. And pairing a love story with the well-worn anecdotes about getting and translating the gold plates does help to freshen the film. Still, that said, this film also suffers from what has inflicted many similar movies. In the wake of Richard Bushman’s dry-eyed biography “Rough Stone Rolling,” a well-received warts and all biography of Joseph, writing up his life as hagiography — as the “life of the saints” — seems more of a dodge today than an act of devotion. Here, again, his human failings are few and small. Joseph hardly feels the burden of human weakness that would drive a man to his knees, desperate to redeem his soul. The true “Hero’s Journey” only works when the hero is shown to battle the same ugly weaknesses we all must confront. “Plates of Gold” hints at such moments of human frailty, but lacks the courage to show us Joseph, the “rough stone,” with all his sharp edges.”
Chris Hicks of the Deseret News says “17 Miracles” ranks near the top of Mormon cinema. It is still playing in 17 theaters.
New York Times Bestseller lists, Sept. 4, Sept. 11 and Sept. 18
ACCEPTABLE LOSS, by Anne Perry. Off the extended list after only one week.
Trade Fiction Paperback
#13, #16, #17 HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET, by Jamie Ford (65th week). Down from #11 in late August.
Mass Market Paperback
#19, #19, x ENDER’S GAME, by Orson Scott Card (4th week being on the main list [#20 or above]).
#17, #21, x THE HOST, by Stephenie Meyer (1 week on the main list).
Children’s Chapter Books
#1, #7, #8 MICHAEL VEY: THE PRISONER OF CELL 25, by Richard Paul Evans (4th week).
#10, #9, #10 THE MAZE RUNNER, by James Dashner (24th week). Hanging out around #10 for weeks.