Ryan Rapier’s The Reluctant Blogger was one of the more widely reviewed Mormon novels of 2013 and although one review notoriously complained that protagonist Todd Landry “spends a lot of time [too much] exploring his feelings” (for a man), the bulk of the reviews agree that the novel is “beautifully woven,” features “lovely writing, and [is] completely convincing” and “one of the best I’ve read this year” (amen!)—“definitely worth reading”! Basically, pretty much everyone “enjoyed this read” even if they have “never cried so much reading a book”—but don’t just cry! “cry, smile, and feel”! Plus, phew, it “is respectful when difficult topics are brought up,” so even though characters may “challenge [or] doubt . . . at the end of the day they still rely on their religion.”
(And that’s all I can fit into one paragraph. For other reviews [and thanks to Rapier (ruhPEER) for providing me with his list], click here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Not a bad collection for a guy with a stated objection to reviewing other people’s books.)
In short, although people have quibbles, popular agreement is that The Reluctant Blogger is worth reading. I tend to agree (though for my reasons to the contrary, see my post on A Motley Vision, also appearing today), and in review I’ll focus on aspects of the story those reviews tended to avoid. Or, in other words, spoilers ahead.
Todd Landry seems to me typical of the ideal Mormon male in many ways. He focuses on his children, spends a lot of time engaged with his parents and has traditions still shared with his siblings. He attends his Church meetings and fulfills even the callings he hates. He has sufficient imperfections to keep anyone from labeling him Peter Priesthood, but seriously. No one wants to hang with Peter Priesthood.
And the novel’s view of the damaged Mormon male (viz Todd) is invaluable. Digging into his suffering provides that valuable experience literature excels at: helping us understand people whose experiences are not our own—in this case, someone almost like us except his wife dropped dead of a brain aneurysm. Todd is real and accessible and in a state of ruin.
The depiction of Todd’s eventual love interest, Emily, is similarly variegated. Although their meetcute was heavily projected, she refuses to slip into Todd’s (or the reader’s) sense of just who she should be. Her Mormon Tabernacle Choir joke (describe it as world-weary hilarity) let us get inside who she is quickly and easily. And we like who we find. Her complicated history—she wasn’t always so likeable—only serves to make her more real and true and worth knowing. We like Todd and we like Emily (plus, she’s a redhead), so we the audience desire to see them get together.
Besides. Their awkwardness (born of their personal histories) only makes them more clearly perfect for each other. It’s a romcom cliche, but when done correctly, nothing reminds us more of what real romance is like. Romance is awkward. Successful romantics find that awkwardness endearing.
Their relationship follows a trajectory I was frequently and pleasantly surprised by. I didn’t expect them to break up. And then I thought Todd would end up with this other woman. Then he didn’t! Then I figured he would get back with Emily! But that was impossible. And then he DID end up with Emily! What???
And their reunion? It was four pages of me smiling through teary eyes. Nicely done, Rapier.
Which reminds me of another scene I found particularly affective: Todd’s reunion with his friend Kevin. You’ve heard of Kevin. He’s the gay friend. He’s a big part of the reason people say this might be an Important Book, and an element of the story Rapier himself has been pushing in online conversation.
Todd’s initial reaction to Kevin’s coming out is [redacted: see my post today at Modern Mormon Men for my discussion on that element of the story], but his reunion with Kevin, like his reunion with Emily, is genuinely moving. Watching these two lifelong friends work through a relationship-ending crisis and finding a higher class of friendship at the end is realistic and filled with honest emotion. Rapier is skilled at writing these scenes; he pushes buttons without getting sentimental or maudlin. It’s an impressive feat.
(Speaking of Kevin, here’s a nice line: “He began rubbing his eyes as if he were trying to force rational thought in through his tear ducts” .)
In closing, one more scene I found particularly effective: Todd has just failed in his second attempt at post-marital love. He has just learned that reconciliation with Emily is impossible. She has closed that door and installed extra deadbolts. Todd feels as removed from hope of connection as he has in months. He is alone, alone, alone.
He prays for hope. And receives an answer. An answer he does not see anyway to interpret than as a personal insult from God. He lashes out in anger. He smashes a lamp against the far wall.
And then, in that moment of striking out physically against emotional pain, his children enter the room. Together they collapse on the floor, magically unhurt by broken glass, and he is not alone. And the answer makes sense.
The scene upends expectations for answers-to-prayer scenes, and thus arrives someone more surprising and more true.
In retrospect, most of the high points in the story (I could also include the moments he connects to his father) are about Todd reconnecting to those he loves. His children, his father, his fiancee, his friend, his Father.
And that, I think, gives us an insight into what The Reluctant Blogger is really about.
A Motley Vision: The Reluctant Blogger: a novel with deep, structural flaws
Dawning of a Brighter Day: The Reluctant Blogger: a quick metareview and my own look at its many positive attributes