Irreantum 13.2


While my purpose in this post, as usual, is to write about the latest issue of Irreantum's fiction, the essays were so compelling that I'm constrained to talk about them as well. But fiction first.

Not the most stunning collection of fiction Irreantum's ever published, but each story is commendable and overall, I feel safe declaring that the trend of excellence continues.

Darin Cozzens The Last Blessing of J. Guyman LeGrand
In case I'm not already on record frequently enough, I'm rather tired of Cozzens's apparent necklock over the editorial staff. It feels like we get a new Cozzens story in every issue. Now, this isn't a disaster because Cozzens is a good writer. This story is no exception. I love how it plays with the idea of patriarchal blessings in Mormon consciousness. And the characters he draws in "Last Blessing" are real and impressively delineated. I thought the ending was more of an attempt tack a theme on and call it good, but overall? I'm wondering if I haven't made a mistake by not buying his book.

Still, though. How about no Cozzens for a couple years?

(Note to Mormon writers: this means you need to get your stuff together and write at least Cozzens-good and submit.)

Laura McCune-Poplin Anonymity
Sister missionary in France, with her companion, finds a lapsed member, a struggling single mother, who has no love left for the Church. "What I need is money. Does your Jesus have money? Can your Jesus give my kids Christmas?"

Which leads to "Lucy" getting her idea.

That the pov is "Lucy" I find interesting. She thinks of all the other missionaries by their proper titles (Souer Miller, for instance), but apparently, to herself, she is still Lucy.

I can't say for sure from this far remove, but I don't think I thought of myself as Eric for long. In fact, the name Theric is a residue of my difficulty of reclaiming my "Eric" identity at the end of my mission. But, deep inside, could I ever have been anyone other than Eric? I'm not sure.

Anyway, while the missionaries in Lucy's district are eating cheaper food and buying presents, we are seeing a sub[not]plot wherein Lucy is falling for Elder Tyler (his last name). She's aware, in a way, that that's what's happening, though she's trying not to think to hard on it. She knows they've both been in this city a long time and either could get transferred and the idea of serving without him is hard to bear.

She doesn't take significant steps towards claiming Elder Tyler or anything, but the story does tackle the tension that can sometimes develop between elders and sisters with a freshness and honesty that brought it to life. Impressive, because it's something I was barely aware of, deep inside me, when I was an elder myself.

Mark Brown The Iron Door
I love me a bit of magical realism in my Mormon lit. And I love the honest man who the community turns against. Really, I can see no reason why I did not love this story as much at the end as I did at the beginning. I guess, maybe, because it seemed to drive into a solid wall of deliberate ambiguity for the sole purpose of crashing into it. I'm all for ambiguous endings---it's hard to imagine a satisfying "conclusion to this story---but ending at the point of greatest ambiguity just for the sake of it? C'mon.

As for the four essays---Suzette Gee's "Being Alone", Kathryn Lynn Soper's "Seeing Stars", Melissa McQuarrie's "When Trees Fall", Kerry Spencer's "Who Peeks through the Veil"---all were tour de force essays. I'm of the opinion that the essay format, long called the natural Mormon form, has been taken over by the women. And I'm okay with that, frankly. For now. Eventually I'll wish for more men to step up, but for now, I'm enjoying entering the world of Mormon women. All four of these essays are stellar, and none fall guilty to the unbearable smarminess of Patrick Madden. Rock on, ladies.

Gee: Short vignettes of being single. A marvelous mosaic.

Soper: Moving stories of caves and skies and families' echoing generations. Incredible that she can tell stories like this without the reader feeling like she's pulling a Foer and just telling a naturally emotional story because it offers easy effect. She never cheats.

McQuarrie: Like Soper's essay, it's impossible to imagine a writer not telling this story as it's absolute gold. And, like Soper, her first accomplishment is not screwing it up and turning it into saccharine nonsense. An essay all about the death of children (or not) and reading God's mind (or not) can go wrong in so many ways. That this story is honest and powerful and true is praise enough.

Spencer: For those unfamiliar with the unreliability of memory, this is both the most recent thing I've read and an excellent primer. As Spencer's essay is drenched in dreams and visions and memories and hallucinations and madness and anesthesia, I feel obliged to state that I am skeptical that things happened just as she said. Which is not me calling her a liar. It's an opening salvo to opening a discussion in how accurate memoir needs to be to be accurate, how correct to be correct, how true to be true. Where does essay end and fiction begin? And is it necessary that the author can prove the accuracy of their telling of the past?

Ultimately, that question is hugely significant in all these essays (perhaps less so in Gee's, but still). I think the answer is less about the journalistic accuracy than authorial intent. But I don't know what the rules are. Perhaps this is why I fear memoir much and essay some.




  1. I also really loved the essays in this issue. The fiction, not so much. I like the way Cozzens writes, but I also feel like I've read the same story every time.

    I couldn't decide if I liked the essays because I know at least two of the authors personally or if they were really that good. I think that they are really that good; I think they all did a great job of looking at hard issues without devolving into easy answers or saccharinity. I think Kerry Spencer's was my least favorite, just because I like more realism in my essays, but I can still see why it's a good piece of writing, just not my preferred style.

  2. .

    I was more enamored of Spencer's essay than others on similar topics, but I certainly take your point.

  3. Fiction:I'm a Cozzens fan, though I understand the complaint that his stories are similiar. There are those who say the same thing about Thayer, a writer who seems to have an endless supply of coming-of-age stories in him. It just so happens that these are the stories that live in Thayer's soul. Same with Cozzens, though his stories are about rural living, not young men. I don't think the problem is that Cozzens is tiresome (he's not at all to me), but that we don't have enough writers of equal merit writing something else. You see Cozzens repeatedly bc he hasn't an abundance of rivals.

    As to The Sisterhood, it may help to know this is a novel excerpt. I think the story stands fairly well on its own, but no, its not perfectly independent which is a problem. However, I liked that Poplin's story had a romance element and yet remained in the literary realm. It'd be nice to see more literary romance. I'm curious to read the entire novel and see how that romance plays out.

    I was satisfied with the ending of The Iron Door and don't see it as especially ambiguous. Spoiler: Jesse realizes he isn't going to find the door again, except in his mind's eye. But because he saw it once, he now sees Plymouth Valley (the people therein) "clear and bright." The people--these lights in the darkness--exposed their weaknesses, sins, and selfishness to him because of his claims and he curses, or rejects, them at the end. Just doesn't seem as ambiguous to me as you make it seem. Now I do think the ending is open to a variety of interpretations (like what exactly does he reject), but I think there's enough evidence, enough characterization, to support the open ending.

  4. .

    I agree completely with what you say about Cozzens. And Thayer. Until I read Opening Day, I didn't think he could surprise me. But he is good at what he does.

    Not knowing the Lucy story was from a novel, I had no idea. It does not read like an excerpt. I would love to read the completed novel. If you know her, feel free to let her know.

  5. Okay, I've now read the entire issue. I mainly agree with your assessment, Th.

    I liked this Cozzens story. Partly because I think it gets somewhere with the concept and partly because it seems like he's bringing in more characters and experiences than normal.

  6. .

    I think that's fair. And I want to be clear that my ambivalence is not born of Cozzens's being a poor writer. It's just the percentage of Mormon stories I read which are his.