I've mentioned that I'm reading Miss Misery by Andy Greenwald. What I haven't mentioned is that although it is often very good, it has also been laugh-out-loud ridiculously wrong as well.
One of the characters is a disenchanted Mormon teenager from Salt Lake (specifically, a gated community in South Jordan). I don't blame any fictionist for wanting to write about Mormons--we're a fascinating race. What other religion is assigned an entire state by the popular imagination? Not to mention those white-shirted missionaries, BYU Cougars, glowing temples and other mysterious and attractive curios that set them apart from Americana Proper.
But as a Mormon myself, I just can't take it when a fictionist who has been enchanted then proceeds to reveal an utter and astonishing ignorance of Mormonism.
At first it was a simple word choice, but it has now gotten out of hand.
You Mormons out there--see what you think of this scene:
Disenchanted Mormon teenage girl's parents come home early from a meeting at the temple that was supposed to last until eleven or ten at night. Here's what they're wearing:
- High-top sneakers, legs like ornery treestumps, and then...Roger Bortch, recognizable from his billboard, standing impressively at the foot of the stairs, his waxy blond mane golden in the bright light. He was wearing a blue and black Sergio Tacchini tracksuit and had a wingspan like an eagle; his think, sunburned neck gave way to rolling shoulders and muscular arms.... Gleaming in his left ear was a tiny hoop earring that fell somewhere between midlife crisis and pirate. To his right stood Mrs. Bortch, a tiny skeleton of a woman with a judgmental nose and Ashleigh's apple cheeks. She had a loud clattery doorknob earrings of her own and wore a gray sweatshirt that said MOMS RULE! in plaid stitching.
Before I go on, I want to point out that I have tried very hard to accept the Mormon characters to this point. It's not hard to imagine that Utah harbors irreligious emo kids or parents who freak out over a daughter's innocuous if angsty poem. There's been silly stuff and wrong phrasing and so on, but a lot of it is dismissable because of the point of view we are experiencing it through. I very much doubt that people in SLC seriously claim the streets width is to accommodate Brother Brigham and his wives marching by side-by-side, but whatever. Also: a lot of his information comes not from the raised-Mormon girl, but from a guidebook which could very well be full of half-researched crap (ala Miss Misery).
Anyway, get what happens next: Daughter Ashleigh (believably Utah name) introduces our p-o-v as a BYU student. This is accepted even though he hasn't shaved in over a week. His age is explained away by being a grad student, fine, but the beard? Supposedly Roger Bortch is alumnus himself, or, rather, "a fellow BYU man."
The Bortches then, get this, invite this nice young BYU grad student in for coffee.
Okay. Um. Huh.
Okay, with a lot of effort I can explain away the earring/sweatshirt/temple thing and I could even imagine that these allegedly hyper-righteous people fuel their daughter's Dr. Pepper habit by keeping the pantry stocked, but coffee?!?!
Let's pretend yes.
But to invite a fine upstanding BYU student in for a mug?!?!
It's too much.
Then the Bortches are appalled to hear our hero pretend to be in a grad program in creative writing at BYU (horrors!) and that he "did a mission" in New York City (double horrors!!!!).
I'm too tired to argue the first one--maybe earringed Jordanian hyper-righteous Mormons would be appalled to learn the Lord's University teaches creative writing; but to be shocked that there are missionaries in the Big Apple is too, too much. I take it Andy Greenwald hasn't heard that there is one of those mystical Mormon temples right there in Manhattan.
I don't mind people writing about Mormons, I really don't.
But for heaven's sake, if you're going to do it, at least try not to make yourself an idiot in the process.
Do yourself a favor--before studying up on blood debt (snort) or Mark Twain's visit to Brigham Young, take a trip to mormon.org or look for a Mormon to read your MS on craigslist or something and figure out what a 21st century Mormon actually looks and talks like. It can't be that hard. For heaven's sake, there are 42,000 of them right in your hometown.