(an unofficial) The Erotic in LDS Lit
Part III.V: Breaking down the controversy over Angel Falling Softly, or, Theric is always right


Angle Falling SoftlyI imagine most readers of Thmusings have mostly missed the controversy over Zarahemla Books' latest, Angel Falling Softly by Eugene Woodbury. If so, this is a good place to start. I recently nabbed me a copy and, since it finally arrived in the mail, I read it this past weekend. Because I was reading it so shortly after the controversy reached its peak, my thoughts naturally turned to the issues raised by the complainants. I may have missed the zeitgeist by now, but given my impeccable taste, touted intellectual credentials, and gross self-importance, I thought I had better weigh in and let everyone know who's wrong and who's right.

1. Woh! Sex!
    Um. Yeah. More than most LDS fiction, no question. Yes a(n unconsummated) lesbian sex scene. Yes, married people making love with evocative metaphors. Yes, the seduction of an elders quorum president (don't worry! he fled!). Yes, a horny college boy.

    Listed out that like, it does actually look like a lot. But this is a vampire novel, for heaven's sake! Ask your id what vampires are for, it'll tell you: Vampires represent the attractions of forbidden sex. A vampire novel without sex is something else. Sex-free blood drainer? You must be thinking of a ghoul.

    Which isn't to say that therefore the book should necessarily be sex-heavy. But I do think we can say there was no misrepresentation on this point, and I think that counts for a lot.

2. Yipes! No tidy ending!
    I guess not. But I found the ending quite satisfying. Not satisfying if this were my actual life, but in terms of fiction and a story well and honestly told.

3. Eek! Crappy writing!
    Okay, so no one's talked about this. But it needs to be said.

    The first fifty or seventy pages or so were not without some egregious problems of style. Then they went away. What the heck? Did someone forget to edit the beginning of the book? Or does Woodbury just have a hard time establishing his characters? Because that's where most of the problems were. I'll talk about this in more depth when I next review five books. For now, just relax and know that most of the book was fine and my 'crappy' was totally uncalled for.

4. Bleh! Business!
    The book, as published, features one corporate takeover. Originally there were two. One is just right. Sure, I didn't know all the jargon, but I had the same problem in the hospital. No problem -- I don't have to know everything to follow the story.

5. Zowie! Heresy!
    So. Taboo to mix Mormons and vampires? Yes, according to some. Why? I'm not sure. The mix of paranormal and, uh, spirinormal can be awkward and uncomfortable and it can be totally screwed up (seen it), but this book steps up to the challenge. First, these vampires aren't supernatural. Maybe unnatural, but not supernatural.

    Second, isn't fiction at its best as a weird laboratory? C'mon -- of course it is! Admit it! How else do you explain the phenomenal popularity of Harry Potter or Twilight? And Mormon lit deserves an elbow in the best pots as well as boring old realism.

Conclusion? AFS was a good book and I liked it. Yes, the sex is over many people's tolerance levels -- I can respect that. Yes, it asks some interesting questions -- I demand that. But no: it's not evil, it's not destructive, it's not even badly written (once, you know, you get a few dozen pages in).

It's not the best book I've read this year, but it's a very good one. That it's been controversial is, I think, healthy. The tenor or that controversy, however, has not been so healthy.

Next time, people, let's try to take a deep breath -- get some more oxygen in our bodies before we leap off a bridge. Just a thought.

(read the book for yourself)


  1. Spirinormal is my new favorite word!

  2. .


    I was just talking over the book with Lady Steed (who's almost a hundred pages into it) and she has some issues with the book that she also had with The Marketing of Sister B, viz. the representation of Mormons. But it's more complex than that. She means the way New York Business People see Mormons, the way (in Mormon Lit's immaturity) characters so often have to be the bishop's wife (why not the Scoutmaster's wife?) or in the Relief Society presidency (etc).

    Talking with her reminded me of some of the complaints I'll bring to bear in my regular review (forthcoming). I don't like the way Mormons are presented (which is actually quite similar in many ways to Sister B). I'm willing to forgive an author like Woodbury because he's Mormon too and who am I to doubt his experience, but in fact, I can't help but to do so. Maybe it's just because I don't have nonBYU Utah experience? I don't know.

    But as I alluded to here, most of my complaints end about seventy or so pages into the book. At that point things come together and the problems simply go away.

    Oh: and Zarahemla has already used this post in their promotional emails. I swear. They had better give me a free copy of whatever book comes next.....

  3. I haven't read the book, but one problem that comes to mind concerning mixing Mormonism and anything is that there are already a lot of misconceptions about the church. While you know may know what is truth and what is fiction doesn't mean that others will.

  4. .

    I see your point. But I would hope people would recognize we don't believe Wall Street is peopled with vampires.

    But on the other hand, people think things much weirder about Mormons....

  5. I chose a bishop's wife because I wanted the story centered on a protagonist for whom the conflict represented the greatest moral peril, both existentially and in terms of social standing. As Rachel ruminates at one point, she doesn't care how many ear piercings her daughter gets--as long as her father's not the bishop.

    I also think "bishop's wife" is a title widely comprehensible to non-Mormons, and suggests a defined status. Milada is an elitist at heart and is drawn to Rachel in large part because her (albeit implicit) status reminds her of the Mother Superior at the orphanage where she lived before falling into Rakoczi's clutches.

    I finished writing Angel Falling Softly after living in Utah for about a decade. On the other hand, in The Path of Dreams, the religious and familial relationships I describe are pretty much autobiographical (though the plot only half is).

  6. .

    I can see the reasoning behind nonMormon comprehensibility, but it begs the question: do you know how many nonMormons have picked up the book? I keep hoping Chris will find success over thar.

    Not everyone's as fortunate as me in terms of getting to talk to the author after the fact, but I have to tell you that I thought the Mother Superior connection was based mostly on appearance or bearing; I didn't pick up on the status bit at all.

    And really, I'm not one to talk bad about seeming cliches--my sole Mormon-themed novel is a BYU romance for gosh sakes.

    Oh---and as long as I have your attention, how do you pronounce Rakoczi? I stumbled on it each and every time.

  7. .

    [Edit: I added a jpg of the book as I had, in all previous mentions, included it. I felt for us to connect to prior discussion it would be helpful.]

  8. The /cz/ in Rakoczi is pronounced similarly to the /ts/ in "bats" or the /tz/ in "Yahtzee."

    Frankly, I'd be pleasantly surprised if any non-Mormons have read any of my Mormon novels (well, I do know of a few). Most of the traffic to my site is driven by my Fuyumi Ono translations (though downloads of The Path of Dreams have crept into the triple digits--which doesn't mean it's actually being read). This is also reflects my debate with Kent Larsen that I don't think the future of Mormon literature (if there is one) will be found among the traditional Mormon demographic.

  9. .

    I agree. Staying within artificial lines, no matter how sensibly drawn, will never help a market grow.

  10. Is the purpose of Mormon literature to grow a market?
    Or is it to tell a truth?

    I'm curious - why do you think any person outside of the traditional Mormon demographic would want to read "Mormon" literature? I don't see "Mormonness" ever appealing to the book-reading-crowd, except for those "Mormon" books/plays which betray core Mormon principles and portray traditional Mormon values as hypocritical, shallow and unenlightened.

    Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean here, but "market" seems a very distasteful goal for Mormon literature.

  11. .

    (This might seem like a dismissive response, but I don't mean it that way.)

    A market, like many things, is either growing or dying. A healthy market is an expanding market.

    We live in a telestial world and to make any sort of difference, we have to obey the laws of this world, viz the laws of the market.

    And to expand what I said Sunday, to argue that the LDS lit market either needs to stay inside Mormon lines or must necessarily expand outside them? both arguments miss the point. Which point is that God's people need to make great art (and, yes, that implies truth). And to suggest that the world will reject that truth doesn't seem fair to the world. I believe there are people who can accept a Mormon lit that does more than tear down.

    But that's just me. I assume the best of people. (Can't help it.)

  12. After having read Angel Falling Softly, I have to say the erotic elements didn't bother me at all, and aren't actually very important in my perception of the book (which I liked quite a bit). Although I have to say I felt there were several cheap shots at Mormonism (Moroni trumpeting to the "deaf" heavens?) that are more troubling for a "Mormon" book, since they edge towards tearing down rather than showing insight/truth.

    Still, overall I enjoyed the book quite a bit, and really fell in love with the characters, who were very compelling to me.

  13. Darn, I think I've just consciously acknowledged why it is that I love vampire stories so much. Now I'm blushing. *-_-*

  14. I liked Angel Falling Softly very much and wrote to Eugene to tell him so. I thought the intimate scene between the bishop and his wife was beautiful and true. The other sex scenes seemed completely necessary to the story.

    And me lovey "spirinormal."

  15. .

    Everyone says they love it, but I haven't seen it anywhere else yet. [pout]

    Incidentally, here's a link to the review.

  16. Im starting off in the field, in a chaotic manner-sorry.

    I especially like the dialouge between you and Eugene and the idea of a growing LDS market. I do think it would do us well to ignore any artifical limitations and I will try to do just that but we'll see how it flows.

    And since this is my first hearing/reading of Spirinormal I will see if it clicks and I use it. I would say I have at least 2 or 3 very spirinormal chapters in my book. But this isn't about me- sorry.

    I'll just move along to another part.