Review of the fiction in Dialogue 43.3 (fall2010)


Banner issue for fiction!

I'm not a subscriber and I don't often pick up issues and so perhaps this is more common than I realize, but for provocative, enjoyable, literary fiction, the new Dialogue is par

I picked up this issue largely to read the (very positive) review of The Fob Bible (buy now) so everything else is just gravy.

But, if you are familiar with my Thanksgiving habits, then you know that gravy's where it's at, yo.

Story one: Ryan McIlvain's "The Canyon That Is Not A Canyon"

Full discosure: Ryan's a Fob (I'm pretty sure he's 5.1). He's currently at Stanford on a Stegner Fellowship and I've met in in person precisely once. He's probably best known for his story "Keep It Bible" which apparently was shortlisted for Best American Short Stories and Best American Nonrequired Reading which I find interesting since I really didn't like it all that much.

This story, however, is a winner.

Ryan likes writing about Mormon sexual politics and this story is no different. Wife can no longer handle husband's porn addiction and wants a divorce. Instead, they take a drive to Bryce Canyon and fail to work things out.

In many ways I'm surprised this story works. Ryan's taken on some clever writing gimmicks that I've used myself, but never in a serious piece, and rocks them. He commits all sort of Literary Affectations without getting affective. If you know what I mean. And even worse, he layers on the symbolic lines with a palette knife yet never irritatingly. I don't know how he did it. He committed every sin of literary fiction yet his story transcends each one to be a thing of beauty.

One caveat: I'm not sold on the ending. Just end the story, Ryan. Sheesh. I can only forgive so much.

But Ryan writes gorgeous prose (if Danny Nelson, the most frequently lauded Fob Bible contributor waxes jealous of his "incredibly polished and effortless prose" you know it's excellent) and I've read most of his published work and it is all good and "Canyon" is unquestionable the best. Keep your eye on this Fob. He's going places.

Story two: Roger Terry's "Eternal Misfit"

I can't think of a fiction that comes close to Terry's attempt at creating the Mormon afterlife. Added Upon is the only other reasonable attempt I can think of, but Terry's look at the Terrestrial Kingdom digs deeper into the weirdness of our doctrine. This is a wholly Mormon and only Mormon story.

I admit at first beginning this story I was skeptical. All these sexless eternal beings hanging around libraries and enjoying perfect weather. Forever.

Until Kim realizes he's bored. So he tries to introduce opposition back into the world, starting with a nice, competitive game of soccer.

I know, I know. It sounds embarrassing. It sounds impossible to execute. And so what could be more audacious than this story succeeding? And not just succeeding, but thrilling the reader to the core?

If Brigham Young had had any sense, instead of riffing every lunatic idea he had from one pulpit or another, he would have taken on a nom de plume (Roger Terry might've worked) and secretly published some fiction instead.

But nah. The real Roger Terry's doing just fine.


  1. Did you see Ryan McIlvain will be publishing a novel in March? I just learned about it (and him) via Amazon.

    It's missionary fiction, of course. I haven't read his Paris Review story, but it sounds like the novel will be an extension of it.

    A lot of well-known and respected authors are singing its praises, which concerns me for some reason.

  2. .

    Yeah. He's no longer vested in being part of the community. If it's based on Keep It Bible, I've lost interest already.

  3. .


    Whenever a book "announces Ryan McIlvain [or whoever] as a writer of enormous talent" I immediately start looking for something else to read.