The Backslider


061) The Backslider by Levi Peterson, finished June 14

(casual spoilers)
So I finally read Levi Peterson's The Backslider. And unlike other rites of passage (I'm looking at you, Moby Dick) The Backslider exceeded my expectations. Perhaps it had an unfair advantage, given my longstanding (and well documented) ambivalence for rural-Utah fiction. But part of the reason I get frustrated with such fiction is that it's become the Mormon generic, and Mormon fiction has grown well beyond the same old same old. And I want to be clear: I'm not forgiving Levi for writing thirty years ago; I'm forgiving him because this novel is so thoroughly set in its setting that it couldn't be anywhere else with anyone else. It's not a default setting; it's a necessary setting.

Frank Windham (and I see why he's made lists of the best drawn characters in American literature) is undivorceably of early-1950s rural Utah. First, his speech patterns and behaviors and appearance and business are pure modern cowboy. I know such men---they're family. He's a few decades younger than when I knew him, but he's exactly right. Add to that type my own neurotic teenaged self and Frank Windham is someone I know intensely well. And that's ignoring how exquisitely Peterson has drawn him.

In short, the novel deserves its monumental reputation.

It has at least as much sex as you've imagined but probably less swearing, but---spoiler alert---the Cowboy Jesus (who did not appear where I anticipated him) is more redemptive than I imagined. Frank's vision choked me up.(Incidentally, I worry that along with rejecting the hellfire brand of Mormonism we've also lost the visionary aspects of Mormonism. This is not good. We should be having visions more often!) Frank's Cowboy Jesus is real. Consider what Alma says:
For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.
Only Cowboy Jesus could reach Frank, and so Cowboy Jesus is who comes to Frank. And who frees him from the horrors of his inherited brand of religion.

Cowboy Jesus, more than any other character in the novel, reflects Frank's own self.

The Backslider is more than a great novel with a bunch of sex. It's powerful theology.

May you all have a chance to meet your Jesus.

And may he save you from the hells of your own creation.
one-point-five months

click for previous 2013 books

Previously in 2013 . . . . :

Books 54 - 60
060) The City: A Vision in Woodcuts by Frans Masereel, finished June 13
059) Gods' Man by Lynn Ward, finished June 12
058) Mad Man's Drum by Lynn Ward, finished June 11?
057) Destiny: A Novel in Pictures by Otto Nückel, finished July 8
056) Passionate Journey by Frans Masereel, finished June 7
055) The Sugar Bean Sisters by Nathan Sanders, finished June 3
054) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, finished May 28

Books 47 - 53
053) Farm 54 by Galit Seliktar and Gilad Seliktar, finished May 20
052) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, volume seven by Hayao Miyazaki, finished May 18
051) Dark Day in the Deep Sea by Mary Pope Osborne, finished May 15
050) The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude by Carol Lay, finished May 14
049) Moonlight on the Magic Flute by Mary Pope Osborne, finished May 12
048) This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz, finished May 6
047) Blizzard of the Blue Moon by Mary Pope Osborne, finished approximately May 4

Books 41 - 46
046) The Red Diary / The Re[a]d Diary by Teddy Kristiansen / Steven T. Seagle, finished April 28
045) The Five Books of Jesus by James Goldberg, finished April 22
044) The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, finished April 20
043) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Volume 6 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished April 18
042) Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game by John Sexton with Thomas Oliphant and Peter J. Schwartz, finished April 15
041) The Hand of Glory by Stephen Carter, finished April 13

Books 35 - 40
040) Leprechaun in Late Winter by Mary Pope Osborne, finished April 8
039) You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, finished April 7
038) Illiterature: Story Minutes, Vol. I by Carol Lay, finished April 2
037) "Who Could That Be at This Hour?" by Lemony Snicket, finished March 29
036) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 5 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished March 29
035) Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 4 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished March 28

Books 26 - 34
034) The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons, finished March 24
033) What Shat That? by Matt Pagett, finished March 24
032) Zombies Hate Stuff by Greg Stones, finished March 22
031) Jews and Words by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger, finished March 22
030) Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, vol 3 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished March 13
029) The Princess Bride: Shooting Draft by William Goldman, finished March 11
028) The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother by Lucy Mack Smith, finished March 5
027) Scott Pilgrim vs the World by Edgar Wright & Michael Bacall, finished March 5
026) Screenplay by Syd Field, finished March 3

Books 22 - 25
025) Mortal Syntax by June Casagrande, finished March 2
024) The Roots of the Olive Tree by Courtney Miller Santo, finished March 1
023) Moby Dick by Herman Melville, finished February 28
022) Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis & Christos H. Papadimitriou & Alecos Papadatos & Annie Di Donna, finished February 22

Books 20 - 21
021) The Complete Peanuts 1985-1986 by Charles M. Schulz, finished February 22
020) The Princess Bride by William Goldman, finished February 20

Books 14 - 19
019) Magic Tree House #10: Ghost Town at Sundown by Mary Pope Osborne, finished February 17
018) The Report Card by Andrew Clements, finished February 17
017) Justice (volume one) by AUTHOR, finished February 16
016) The Green Mile by Stephen King, finished February 15
015) Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, finished February 12
014) The Silver Cord: Book One ~ Nephilim by Kevin Kelly et al., finished February 7

Books 8 - 13
013) Teen Titans: The Prime of Life by JT Krul and Nicola Scott, finished February 2
012) Batman: Vampire by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones and John Beatty and Malcolm Jone III, finished February second
011) Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor by Isaac Asimov, finished January 26
010) Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, Perfect Collection 1 by Hayao Miyazaki, finished January 22
009) The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984 by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 21
008) My Letter to the World by Emily Dickinson, finished January 21

Books 1 - 7
007) Spacecave One by Jake Parker, finished January 19
006) The Antler Boy and Other Stories by Jake Parker, finished January 19
005) The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, finished January 14
004) The Crab with the Golden Claws by Hergé, finished January 14
003) The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure by Hergé, finished January 11
002) Using the Common Core State Standards... edited by some Ed.D., finished January 10
001) Jellaby by Kean Soo, finished January 8


  1. "Only Cowboy Jesus could reach Frank, and so Cowboy Jesus is who comes to Frank."

    Yes. Exactly.

  2. .

    I knew everyone liked it. I still didn't expect to like it so much myself.

  3. Yeah, I know what you mean. I expected to have to pretend to see in it what everyone else does — but nothing could be further from the truth. I was profoundly moved by the Backslider (both the ending and Frank's inner demons throughout), so much so that I went out on a limb and recommended it to the GA member of the family. It took some explaining, but he handled it better than I expected him to.