2013-04-24

Five Sunstone stories

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The latest issue of Sunstone was heavy with fiction from some great writers. Here are brief synopses and reviews.

The Opposite of Sound by Courtney Miller Santo

Synopsis
An overworked, overwhelmed mother with a habit of abandoning her children not quite long enough for them to notice, doesn't want to lose her injured son's affection---as per always---to her husband, who has never abandoned but has rarely been present.
Review
Fiction about this type of mother is trickling more and more into the greater milieu of Mormon fiction. And happily so. In the last ten years, Mormon women have asserted themselves and made their voices heard with a volume that would make Emmeline B. Wells proud. And this particular work of fiction is one of the stronger entries in the field. My only complaint---and it's not a complaint---is the smallness of the story. I would like this character to get a more epic treatment. But small victories in small moments---whether those moments do or do not later loom large---are what our lives are made of.

How They Get You by Josh Allen

Synopsis
A former Mormon, sick of friendly visitors with ulterior motives, lashes out at local bishops---only to find one bishop who welcomes the attack on his character.
Review
In this, the most challenging story of the set, Allen doesn't present easy answers. Perhaps the most compelling character is not the protagonist who attacks, but the bishop at the end, struggling with his own public image, who welcomes the attack, rejecting his righteousness through a paint-bearing proxy. A difficult to story to read, in that it's intensely honest, but that all that honesty does not comfort and does not suggest solutions.

Name by Heidi Naylor

Synopsis
A teenage girl in '80s Michigan brushes against the threat of sex and violence and finds comfort through the power of naming and names.
Review
Of all the characters in these five stories, I like Lisbeth the best. Perhaps I'm primed to like her---I work with teenagers at work and my wife works with them at church---but Lisbeth is an appealing mix of childlike vulnerability and adultlike strength. Through the simple and understated events of one evening, we watch her take a great step from the latter toward the former. But not in the typical way one expects from literature---though Lisbeth gains knowledge, she does not lose innocence. Not exactly. She is, if anything, created more innocent through new knowledge. And not simply because hard-won facts made her strong, but because she simply grew into a relationship with her Father. Behold. Thou are Lisbeth, and I am God.

One Glass Ball by Brett Wilcox

Synopsis
A mourning father visits troubled youth on an Alaska-island retreat and is forced to address not just his lost child, but his lost faith.
Review
I found this story too top-heavy with symbols and meaning and flashing arrows. Not that the characters were inadequately drawn or that the events related don't matter. No, my issue is that it's too pat---too crafted. The fictional world is as perfectly organized as an evangelical Eden. The difference is only that the pieces don't become evil upon the introduction of the devil, but hint holiness upon the introduction of the godly in the guise of evil. If that makes sense.

Willing to Work by Larry Menlove

Synopsis
A recently divorced Mormon woman on the skids either steps back to righteousness or takes another step toward debauchery when she picks up a handsome young homeless man.
Review
I find Menlove's work a bit hit or miss. (Good. Good. Bad.) This story, I'm happy to say, is one of his good ones. Brianna is a wonderfully pathetic character, and even though she's making mistakes which, at their best, only manufacture illusions of happiness, it's hard not to empathize with her or to side with her. Even though we can see how much she's been wronged, it's plain we do not see how much she has wronged others---her p-o-v won't allow that. But it doesn't matter. Her pain is real; her suffering is real. And no matter her motivations, what she does she does for the least of these. Brianna may be a tragic character, but we don't help her by feeling sorry for her. She's still a good person. She's just in pain. Maybe the next person she helps, and who helps her, will prove a further step toward healing.

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