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LDS Fiction: Bound on Earth

April 23, 2009

I hosted my book club last night, and we read Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth. In preparation for my book club, I reread it, and was again impressed. It deserved all the Whitney votes it received (and possibly more). Here are a few of my thoughts (this is not a full review, and beware: spoilers abound. How can you analyze a novel without spoilers?):

-Some of the stories (it’s a novel told in stories) operate at the negation of the negation nexus. This was fascinating to me; I’m just starting to read books like a writer instead of a college student analyzing text. So, for example, I recognized in “A Bed of Your Own Making” that the worst possible thing for Nathan would be to work on a bed for his wife’s birthday and then have her ruin the moment unintentionally but effectively. Whereas a novel requires a lot of build up to get to that worst possible thing, the short story has to explore that negation-negation moment in a quick time frame. “Things Unsaid” does the same thing: the worst possible thing for Joel is not just having a stroke, but having to watch his wife return to school because of it. Hallstrom deftly explores the pain of these worst possible moments; she doesn’t let her characters get off easy, but helps us to understand their pain.

-The women in my ward rock. We had a great discussion. I love the tangents too–one woman’s grandparents were in the Japanese internment camps, which was so interesting to hear about.

-No one said anything like “LDS books shouldn’t be going there,” even though Bound on Earth has characters who make bad choices (a wayward daughter; a husband who is faithful to his wife yet acknowledges the real attraction of a would-be seductress; a mother addicted to pills). It’s not just the great women in my ward; I don’t, in fact, know anyone who has read Bound on Earth who has complained that its LDS characters should not be making the choices they do. This speaks well of Angela’s ability to both allow her characters the agency to make bad choices, and to fully experience the consequences of those choices, while still telling the story in a way that resonates with LDS audiences, instead of alienating them.

-Everyone in the book wanted more; they all wanted to know what happened with Kyle and Beth. Even though the book ends on a hopeful note, we still don’t know for sure that they are going to be okay. I like the current ending, but I understand that perspective too. I would like to see a sequel, too.

It’s a great book, and I’m so glad we could discuss it. I’m crossing my fingers that it wins at the Whitneys this Saturday!

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