Category Archives: Orson Scott Card

The Great Mormon Novel

A couple weeks back Jerry Earl Johnston, a columnist for the Mormon Times, wrote about a conversation he once had with the novelist Wallace Stegner. Stegner suggested that Johnston try his hand at writing the Great Mormon Novel:

“I don’t have the scope or range to do it,” I said.

“You don’t have to make it large,” he said. “Just get things right.”

He said he thought the “Great Mormon Novel” would eventually be penned by someone who was born in the church, left the church, then made it “part way” back again. He seemed to think that would be a perfect vantage point. Being away from the church would give the writer perspective, while coming part way back would guarantee his empathy for the culture.

From there, Johnston speculates that there’s little chance that an important novel about Mormonism would be produced by somebody within the church—unlike, say, Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic who still felt free to explore the boundaries of her faith. This has stoked some crankiness among a couple of writers at A Motley Vision, a Mormon arts blog. William Morris makes the valid point that the Great American Novel in general is a “worn out cliche that barely anybody has the energy for anymore and for Mormons to take up the idea is for us to prove yet again our status as belated moderns. S.P. Bailey, meanwhile, notes out that Graham Greene and O’Connor “were serious Christians who refused to speak the language of their own flock. They told Christian stories in the terms of 20C fiction, and gained literary acceptance in the process.”

That’s another good point; you could combine Bailey’s and Morris’ assertions and also realize that O’Connor was free to write an excellent novel about sin and faith, Wise Blood, without feeling much pressure to write a Great Catholic Novel. What’s left undiscussed, though, is whether there’s any competition whatsoever for the title of a Great Mormon Novel, or even great Mormon novelist. Orson Scott Card is the only mainstream Mormon fiction writer I know of, but I’ve never read his work; some commenters on Morris’ post mention Brady Udall‘s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, a novel I haven’t looked at since I read it in 2001 and evokes no strong memories of greatness. Is there a novel that addresses Mormonism with thought and care?

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Housekeeping note: I’ve been away for the past few days, recovering some of my very rusty French in Montreal. I had a very good time, but that meant a few things around here have gone neglected—most prominently the D.C.-area readings listings, which should be back to normal by the end of the week. Thanks for your patience.

Roundup: Get Me Rewrite

The Southwest Florida News-Press catches up with Peter Matthiessen on Shadow Country, his recent reworking of three previous novels. Money quote: “In the Watson story, there are so many things that I wanted to talk about – the frontier, indigenous people, the loss of wildlife and landscape, and the growing, growing corporate greed that takes over everything. And when I put it out in unsatisfactory form as far as I was concerned, instead of turning to a new thing, I realized I wanted to get this right because it’s a very important American story. I had to know that this book exists in its proper form somewhere.”

Orson Scott Card speaks to School Library Journal about YA lit, Mormonism, his alleged homophobia, his massive output, and more.

Four books have been added to the NEA’s Big Read program: Louise Erdrich‘s Love Medicine, Tim O’Brien‘s The Things They Carried, Thornton Wilder‘s The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town, and a collection of poetry and stories by Edgar Allan Poe.

Your moment of zen: Voice of America Special English’s latest author feature is on Louisa May Alcott.