April 29, 2010

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

by Elna Baker
ages: adult
First sentence: "I am at the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance."
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

This book was: Sometimes funny. Often self-indulgent. Also, quite pretentious. But then, what memoir written by a 27-year-old isn't?

I found Elna to be: overly obsessed with her body. And overly obsessed with finding a boyfriend. The first, I find worrisome, which probably says more about me and my reaction to our culture than it does about her. She loses 80 pounds, starting at 250, and is obsessed with controlling her weight. She doesn't dwell on her obsession with her body, but it comes out; and when she does, she has justifications for it. From the "pretty points" to her eventual decision to get plastic surgery; I'm trying not to judge (it's not my life, after all), yet finding myself concerned that a person would do that to their body. On the other hand, the second -- the boyfriend (though not marriage) -- made the feminist in me growl. I'm a hypocrite, though: when I was single, I rarely went without a boyfriend. And I did the "right" thing and got married at age 20 -- almost 21! -- to another member. Still. Her quest to find the "perfect", "right", "best" man drove me bonkers. I wanted to shake her and say that there is no perfect, right, best (I almost cheered when her mom told her that), and that perfect, right, best is what you make of it not what you find.

In addition, I have no idea who would read this book. It's not written for Mormons, specifically; she goes through pains to describe our beliefs, not in excruciating detail and not everything, but enough to get her points across. That, and I'm sure there are many members of our church who would judge her much more harshly for some of the decisions and choices she makes. And yet, I'm not sure what the appeal of the book would be to a person not of her faith. Yes, it's a general coming-of-age discovery story, but it's one seeped in Mormonism -- faith, practices, customs. Yes, it's kind of a wink-wink look: like she's saying "look at us Mormons! Aren't we so silly?", but at its heart it's a thoroughly Mormon book. Perhaps others are interested in it -- for curiosity's sake -- but I wonder if they'll connect with the book or if they'll just find it an oddity.

But... there was something in her story, in her journey that I found fascinating. Not just because I'm Mormon, though that's part of it, partially because I can empathize with her inner spiritual life, her doubts and questions. And, yes, partly because Elna's is an interesting, if pretentious and self-absorbed, journey. She's lived a fascinating, unusual (privileged, yes) life, and she can be a funny and observant writer. Even if, in the end, the book was only just okay.

13 comments:

J said...

It seemed to me like Elna not only wrote a book describing her personal development, but she wrote the book in a voice that developed over the course of the memoir. When the character is younger and more immature, the voice is also more immature. I agree that the book was often self-indulgent, but Elna's openness and humor more than compensated. I loved the book for what it was. And, I'm Mormon.

Tracy M said...

I agree with J- I loved the book for what it was- and I'm Mormon. But... I wasn't back in my dating days, and she accurately and humorously describes a lot of things I experienced. No doubt I was self-indulgent and pretentious then too; as a cruise through my old journals easily verifies. (I hope I'm not anymore.)

Perhaps her audience is just the general young woman. While the book is steeped in Mormonism, most readers who are no of our faith won't feel that- it will be read as a coming-of-age story with only a backdrop of her faith struggles. Entirely relatable to a great many women.

Chino Blanco said...

"... I'm sure there are many members of our church who would judge her much more harshly ..."

Maybe. Maybe not. If there's a harsher review than yours to be found, I've yet to find it.

Melissa said...

J -- I agree that her voice matured over the course of the book, something which I appreciated. I still found her too grating for me, though, even at the end.

Tracy -- yes, I think she's pretentious mostly because of her age. And I can see that she reflects the situation for many, many women. I do hope that there are people out there who can enjoy her book;

Chino -- Ouch. I thought was being fair.

Tracy M said...

Chino, if you want to read harsh, you should see the comments when we reviewed the book at Mormon Mommy Wars. I was completely caught off-guard at how many women were offended by the book. Some were even offended at the cover drawing and called for it being pulled because it was not modest. I WISH I were kidding.

Melissa said...

I'm not surprised, Tracy. I really didn't think this would work for the general LDS Deseret Book crowd...

Chino Blanco said...

Tracy, I didn't catch that MMW thread, but I believe you (i.e., I'm real good at taking things on faith as long as those things line up neatly with my own bias ... go figure ;-)).

Melissa, I've admittedly resorted to hyperbole in my description of your review. Would you be willing to adopt a similar spirit of admission and confess that your post was less about reviewing Elna's book and more about seizing the opportunity to register your disapproval of Elna's choices?

Melissa said...

Chino -- but it wasn't a critique of my disapproval of Elna's choices. Her *choices* are hers -- and she chose to make them public by writing a book about them. And while I admit her book was funny at times, it was her *obsessions* (about her body, about having a boyfriend) that drove me nuts. So, I will say that my review was about my dislike of those. But then, this is a blog about my opinions about books -- which includes my visceral reactions to them -- and I have every right to view those (as you have to disagree with them).

Chino Blanco said...

Fair enough, but one last quibble:

"I do hope that there are people out there who can enjoy her book."

I can easily imagine an author harboring such hopes for her own work, but it's harder to understand why a reviewer would feel it necessary to express such a sentiment.

In other words, I'm now afraid to read the book. Because if I did, I might enjoy it and suddenly become one of "those people" ...

MCQ said...

My quibble is this part:

"On the other hand, the second -- the boyfriend (though not marriage) -- made the feminist in me growl. I'm a hypocrite, though: when I was single, I rarely went without a boyfriend. And I did the "right" thing and got married at age 20 -- almost 21! -- to another member. Still. Her quest to find the "perfect", "right", "best" man drove me bonkers."

I'm not sure why the feminist in you would be growling at a strong independent woman who has built a career for herself (in New York of all places) who is just trying find someone to love. Feminists should be cheering her.

Gerbera Daisy Mom said...

I loved the book. I thought she was honest, fresh and brave for sharing her struggles. Many of which I could easily relate, having been a single sister in the church.

Therese said...

I didn't think your review was excessively harsh. But personally, I thought it was one of the funniest books I've read in years. I'm a former Mormon, now atheist, but I always appreciate sensitive discussions of spirituality, and I enjoyed those parts of the book as well where she writes about her struggles with faith.

dln said...

I'm not Mormon - I would rather die than spend eternity with my family, while Elna's worst fear is spending eternity without hers. The way she constantly straddled her beliefs and her desires, never committing, left this reader like her boyfriends: frustrated.