by Elna Baker
First sentence: "I am at the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance."
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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.