Angela Hallstrom’s debut novel, Bound on Earth, is worth reading.
I know as much about defining a good novel as Potter Stewart knew about defining pornography: I can’t do it but I know it when I see it. And I see it in Hallstrom’s book. The characters are real. The situations are real. The emotions are real. She has done a better job of creating “real” than most authors I have read (notice I didn’t say “most LDS authors”). She gets us into the minds of a five year old, a middle-aged man, a young zealot, and many more characters in only a few paragraphs. And she gets it right. The story of the Palmer family–normal middle-class Mormons–emerges through chapters told from the points of view of different players. They seem real, and I liked them. There are also many great observations here about Mormon culture–including the killer line that “till death do you part” is “what Mormon girls hear when they fail.”
Which is not to say that the book is perfect: the last scene reminds me of everything that I don’t like about LDS fiction as Hallstrom gives in to the saccharine send-off. Also, it reads as if it were a collection of pre-existing essays that she [barely] strung together. (I’m not sure whether this is in fact the case–but since various chapters won awards as independent works it may have been–I’m just noting that the chapters feel only loosely connected.)
But . . . but . . . compared to my other forays into LDS fiction (and I skim a lot of review copies that don’t end up getting reviewed because I’m queasy and weary after five pages), this is a gem.