Friday, April 6, 2012

I Play the Fictionist: My Short Story "Album" on Everyday Mormon Writer

As a writer, I like to think of myself first and foremost as a literary critic and shameless promoter of Mormon literature. But occasionally I do write short stories and poems. Most of the time, these creative works either aren't very good or go unfinished, and I rarely take the time to fix them up or finish them.

Today, though, and I guess for as long as Everyday Mormon Writer keeps it up and archived, you can read my short short story "Album," a piece I wrote up a week or so after the Mormon Lit Blitz ended. It's about a returned missionary in Brazil who still struggles to make a place for himself four years after his mission. The story touches on and tries to work out a lot of issues I've been thinking about lately--not just about the differences between American Mormon and transnational Mormon experiences, but also about transnational Mormon literature and the ethics of American Mormon writers ventriloquizing non-American Mormon characters. That is: in our efforts to tell and promote the telling of non-American Mormon stories, do we unwittingly play the colonizer in our representations of their experiences, feelings, frustrations, etc. Can the American Mormon presume to understand and speak for the Brazilian, the Ghanaian, of the Russian Mormon? I'd like to think that the failures and lack of communication going on between Gilson, my main character, and the American missionary say something to these questions.

I'd also like to hear what other readers get out of my story--even if it has nothing to do with what I tried to do in the story.

Feel free to comment on the story here.

5 comments:

  1. I really appreciate "Album" for acknowledging some cultural tensions without reducing your character to those tensions.

    I like that Gilson owns his Mormonism. Sometimes writers who try to highlight racism or cultural tensions in the church end up associating those tensions directly with the church and (unintentionally) suggesting that people from other cultures don't belong. Which doesn't really help anybody, you know?

    Again, I appreciate "Album" for avoiding that trap.

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  2. I really liked this story.

    I felt that it left me with some unresolved ethical dilemmas regarding my behavior towards people from other cultures, which is good because I appreciate the opportunity to think critically about such issues. I've also been thinking a lot about invisible privilege lately (i.e., the things that make your life significantly easier but are so ingrained that you don't even think of them as a privilege) and I was struck by the American missionary's invisible privilege of not necessarily marrying his girlfriend when he gets home (because he knows he'll be able to find another Mormon girl).

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  3. James--I think you're right: I see Gilson as a character who is very committed to Mormonism, but not very committed to the idea of pioneering. The Church is a part of who he is and he wants to take full advantage of it--but he really can't because he lives in a place where the Church is still establishing its roots. So a tension arises from his desire to be gathered with the saints and the obligation he feels to build up the Church where he is. It's a tension members of the Church have had to grapple with everywhere ever since the policy to gather to Utah was discontinued. Unfortunately for the rich American, Gilson takes out his frustration on a kid who will never really have to deal with the issue.

    Katya--Thanks. What I like about the rich American character is the way he so cluelessly embodies the idea of invisible privilege. Like most nineteen-year-olds, he hasn't really thought much about his place on the global landscape, and doesn't seem to get why his small gesture of goodwill and cultural outreach is met with hostility.

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your story, Scott, although I felt the ending was premature and abrupt. I felt vested in the characters and wanted to ready more. So, more please?

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  5. Thanks for reading the story, Michael. I appreciate the feedback. Maybe I'll revisit the characters one of these days.

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